Did you know that doing strength and resistance training in the first half of the menstrual cycle can result in greater muscle mass gains than spreading these exercises throughout the month? Or that wearing a top suitable for running can increase performance by around 5% compared to wearing any other? Me either!
I discovered it when researching more about the recently released book “The Female Body Bible”. Written by former British rowing team athlete Baz Moffat, Brunel University exercise physiology PhD Emma Ross and doctor Bella Smith, it shows how there is still a huge gap between what sports science and medicine research about women when compared to men. There are many recent examples.
Before the women’s football World Cup, held in July and August in Australia and New Zealand, the long list of anterior cruciate knee ligament injuries in professional players was surprising. It removed important names from the English women’s team — such as Beth Mead and Leah Williamson — from the tournament and raised the debate about the need for more studies on the subject. The book mentions that women are six times more likely to have this type of injury than men. There is still a lot to be investigated about this problem, as well as about pregnancy, menopause and menstruation.
Some athletes have been talking more about these issues, which only helps the sport to evolve. Last year, Dina Asher-Smith got to the point of having to withdraw from the 100m final at the European Athletics Championships because of cramps in her calves. The British woman attributed the pain to a consequence of her menstrual period and called for more research into how this can affect sports performance.
It is a fact that there is a lack of studies on the relationship between injuries and our hormones. In fact, I always wonder how we would be as a society in relation to scientific analyzes and the legalization of abortion if men menstruated or were able to get pregnant.
The authors also point out that, in 2020, only 6% of all sports science research was carried out exclusively on women. And there is a complicating factor: as we have different hormonal levels throughout the month, apart from those who use contraceptives, studying our body is more complex. They believe that women, historically, volunteer less for research because the focus has not been on them.
There are initiatives that can serve as inspiration for other teams and countries. The Chelsea women’s team, for example, was one of the first in the Women’s Super League – the first division of English women’s football – to monitor the players’ menstrual cycle. The women’s teams in England and the United States have also adopted this practice.
The women’s World Cup was a success, it raised important flags and put women’s football on the map once and for all. The scientific debate also needs to continue. It’s amazing how little we know about our own bodies; how we often follow recommendations that were made for men, but that probably don’t have the same effect on us and end up being applied from high performance to our everyday lives.
It is also essential not to be ashamed to talk about issues that directly affect us, such as our menstrual period. This will make it easier to look for solutions.
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