Want to know how to beat your PB, do more reps and build lean muscle? Then say hello to the follicular phase...
Reviewed by: Dr Emma Ross
Hands up who’s heard of the follicular phase (pronounced fuh-lick-yoo-lah)? Anyone? While it sounds like something to do with astrology or hair growth, it’s actually part of the menstrual cycle and it’s the phase where great things happen, including lean muscle gain, the ability to push for more reps and even the possibility of that elusive PB. Here, Jess Ennis-Hill and Jennis Physiolgist, Dr Emma Ross, explain more...
So, when is the follicular phase?
Typically, the menstrual cycle lasts around 28 days, (although it can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days) and is broken into four phases . First, there’s your Period, which lasts from day one of bleeding to when it stops. Next up is your Follicular phase (around days 5-14 of your cycle), which is when the go-get-’em hormone, oestrogen (pronounced ee·struh·jn), reaches its all-time high. Phase 3 is your Luteal phase (pronounced loo-tee-al, roughly days 15-21), which is when the chilled-out hormone progesterone (pronounced pruh·jeh·stuh·rown) is on the rise. And finally, there’s the Pre-menstrual phase (around days 22-28 depending on the length of your cycle), which is when both oestrogen and progesterone decline.
Why is follicular so great?
Anyone who gets periods will know that there’s a lot going on in your body. Hormone spikes, extreme fatigue, unpredictable changes in mood – you get the gist.
But, it’s not all bad assures Dr Emma Ross: “We often focus on a very small window of the menstrual cycle – the period – but there’s a lot of exciting things that we can tap into when we look at the whole menstrual cycle.
“During phase 2, the follicular phase, for example, your oestrogen levels start to rise (as you prepare for ovulation) and this can mean you feel more energetic, more sociable and more raring to go than in other parts of your cycle,” says Emma. "The influence of oestrogen and that potential boost to energy and motivation can mean your desire to train increases."
Your drive to get in that extra couple of reps or push yourself to go harder may be higher
What does that mean when it comes to exercising?
“When it comes to physical fitness, it’s a little-known fact that you recover faster, your muscles adapt better and you feel less fatigued during the follicular phase,” explains Jess Ennis-Hill.
“Add these things together and, as long as you’re doing the right style of fitness activity alongside those all-important rest and recovery days, you’re more pre-disposed to build lean muscle and make bigger training gains during this phase.”
What style of fitness should I do in the follicular phase?
Studies have shown that focusing on resistance and strength training in the first half of the cycle (and particularly the follicular phase), and less so in the later half, produces better strength gains than when it’s spread evenly .
"To make the most of this" says Dr Emma, "you should focus on more intense Jennis sessions, such as Audio HIIT runs, Super strength sessions or Super HIITs . If you're not sure how to stack your strength and rest sessions, then your Jennis CycleMap does the plotting and programming for you."
"This is the time to really push it, so go for those extra sets, add more load if it feels good and really enjoy the extra motivation you have right now," says Jess.
Is it really possible to get a PB in your follicular phase?
“There’s a point during ovulation where you may get a teeny tiny spike of testosterone for a day or so,” says Dr Emma. “It’s only small, but according to research this can be a sweet spot for reaching a PB .”
What should I eat during the follicular phase of my cycle?
When it comes to how to fuel your fitness during this phase, it’s important to pack in the protein to help with post-workout recovery, especially when you’re doing those harder, high intensity sessions. “Nuts are a great post-workout snack and a yogurt and fruit smoothie is another way to give your muscle a boost,” says Emma.
Jess's big takeaway: “After our periods, we hit that powerful follicular phase. You might feel more motivated to train and your muscles are better at recovering. To make the most of this, it’s good to add in some more intense sessions, such as HIIT and strength.”
Check out the Jennis CycleMapping app for daily workouts and advice that’s synced to your menstrual cycle
Read: More on how to eat smart across your Follicular Phase