Do you sometimes feel that you're not making any progress at the gym? Perhaps you're not achieving the results you want even though you're following a hypertrophy programme. Well, it might not just be about how much effort you're putting in—it could be because of your gender and, more specifically, your hormones.
Men and women have different hormone cycles that can impact their exercise performance and how they should track progress at the gym. Let's take a closer look at these hormone cycles, how they work, and how you can optimise the way you track your progress at the gym to ensure you don't get demotivated by misleading results.
Men's 24-hour hormone cycle
Men have a relatively stable hormone cycle each day, with only minor variations in testosterone levels every 24 hours. I've written before about testosterone and the important role it plays in muscle growth, bone density, and libido.
Consistent testosterone levels can mean that men have relatively consistent energy levels and exercise performance each day, however, this performance is dependent on consistently high testosterone levels.
A great way to keep levels high is to focus on lifting heavy weights and progressively increasing the intensity and volume of your workouts over time to help ensure strength gains and muscle growth. This is especially important after ages 30 and 60.
Tracking progress for men
When testosterone levels are high, men may experience better and more consistent strength, endurance, and recovery times. This can translate to faster gains, the ability to train similar muscle groups more frequently, and more linear progression in the gym.
Due to the consistency of men's hormone cycles, they have the option to track progress weekly or even daily. However, it's important to give muscle groups enough time to recover (usually 2–3 days) after intense exercise each week, which will allow time for blood to flow to muscles and help facilitate muscle repair.
Women's monthly hormone cycle
Women are a whole different story. Women have a more complex hormone cycle that involves variations in several different hormones, including estrogen and progesterone. The levels of these hormones rise and fall throughout the menstrual cycle, which commonly lasts approximately 28 days. This is only relevant for women who have not yet gone through menopause, which marks the end of their menstrual cycle.
For those that aren't aware (men), the menstrual cycle can be divided into 4 phases:
Menstrual phase: The start of the cycle that typically lasts 3–7 days.
Follicular phase: Starts after the menstrual phase and lasts about 9–13 days.
Ovulatory phase: This typically occurs around day 14 of a 28-day cycle (this is when a woman is most fertile).
Luteal phase: The last phase of the cycle lasts about 14 days.
During the follicular phase, rising estrogen levels can increase energy levels and improve exercise performance. After the first couple of days, you will experience your best days of training, which culminate in your peak performance around the ovulatory phase. This a great time to focus on higher-intensity exercises as well as push for personal bests (PBs).
However, during the luteal phase, some women may experience premenstrual syndrome, which is the name for symptoms a woman can experience in the weeks before their period. Symptoms can be debilitating and can include fatigue, bloating, and mood changes, which can have a significant impact on exercise performance.
During these 14 days, women must listen to their bodies and adjust their workouts as needed. This is a great time to switch to maintenance mode, don't beat yourself up if your performance is hindered. Focus on lower-intensity exercises, or simply reduce the intensity of exercises, such as weightlifting machines or movements that require less coordination.
Tracking progress for women
Due to the complexity of women's hormone cycles, it's important to take a longer-term approach when tracking progress. While men may choose to focus on week-to-week gains at the gym, women should consider tracking progress over a longer period, such as a month or even several months. Do not plan to maintain high-level training for all 4 weeks of the month—you're just setting yourself up for failure.
To do this properly, it is essential to keep a workout journal or use an app to track workouts and progress each month and compare your progress from the same week in the previous month. For example, if you're tracking your progress in squats, rather than comparing 2 consecutive weeks, compare your performance in week 1 of this month to week 1 of last month.
Comparing over a longer period will allow you to account for variations in hormone levels as well as premenstrual syndrome. This will give you a better sense of the gains you make over time and help you better understand your body and how its differences impact your workouts.
And don't forget to celebrate your progress! Even small gains will add up over time.
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