If navigating the female menstrual cycle was not complicated enough, understanding how a female's entire menstrual cycle can impact energy and performance can also be a bit conflicting depending on the female.
Let's start with the basics: The predominant role of female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) is to facilitate reproduction, but since both may also impact both substrate utilization (which is essentially whether fat or glucose is being used for energy) and also endocrine regulated functions, it is not uncommon for fluctuations in mood, sleep, performance, etc. Not every female's body is the same, nor is their menstrual cycle. Lifestyle, training methods, diet, etc. can all have a significant impact on the sensitivity of the endocrine and reproductive systems. Some studies show improved performance during various stages while others show very little variation throughout the menstrual cycle, which means there is plenty of opportunity in the years to come for research on menstrual cycle in relation to performance. However, here is what we do know, for now.
The menstrual cycle is broken up into essentially four phases, which on average lasts around 28 days:
1. Early Follicular (Actual menstruation)
2. Late Follicular (Pre-ovulation)
3. Early Luteal (Post-ovulation)
4. Late Luteal (Premenstrual)
Early and late follicular phases are generally the time of month when the female hormone levels (estrogen and progesterone) are their lowest, and typically the least detrimental to energy demands. This time of month is generally when the body can take on the most intensity with more easy (strength, high intensity, heat, etc.).
1. Early Follicular (Actual menstruation)
Hormones: Your estrogen and progesterone levels are typically at the lowest level they will reach during the month, and testosterone levels are at their highest.
Workouts: During your period, your body can synthesize muscle better and recover more efficiently than at any other point of the month, making this is a great time to capitalize on high intensity and strength workouts!
Sleep: Sleep efficiency may be impacted during this phase so keeping a pulse on your sleep habits (environment, bed time, no alcohol/coffee, etc.) may be extra important.
Cramps/Inflammation/Arthritis? If you find that you cramp or experience arthritis like symptoms just before and/or at the beginning of your period, the best real-time medicine is exercise. Even though exercise may be the last thing you want to do, physical movement is the best medicine for menstrual cramping and arthritic symptoms. The entire month leading up to your period can be to credit or blame for your period experience. Essentially, the higher the exposure to inflammation in the body (consumption of alcohol, various food sources that do not agree with your body, etc.), the higher correlation rate with increased symptoms such as headaches, cramping, etc. during your 'time of the month.'
2. Late Follicular (Pre-ovulation)
Hormones As the body gets closer to ovulation, estrogen will begin to increase.
Workouts: This phase still has a greater tolerance for intense workouts without demanding additional recovery, but that tolerance will gradually decrease as ovulation gets closer and the demand for recovery will generally increase. Quality warm ups and recovery protocols should be prioritized during this phase.
Early and late luteal phases have more hormonal changes than follicular phases. With estrogen rising and progesterone joining the party, more of the body's energy goes toward supporting these changes and the newly released egg. The luteal phase ends at the point progesterone peaks, and if you are not pregnant both estrogen and progesterone drop, signaling your period to start and a new cycle to begin.
Estrogen tends to facilitate fat oxidation during exercise, and although evidence is trivial, research shows that women rely less on carbohydrates and more on fat during the luteal phase - making endurance and lower intensity workouts naturally more appealing.
3. Early Luteal (Post-ovulation)
Hormones: Estrogen and progesterone levels (as well as body temperature) will rise and the body allocates energy to support the newly released egg
Workouts: Because of energy going more toward supporting the newly released egg and potential changes in substrate utilization, it is not uncommon to find that producing energy for intense workouts may be harder, and as stated above, you may find that endurance and lower intensity workouts are actually easier during this time.
- Keep in mind: With a higher body temperature during this phase, your body may have a harder time with heated workouts (hot yoga, pilates, etc.) as heat is a form of intensity.
4. Late Luteal (Premenstrual)
Hormones: Think roller coaster phase! Your hormones will fluctuate the most during this phase, which means your body is typically using more energy than usual (outside of exercise) just to stay upright, and it is not at all uncommon to feel sluggish.
Workouts: Your body will likely have a harder time recovering from workouts during this phase, so this is where water, electrolyte intake, quality food choices, and doing everything to keep energy/recovery at a high + stress at a low are all extra critical. If you are taking all of the necessary steps and your energy is low, that is your cue to create intentional rest.
With lower energy and the body constantly trying to create homeostasis, it makes sense why there are usually increased cravings and feelings of hunger late in the luteal phase. Your body wants energy - feed it! This is a really great time to load up on quality, nutritious foods. This phase, in comparison to the follicular phase, is typically more susceptible to not only tolerate but also perform well in endurance workouts.
Curious about how your body responds during different phases? We definitely suggest keeping some form of a journal to see how your energy, performance, etc. and map that along side where you are in your cycle, what you are eating, etc. All of the information can be super beneficial in helping you make more informed decisions when it comes to your mental health, training, nutrition, and overall health.
We have members who prior to joining Assemble had never used any of our conditioning machines, had never used a barbell for more than a squat or bench, and majority of them have never been pushed to the level of intensity that you find in an Assemble MAX or LIMITLESS class. However, when you look around at all of our athletes (members) who enjoy this place, they all have a common differentiator, and that is grit. Grit is a combination of courage and character; including the courage to start, and the strength of a person's character to find a way even when things get tough.
In the words of Angela Duckworth, "Grit is passion and perseverance for long term goals. Grit is not talent, luck, nor how intensely, for the moment, you want something. Instead, grit is about what some researchers call an, 'ultimate concern,' a goal you care about so much that it organizes and gives meaning to almost everything you do. And grit is holding steadfast to that goal. Even when you fall down. Even when you screw up. Even when progress toward that goal is halting or slow."
Not only is grit something our people walk in the door with, but it is something we continue to refine here. Part of what we do at Assemble is give our members the tools to be both physically and mentally sound. Our workouts are intentionally designed to be a training ground for life, and that daily discipline includes these five things:
1. Be kind - to yourself and others.
2. Appreciate all of the good.
3. Welcome challenges as opportunities.
4. Keep putting in the work.
5. Surround yourself with a strong community of kind, hard working people.
It is the people who do this on a daily basis, who will be ready for anything life throws them... and that is the byproduct of grit.
In two months from now, the first day of summer will officially be here, and we are ready for some long, warm, sunny days! Over the last decade, we have had the pleasure of seeing our approach to programming pay off for a lot of members when it comes to performance, health, and body aesthetics. With summer on the horizon, we are sharing some of our best tips for questions frequently asked this time of year.
TIPS FOR LIVING YOUR MOST ACTIVE, HEALTHY, AND CONFIDENT SUMMER EVER
We have broken this into two main categories: Prepping your system (heart and body) for increased physical activity as well as improving body composition and confidence!
Running, mountain biking, hiking, wakeboarding, golfing, slow pitch softball, and everything in between... the list goes on for activities people find themselves doing as the days get longer and the weather gets warmer. Those first few times back at it can feel like you are starting from square one, whether it's your heart starting to pound and those legs getting heavy half way up the hill or a fussy back after a round of 18 holes.
WHAT CAN YOU DO STARTING RIGHT NOW TO BETTER PREPARE YOURSELF FOR INCREASED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY?
For any activities requiring a healthy heart, we suggest high intensity interval training with all out effort bursts using a format of 1:3/4/5 ratio of work to rest, which means if you are sprinting all out for 10 seconds, allow yourself around 30-50 seconds of rest and then go as hard as you possibly can again. Our favorite methods? Assault bike, hill sprints, and Assault/curved manual treadmills.
We love pairing eccentric and isometric lower body strength with body weight plyometrics. We have found this creates similar sensations and necessary adaptations when it comes to most activities needing both a strong lower body and stamina. A suggested method? Weighted squats followed right away with squat jumps.
If you plan to find yourself on the golf course or softball/baseball field, right now is a great time to start working on your mobility, especially through the hips, shoulders, and thoracic rotation. Movements we love?
- Controlled articulated rotations (CARS)
- Runners lunge with a thoracic rotation (opening up the arm on the same side of the forward leg toward the sky)
- Couch stretch (kneeling on one knee with the shin backed up against a box/couch/wall, and the opposite leg in a 90 degree bend with the foot flat on the floor) stretching out through the quads and hip flexors
- Any form of a pigeon/elevated pigeon/figure four style of stretch through the glutes/IT band while keeping the spine long and neutral
CONFIDENCE AND BODY COMPOSITION
It's not wrong to want to feel your best, most confident self this summer. Whether it's shorts, tank tops, dresses, or swimsuits, we want you to have some tools to leave insecurities behind.
Confidence Starts with Mental Health
These are a couple of our top suggestions for helping maintain good headspace:
- Daily movement, even on what you consider training rest days, movement (especially outdoors) is incredibly critical every single day to help with keeping our minds functioning in our favor. Daily movement is something as simple as stepping outside for a 20 minute walk.
- Focusing on what you already have that is good, no matter how big or small. Could be the people in your life, abilities you have, opportunity/hope, etc.
- Taking responsibility for what is within your control and being okay with letting go of everything else that's outside of that space. Taking responsibility can be tough to do at first as it requires a bit of self-awareness, vulnerability, and more than anything discipline. Working hard and being consistently disciplined feels good. Letting go of things outside of our control is essentially setting boundaries for yourself on what to focus your energy on to best serve your present and future, almost as if you were viewing your own life from the lens of an outsider's perspective perhaps the perspective of a good friend who cares.
Body composition describes the amount of fat, bone, water, and muscle in the body, and as we are sure you already know, nutrition plays a big role in body composition. We will add some notes below in regard to nutrition, but we highly suggest checking out our Nutrition Framework if you need some direction with making better choices more consistently.
When it comes to strengthening muscles (one of the keys to improving body composition), resistance training is critical. There are various types of resistance training and many ways of going about building strength. Having muscular strength and looking strong can be quite different. If you are looking to see a change in how your muscles look aesthetically, using more hypertrophy based protocols maybe beneficial.
- Nutrition for repairing/building muscle post-workout will require that around 20-35% of your daily overall food intake to come from protein.
With body fat, it is important to talk about this from a health perspective first. Excessive amounts of body fat, particularly around the midsection, has a high correlation rate with disease and illness and THAT is mainly why we care about body fat. However, it is common for people to look toward gyms as a resource that can help them reduce body fat and we aim to be a messenger of education that provides effective and sustainable approaches to health and fitness. With body fat, a lot of it will come down to nutrition and stress, and quite frankly, most people cannot out exercise those two things. However, there are definitely still methods of training that can improve body fat accompanied with quality nutrition and stress management. Alongside resistance training, high intensity interval training in a similar format as mentioned above and some low intensity steady state cardio within the mix can be helpful in reducing body fat. We love all out sprints, especially when done on a hill or incline, as they are also great for glute development and building cardiovascular health.
Looking for a Gym That Provides Results?
Whether you are wanting to hike up mountains faster or just looking for a way to get healthy and maintain it for the long haul, check out our classes in Buckley. We offer strength, advanced conditioning, endurance, and yoga classes throughout the week that are geared toward performance, overall health, and aesthetic.
This interview captures the journey of three different Assemble athletes (members).
A | Used to be relatively active until Covid hit
B | Loves group workout classes, had belonged to the same gym for a few years
C | Has always stayed very active with a mix of at-home garage workouts/hiking/biking/running/etc. and would go to CrossFit style classes at least once a week
How did you find out about/what made you try Assemble?
A | "I knew a couple people who went there so I followed [you] on Instagram. I remember vividly thinking, "Oh no, I don't think I am ready for that quite yet," Everyone I would see in the videos was working really hard, which was somewhat intimidating. I kept telling myself I would get myself in shape before I tried it, but I just didn't. I think you might have been offering a deal, and finally I just went for it. Best choice ever."
B | "I started following Assemble on social media after a few people I knew started going there. I already belonged to a gym, but Assemble was definitely intriguing, and also a little intimidating. I think it was when I started to notice how much the people I knew were changing physically and they would just say how great it was."
C | "One of my friends asked me to try Assemble with them, and I didn't really know what I was getting into, but I thought, "I workout. I'm in pretty good shape. Sure, I'll try a week."
Do you remember your first class?
A | "Do I remember my first class? Yeah, like it was yesterday. I sat in the car trying to talk myself out of going. I even text my husband saying, "I am so nervous, I don't do anything alone." He said, "You got it, might be good for you." I responded with, "I have butterflies," and he said, "You can do it." Once I ended up going in, he was so right. The class was functional strength, and from the second I was in the door I was encouraged, welcomed, and inspired to just try. I remember not knowing how to do one of the movements, but the coach broke everything down step by step and gave me pointers throughout the class."
B | "I am pretty sure my first class was MAX or hybrid. I just remember thinking the bike was really hard, I thought the skierg was kind of fun, and the tread was so different!"
C | "It was MAX, and it's almost a rite of passage - in the best way possible. I have never worked as hard in a workout as I do in any given MAX class. That first one was humbling to say the least, but I like it because you are on teams and it can get competitive! It's fun to experience that form of friendly competition on a weekly basis."
Do you remember your next class?
A | "It was either MAX or Endurance, and it was HARD, but it was also awesome! I felt so accomplished after class."
A | "I think my second class I was able to go to that week was endurance and yoga (E:30 + Y:30) or it's at least the one that sticks out in my mind. It was a really good mental challenge and I loved having yoga at the end of class, it was so rewarding and peaceful. I think was hooked at that point."
R | "My next class was strength (functional strength) I am pretty sure. It was different, and not at all what I was expecting. I liked that there was a focus on mobility and a lot of freedom to move at my own pace with quality reps. Even though I am a pretty competitive person, I like that the strength classes aren't competitive and way less risk of getting injured."
Why did you decide to keep coming after those first few workouts?
A | "I knew after the first night I was going to join because it just felt like home so I just kept showing up, even on the days I didn't want to. As a mom, it was hard to choose myself every day, choose myself over chores, excuses, time with my family, meal time, but that one hour a day at Assemble is worth a life time of health and endless possibilities. It seems crazy, but it's true."
B | "I liked the challenge, the community of people cheering you on, and how other people's success is inspiring. It was the first time in a workout class setting that it didn't seem like people were competing directly against one another. Something I also appreciated, and still do, is the emphasis on education."
C | "My body just felt better, and it continues to feel better. My back is not as achy as it used to be with the type of CrossFit and EMOM/AMRAP style of workouts I was doing before. I like having constant numbers that I'm trying to chase and improve here, but it's never at the expense of my joints."
What would you say to someone similar to you who is thinking about trying Assemble
A | "You don't have to be in shape to start, and I wish I would have started sooner. Don't be intimidated, you can definitely do it and once you do, you'll love it!"
B | "I have always worked out in classes at least five days a week, so it was crazy how much my body changed just by switching to Assemble. This place has been really good for my overall health. I am more focused on improving my performance more than I'm concerned with my looks at this point, but it's nice to see the physical results when I did not change anything except for 'where' I was going to workout. There is not anything like this place, and you won't regret it."
R | "Everything is structured so intentionally, and I realize that more and more every week. You will learn more about how to approach strength workouts so they match your goals without wrecking your body. My heart is in the best condition it has ever been; and I not only look but I feel stronger and more athletic. I'd definitely tell you to keep track of all your numbers when you start because you'll be blown away how much you improve!"
Does your Apple Watch saying you burned 'x' amount of calories, breaking a sweat, and/or being so sore that you are barely able to move equal a good workout in your eyes?
Let's debunk that. Here's why those unfortunately are nowhere close to a certified metric for changing your health, let alone making an impact in your body composition and changing what your body looks like.
Is working out good for you? Absolutely.
Is sweating good for you? Absolutely.
However, there is a huge misconception in society that any workout that burns a ton of calories and makes you sweat, combined with eating less, will get you 'in shape.'
Pause for reflection: If this was actually the case, don't you think every single person who has tried to get in shape, would be successful?
People everywhere are actually putting in the work, now more than ever; they're sweating, busting their tails getting after it, doing workouts that pride themselves on high intensity and little rest and doing so day after day. Unfortunately, not only are people not seeing results, often times they're quite literally running themselves into the ground with increased body fat, increased inflammation, disrupting hormones, etc.
While our main focus is performance and overall health, we believe it is important for people to get the aesthetic results they desire when paying for a gym or workout. There is something to be said about having confidence in your body not only because of it matching who you are internally, but also because it is a representation of your consistency, discipline, and hard work.
Let's knock out what we presume most people are thinking, "Nutrition matters most." We agree.
If you aren't eating enough quality nutrients (macro and micro), you can, but probably won't out-exercise a bad diet; and if you aren't taking care of your mental health, stress, and sleep, the same concept applies: you can't out-exercise much. We firmly believe that when it comes to your health it goes in this order: 1. Nutrition 2. Sleep/Stress/Recovery 3. Exercise.
Why your choice of exercise matters
Consistency is the number one key; so, if you have been consistent with quality nutrition, sleep, and showing up in your workouts but are still not seeing results, allow us to drop some truth bombs.
1. High intensity interval training (HIIT) is great for improving body composition. Workouts that last 30-60 minutes with little to no rest are not (HIIT) workouts, and more than that, they are unlikely to produce results. The keyword being 'interval' here and without intervals of rest you cannot actually sustain 'high intensity.' What most of these workouts are actually structured as is what we would call moderate intensity steady state training (MISST). MISST workouts can look something like this, "30 MIN AMRAP: 12 deadlifts, 1:00 plank jacks, 12 burpees, etc." and they will usually leave you feeling depleted (also perhaps accomplished from sweating so much). When you continue to do this same or similar style of workout just with different moves day after day for months, your body can start to increase cortisol production in response to its perceived daily stress exposure. Cue body fat retention or even increased body fat rather than reducing body fat that comes with appropriate HIIT protocols.
2. There are different protocols, reps, sets, and rest when it comes to training for power, strength, hypertrophy, strength-hypertrophy, and muscular endurance. Rep amounts and your speed through movements could actually be the difference standing between you and seeing changes in muscular growth or definition.
3. Excessive 'cardio' or low intensity steady state cardiovascular training is not a surefire method for improving body composition. If you think training for a half marathon is going to help you lose weight or body fat, don't be so sure. If you are training because you enjoy running, keep training - crossing that finish line is worth every bit of the work!
4. While you are working out, muscle fibers break down. When you replenish your system with quality protein and get adequate rest, your body rebuilds the muscle typically stronger, and depending on protocols used: sometimes larger. Working the same muscle groups day after day without any opportunity for rest is rarely beneficial and usually means one of two things:
a. If you are able to work the same muscle groups day after day without any soreness or fatigue, you are probably not working the muscles enough in your workout to create any desired adaptations (strength, muscle growth, etc.).
b. If you are not giving muscle groups any rest, they are only continuing to breakdown rather than get stronger which means you are not only not seeing results, but you are also at an increased risk for rhabdomyolysis.
5. Movements with high joint impact (burpees, wall walks, uncontrolled box jumps, etc.) have a higher rate of inflammation production in the joints. A lot of people end up with achy joints that they just shrug off as 'part of getting old,' and don't realize that is one of the first signs of inflammation. Not all inflammation in the body is bad, but when the body experiences chronic excessive inflammation, the doors open to a long list of illness and disorders.
There has yet to be a one size fits all, get fit quick solution that does not sacrifice long term health. However, depending on the programming and your level of effort and commitment, there are faster and more efficient ways. Our focus at Assemble is to not only keep you healthy, but hopefully improve your health, while allowing you to achieve your performance and aesthetic goals.
Coming soon: "How many days should I be working out? How many days should I strength train, HIIT, etc.?"
Assemble Nutrition Consistency Framework is about giving structure and tools to better navigate consistency for a healthful life well-lived.
We believe in using
1. A holistic, realistic approach with both an intuitive and macro/micro-understanding of fueling the body with quality food choices for both performance and optimal health.
- In order to perform well, we must be well fueled; and whether we want to acknowledge it or not, our bodies are constantly communicating to us through our digestion (poop), energy levels, mood, inflammation/skin... just to name a few.
- The goal should be to fill our bodies with quality nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients from vegetables, quality proteins, etc.) but amounts matter (especially when it comes to changing composition), which is why portion sizes and macros can help.
2. An 80/20 Mindset
- Mindset = focused on consistency: make the better choice more often
- Discipline is still required: 80% of our nutrition should be focused on quality fuel
- While it's easy to write a restrictive diet that will produce results, majority of the population cannot and will not sustain that; and often times restrictive diets lead to eating behavior disorders, mental/emotional struggles, and typically when it comes to weight: excessive rebounding. Not to mention, calorie restriction diets are a huge culprit in hormone disruption.
3. 2x2 Alcohol
- No more than two servings of alcohol, twice a week
- Less is better, more sugar and alcohol are not good for body fat or gut health, let alone mental health
- At least half your body weight in ounces of water per day AND electrolytes
- Important electrolytes:
5. Your Individual Truth
- Understand your own behaviors/patterns... if you know them it makes it way easier to navigate them and no one knows your history better than you
- Understand your own intuitive experience (how certain foods impact your own digestion (poop), performance, mood, energy, etc.)
- Take responsibility in setting yourself up for success with systems, accountability/support, and best practices to make it a routine (think: meal prep, etc.)
Assemble Members, you can find even more detailed information at assemblecommunity.com/nutrition.