As you know, women have unique physiological and hormonal considerations that need to be taken into account when designing an exercise program. While many of the principles of exercise programming apply to both men and women, it’s essential to understand the specific stage of life considerations necessary to design effective programs for female clients.
This blog post will explore some of these considerations by highlighting topics like the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, and hormonal imbalances. We will discuss how these factors can impact your client’s training experience and identify the importance of strength training for women.
This additional knowledge will help you to design better exercise programs for your female clients and enable them to achieve their goals more effectively. So, let’s get started!
First and foremost, it’s essential to understand the menstrual cycle and how it can impact your client’s training experience. The menstrual cycle is a complex hormonal process influencing energy levels, mood, and motivation.
At the start of the menstrual cycle (day 1 of the period), the hormones oestrogen and progesterone are at their lowest. This results in lower energy levels for most. At this point, the beneficial forms of exercise include low-impact cardiovascular exercise, swimming, Yoga, strength training and Pilates.
The follicular phase refers to the first 13 days of your cycle. Once menstruation finishes, the hormone levels start to rise progressively until ovulation. This phase is an ideal time for women to complete higher-intensity exercise. Ovulation (around day 14) is accompanied by an increase in testosterone which aids in muscle mass growth and repair, so this is the ideal time to perform strength training.
The final phase is the luteal phase (approx days 15-28). During this time, progesterone levels increase, leading to decreased energy and potentially increased fatigue. There is also an increased risk of overheating, so this should be considered when prescribing exercise. These changes mean your client’s programme will need to prioritise low to moderate forms of exercise.
These considerations can be used to guide your decisions about exercise prescription throughout a month; however, all women have different experiences, and you must tailor it to the woman you are training.
Pregnancy is another consideration that fitness professionals need to be aware of when designing exercise programs. While exercise is generally safe and beneficial during pregnancy, certain modifications are required to keep both the mother and the baby safe. During the first trimester, it’s considered safe for women to continue their pre-pregnancy exercise routine with some modifications to reduce overheating and trauma to the torso.
However, specific exercises and movements may need to be avoided or modified during the second and third trimesters to reduce the risk of injury. For example, lying supine or prone is no longer recommended, exercising in extreme temperatures (Bikram Yoga) and performing movements which could put excessive pressure on the torso or ligaments, which are influenced by hormones.
It’s essential to be qualified to work with this demographic as there are many more adaptations and considerations to be aware of. However, exercise is recommended for all stages of pregnancy and into the postnatal period, so continue to support and motivate this demographic to be active.
Menopause is another factor that can impact a woman’s training experience. Estrogen levels drop during menopause, leading to changes in metabolism, body composition and a decrease in bone density. As a result, it’s important to incorporate resistance training into your client’s exercise program to help maintain and build muscle mass and bone density.
In addition, some women may experience hot flashes and other symptoms that can impact their ability to exercise. Adjusting the timing and intensity of workouts to accommodate these symptoms may be helpful.
Exercises targeting all fitness components(cardiovascular, resistance, balance etc.) will provide many benefits and reduce the risk of conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and osteoporosis while positively impacting mental well-being.
The aim is to get to know your clients and what they are experiencing so you can make appropriate recommendations to engage them long-term.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome PCOS
Another hormonal imbalance that can impact a woman’s training experience is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS affects approx. 1 in 10 women.
Women with PCOS may have higher levels of androgens, leading to increased muscle mass. The condition also increases the risk of other health conditions developing, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Exercise is considered beneficial, and whilst there are controversial opinions on the best type of exercise, a combination of aerobic and strength training will serve your client best.
The intensity should remain moderate, and clients shouldn’t overexercise as the cortisol hormone will be released, which has a negative impact. The moderate intensity level will support insulin sensitivity, weight management, and overall health. Women with hormonal imbalances may also benefit from working with a registered dietitian to optimise their nutrition.
Finally, we should emphasise the importance of strength training for women. Many women may hesitate to incorporate strength training into their exercise routine; however, resistance training can help women increase or maintain bone density, manage weight, and increase overall strength and function.
Education is required for many women to understand the positive benefits and feel incentivised to focus more on strength training. Designing an exercise program incorporating cardiovascular exercise and sufficient resistance training is important to help women achieve their fitness goals.
In conclusion, designing effective exercise programs for female clients requires understanding the unique physiological and hormonal considerations that women face. By considering factors like the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal imbalances, and the importance of strength training, fitness professionals can design safe and effective programs to help female clients achieve their fitness goals.