Jennis CycleMapping helps you train smarter by using the science behind our menstrual cycles. But who is the woman behind the science? Read on to find out more...
When world-renowned athlete Jess Ennis-Hill had a chance encounter with leading sports scientist Dr Emma Ross back in 2018, little did they know that they’d end up working together on a menstrual-cycle training innovation.
Fast forward three years and the pair have combined their expertise to make mapping your training to your menstrual cycle a reality for all women. Here, we find out more about Dr Emma’s work in the elite world and discover why a little body literacy goes a long way.
Hi Emma. So, how did you get involved in Jennis CycleMapping?
I used to be Head of Physiology at the English Institute of Sport (EIS), where I focused on helping female athletes make incremental performance gains by applying the findings of scientific research.
When I started, coaches didn’t discuss periods with their female athletes and it felt incredibly taboo, so a big part of my job was to educate them on the ‘female fundamentals.’ Things like - what happens during a menstrual cycle and how that might affect an athlete; why it matters to talk about your cycle; why you should have a good sports bra; pelvic health.
It was from working there that I met Jess [Ennis-Hill] through mutual friends. Although she’d already retired, we’d often talk about how ridiculous it was that periods weren’t talked about when Jess was training and competing. As an elite athlete you’re trying to make incremental changes to improve your performance all the time, so it was mind boggling that I was only just introducing menstrual cycle science as a key part of the marginal gains equation.
As soon as Jess and the Jennis team started looking at ways to make CycleMapping accessible to all women, she invited me to get involved.
Why did working with Jennis feel right?
Apart from the prospect of working with Jess, after five years educating people about the menstrual cycle in the high-performance system, I knew I wanted to broaden the impact of the conversation. Teaming up with Jennis felt like an amazing way to get menstrual-cycle literacy into the hands of as many women as possible.
One of the reasons why women are being dismissed in terms of healthcare is because we don’t have enough education about our bodies
Before we go any further, what the heck is a physiologist?
I get asked this all the time and I don’t think even my mum knows. A physiologist is interested in human biology and how the body works, but more importantly how all of the different physical and biological components interact with each other. Take the menstrual cycle as an example: a biologist might tell you what’s happening hormonally. A physiologist would look at how those hormones are interacting with one another, then use research and studies to translate that into insights on how you feel, train, recover and sleep and so on.
What excites you most about sharing CycleMapping with the world?
There are so many things, but the top one for me is that we’re giving women body literacy. If we can help women recognise their own cycles and symptoms, then give them the confidence and vocabulary to be ambassadors of their own health, we’ll be doing something very powerful indeed.
My other big hope is that we reframe the menstrual cycle so that it's not just about periods or pain or weakness. It's not a ‘curse’, it's brilliant. Rather than it being something that happens to you, you can be in control of it and really work with it.
How has the programme been received by the initial Mappers?
We’ve been bowled over by the early feedback. It’s one thing to look at the theories and studies around the subject, but it really is amazing when you hear women talk about their pre-menstrual headaches reducing by 65%; their cycles reducing from 45 days to 30 days or the fact they feel stronger after using the programme for just eight weeks. It’s those individual stories that really make us feel proud.
Beyond the training element, why else is CycleMapping so important?
One of the reasons why women are being dismissed in terms of healthcare and not getting diagnosed quickly enough is because we don’t have the right education about our bodies, so we don’t know what’s normal and we don’t have the confidence to say: ‘This isn't fu*king right’.
I speak to women who experience incredible pain at points in their cycles who think they should put up with it because it’s part of the period process. Well, that’s not normal. You shouldn’t have to put up with it.
By opening up the conversation about women’s bodies and our menstrual cycles, I want women to have the confidence to push for the women’s healthcare they deserve. For me, that’s success.
What do you think needs to happen to change this?
I think that if we start early enough and teach girls body literacy in school, it becomes a normal part of how you think about your body and your experience of the world.
If you're really well educated during puberty, then pregnancy or menopause will make sense. At the moment, it doesn't make sense to anyone because none of us have been taught about our bodies and cycles.
What are your favourite facts about the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is amazing and there are honestly so many amazing facts about it – all of which have informed CycleMapping . One of the big ones that people get really excited about is around the Follicular Phase.
During this phase, oestrogen levels start to rise, which can lead to increased levels of motivation. Plus, oestrogen helps your muscle recovery, repair and growth. As a result, if you stack your high intensity and strength training during this phase, you can build up to 15 per cent better strength gains than if you regularly space it across your cycle.
Check out the Jennis CycleMapping app for daily workouts and advice that’s synced to your menstrual cycle
Find out more about Dr Emma Ross at The Well HQ , a learning hub for women’s health built on cutting-edge science