How to train and talk to your coach as a menstruating athlete
Periods aren’t a walk in the park for anyone, but getting your period can be a challenge for professional athletes.
To get to the bottom of this complex topic, we chatted to former Australian Olympian turned doctor Jana Pittman about how athletes deal with periods. Everything from training on your period to talking to your coach, outdated uniforms and her favourite period activewear pieces.
Ready to dive in?
How can you talk to your coach about training during your period?
Dr Jana: “As a former elite athlete and now a junior doctor working in women’s health, I always get asked this.
The most important fact is that every athlete is different. Some of us bleed for 2 days and barely notice; others can barely leave the house. So, my best advice is to tell your coach if it will affect your training. Even if it’s a bit embarrassing, your coach is your best ally and, ultimately, is invested in your progression. They can’t write the best program if there is information missing. Think of it like your knee. If it were hurting, you would likely speak up, and the session can be tailored to avoid injuries. The same goes for your period.
I strongly encourage people who menstruate to continue with sport and give PUMA x Modibodi period activewear a crack. Even those with terrible cyclic pain will benefit from the endorphins of a training session, but your coach needs a heads-up if you’re feeling shabby as there are often different ways to skin a cat.”
So, what are some things you can tell your coach?Talking to your coach about your period might feel scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Dr Jana suggests 3 main things to make it easier.
- Start the conversation by saying you have investigated the topic.
As usual, looking at the research on menstruation and athletic performance is good. A recent study interviewing British female rugby players showed that 93% had some menstrual-related symptoms, and 67% felt it impaired their performance (1). Therefore, that tells us you aren’t alone.
- Share the main issue you are facing around training on your period.
For example, if it’s heavy bleeding, perhaps backing off the intensity for the first day of your cycle would be a good idea. Flip the week around and do a cruiser session that day. If you’re experiencing pain or mood swings, a session that taxes you psychologically will probably burn you out too much, but a game or more enjoyable drills session will leave you feeling far better.
- You can also tell your coach that if you are on your period, the research shows your performance isn’t greatly affected.
A recent study with volleyball players concluded the menstrual cycle did not affect the player’s flexibility, strength and endurance, anaerobic power and speed performances (2).
The big thing is, if your period is interfering with your training, please see a sports doctor and or gynaecologist. There are ways and means to help you greatly.
What were your personal experiences of trying to train around your menstrual cycle and get the most out of it?
Dr Jana: “Well, my periods were light for me but often came when I didn’t expect them. I was a little too thin at times, which we know is bad for performance. The result was a cycle that often disappeared and showed up at times when I least expected it.
Often right before a major championship, when I had backed off the load, my body would be like, ‘Great, let’s procreate’. No thanks.
Despite a light period, I was often crabby and emotional, so it was super important my coach knew this. Particularly because I trained very hard but, on those days, couldn’t tolerate being criticised as much and needed extra TLC. My coach nicknamed me ‘Angry Ant’ when I was cranky, so it was easy to say, ‘Phil, I am on my cycle, so likely Angry Ant might be around today’. In other words, find a way to share it that brings light to the moment.”
How can you speak with your coach to ensure you feel comfortable on your period and in your sports uniform?
Dr Jana: “We were very open about my body, but it helped that he was my personal coach. I can imagine in a team environment, it might be a little harder. In this case, hopefully, you can tell your mates if you need a change that day.
The more we normalise it, the more likely that one day a coach will say, ‘Right, does anyone need a change today due to your period?’ at the start of a session.
In terms of uniforms, as a Modibodi ambassador, I am happy that the PUMA x Modibodi period activewear range means we now have a solution that means the colour of our sports uniform is less problematic. But if it still bothers you, have a voice. Be brave and compete anyway but let your coach know you feel uncomfortable.”
Want to learn more about training during your period?
You can book an education session for Athletes, Coaches, Teams and Support staff through one of our favourite organisations, The Female Athlete Network.
We’ve also compiled some of our favourite resources for getting the download on menstruation and athletic performance. So pop on your favourite pair of Modibodi’s, and get reading.
- Girls Active Survey, Women In Sport, 2017
- Women Athletes and Menstruation, La Trobe University, 2021.
- Coaching Female Athletes, Coaches BC
- Global Survey Into Girls Leaving Sport, Puma and Modibodi, 2022
- “I’m An Athlete, Period.”, Active Inclusion, 2022
- Findlay, Rebekka J et al, ‘How the Menstrual Cycle and Menstruation Affect Sporting Performance: Experiences and Perceptions of Elite Female Rugby Players’ (2020) 54(18) British journal of sports medicine 1108
- Güler, Iskender, ‘Investigation of the Effect of Menstruation Period on Sportive Performance of Women’s Volleyball Players’ (2020) 8(2) African Educational Research Journal 387