App to train women keep in tune with their menstrual cycle
Women’s sport is on the rise. With bigger and better programmes such as This Girl Can and Couch to 5K available, and running events such as parkrun growing significantly, opportunities for women have never been greater. Media perceptions are also changing: the BBC and ITV included female pundits in their World Cup coverage and, while parity is some way off, live broadcasting of women’s football and rugby is becoming more common.
So, activity is increasing and so, too, is profile – great. Yet, despite this, there is still a barrier to participation, one so big it is often deemed unmentionable. It is the menstrual cycle. It’s something that, as a research scientist, I have put many hours into trying to understand
As a young athlete, aged 11 and still in primary school, I was horrified at the prospect of starting my menstrual cycle. I was anxious that it would get in the way of my ability to take part in sport, and was terrified of anyone finding out. I wish I had known then what I know now, and I am determined to help the next generation and offer the tools to support them. Through my PhD, I came across many women who felt that their menstrual cycle was a barrier to regular exercise. They were full of questions: why didn’t they feel so good on certain days? Would this affect their performance? Was there anything they could do? Should they even be exercising? This is not a topic that women usually openly discuss. However, once that initial barrier was broken and they started talking about it, they were happy to chat away.
This is where I feel very fortunate to work for Orreco, a sports science and data analytics company. Orreco was co-founded in 2009 by Dr Brian Moore, a physiologist who completed his PhD under Prof Craig Sharp, widely known as the father of sports science. Here, we are determined to change perceptions and to help girls and women be active and perform throughout their menstrual cycle. Along with my colleague Grainne Conefrey, I recently created a female athlete-specific programme, and through this launched a free app, FitrWoman. This is designed to inform and educate, helping girls and women to make better decisions during their cycles.
In a recent UK-wide opinion poll of 2,000 women conducted by Populus on behalf of Orreco, 54% of participants identified that they have had to stop exercising as a result of their menstrual cycle, with this increasing to 73% in 16- to 24-year-olds. Perhaps even more concerning is the recent finding by Women in Sport that 42% of girls do not exercise when they are on their period. The poll also found that more than half of women say they are embarrassed by their periods. Is having a period really still an unmentionable “curse”?
Alongside working with elite teams and athletes, including a recent partnership with US Swimming, and having a core focus on research, the new app enables us to share evidence-based information around training, nutrition and injury risk with millions of women. It enables users not just to track their period but also their symptoms and any impact on their training, too.