female climbers

Photo: Hayley Baker

This one’s for all of you lady crushers out there! This is also for men who are interested in why their girlfriends and female friends seem to crush so hard at certain times of month.

Understanding the effect of your hormones

Every woman knows that things like her energy levels, moods, food cravings, weight, sociability, and libido can vary greatly throughout her monthly cycle. But have you ever noticed that your strength, power, endurance, and overall athletic performance are influenced by your hormones as well?

For so many of us, our cycles are sources of pain, annoyance, and emotional discomfort. But when we educate ourselves about what’s going on in our bodies, we can learn to honor the natural fluctuations that occur every month and even use these changes to our advantage. In this article, we take a look at how the female energy cycle affects our climbing performance and how we can use our hormones to help us send.

female crusher

Photo: Harsh1.0

The basics of the female energy cycle

The science behind the female energy cycle is very complex, but the three main hormones that rise and fall during our monthly cycle are:

  • estrogen,
  • testosterone,
  • and progesterone.

Source: womeninbalance.org

Thankfully, these hormones act the same way every month, so we can actually predict and plan for how we’ll be feeling (roughly) on any given day of the month. Here’s a simple guide to what your hormones are doing each week:

Note: Every woman is different, and this guide is based on a woman with a 28-day cycle who ovulates on day 14 of her cycle. See below on how to apply this guide to your unique cycle.

Build up week

Week 1, day 1-7 (starts the first day of your period).

What’s going on hormonally

The amount of estrogen in your body rises.

How this will make you feel

After the first few days of bleeding, the rising levels of estrogen in your body will help you feel more social, positive, and extroverted than you felt the week prior to your period (source). You will also start to feel psychically stronger and more energetic.

How to crush this week

Take the first few days of your cycle to rest and let your body dedicate energy to menstruation. Focus on restorative activities like meditation, gentle yoga, and easy hiking. As your period lightens and estrogen levels rise even more, slowly start to incorporate climbing back into your schedule. Start with climbing that doesn’t require massive amounts of core engagement, like slab climbing.

Build Up Week

Crush week

Week 2, day 8-14 (or until ovulation).

What’s going on hormonally

Estrogen and testosterone rise and eventually peak.

How this will make you feel

This is the week that you’ll likely feel your best physically, energetically, emotionally, and romantically. Aside from climbing, this is a great time to party with friends, work on professional projects, and Netflix and chill (this is also when you’re most fertile, so it would be wise to double up on birth control methods during this time).

With even more estrogen in your body, you’ll feel the positive effects of last week at an even higher level (source). Studies have shown that estrogen also raises our tolerance to pain, making those sharp crimps and painful finger jams feel slightly less uncomfortable (source). Mix that with a rise and eventual peak of testosterone—the hormone that’s responsible for our impulsivity and competitiveness—and you’ll probably notice that crushing your projects will feel easiest at this time of month.

How to crush this week

Try your hard projects and train like a beast. This is a great time of month to try overhanging climbing or projects that require core engagement, as your feminine organs are probably not creating pain for you now.

Crush Week

Wind down week

Week 3, day 15-22 (starts the day after ovulation and lasts 8 days).

What’s going on hormonally

Progesterone rises; estrogen and testosterone drop for half the week, then estrogen rises again.

How this will make you feel

At the beginning of the week, due to the drop in estrogen and testosterone, you may feel very slight PMS symptoms like irritability, fatigue, and moodiness. Another key event happening this week is a rise in progesterone—which, if you’re sensitive to it, amplifies feelings of introversion, foggy-headedness, and food cravings. However, by the second half of week 3, there is another rise in estrogen that can help you feel more positive, strong, and energetic all over again (source).

How to crush this week

Spend the first half of the week recovering from all of last week’s crushing. Take extra time resting between burns on climbs, tone down the intensity of your training, and decrease the steepness of the routes and boulder problems you try. For the second half of the week, if you’re feeling up for it, try any projects you didn’t send last week one last time before your period.

Wind Down Week

Rest week

Week 4, day 23-28 (or the final 6 days of your cycle).

What’s going on hormonally

Estrogen and progesterone plunge.

How this will make you feel

Like shit, most likely. For many of us, this time of month is characterized by extreme fatigue, mood swings, intense cramping and pain, insomnia, and headaches due to the plunging levels of estrogen and progesterone (source).

Some women experience little to no PMS symptoms, while others have such a hard time during these days that they can’t even get out of bed. These symptoms can also vary month-to-month and depend greatly on factors such as diet, stress levels, and your body’s personal sensitivity to hormones.

How to crush this week

Rest. If you feel well enough to climb, make sure you’re taking it easy and listening to your body. Even if you don’t feel terrible, this is a great time of month to take a few days off climbing and let your body recover as it prepares for menstruation.

Rest Week

How to apply this guide to your own cycle

Every woman’s cycle varies in length and intensity level so it’s important that we all take time to get to know our own bodies in order to know when we’re most likely to crush. To do this, start keeping track of your cycle in a journal, calendar, or phone app. Note how you’re feeling mentally and emotionally each week, in addition to when you’re sending and when you’re flailing.

Keep in mind that you may find that you feel very different from how this guide suggests. For example, some women experience a surge in strength during day two or three of their cycle, which is not entirely explained by hormones or science. In addition, some women have pain during ovulation, which may shift their “crush week” to a different time. And if you’re taking hormonal birth control, you may experience these hormone fluctuations throughout your cycle in a more mellow way, or not at all.

Every woman is different and many factors impact her experience of her monthly energy cycle. The important thing is for each of us to get to know our bodies and how they change depending on the time of the month. This way, we know how to respect our hormones and use them to our advantage.

Female climber

Photo: Harsh1.0

Further reading/tools

Editor’s note: about once or twice per month, we’ll republish an older piece of content that’s exceptionally well done and that we feel deserves some extra attention. This article was originally published December 1, 2015.

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