Saturday, 03 June 2017 03:27

Have we thought about how periods can affect the performance of female athletes?

This Menstrual Hygiene Day we should erase the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation and discuss the issues faced by athletes during their periods.

Sportswomen have always faced step motherly treatment when compared to their male counterparts. From making do with poorer infrastructure and training facilities to smaller remunerations, women athletes face a struggle every step of the day. They also have to battle mother nature alongside man-made issues.

Even while competing in high-stress competitions at the national and international level, including Olympics, women athletes have to deal with the pain and discomfort of having their periods. This Menstrual Hygiene Day, HerStory wants to erase the taboo surrounding the topic of menstruation and discuss the issues faced by athletes during their periods.

Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui got her period the night before she was set to compete in the women’s 4×100-metre relay during the Rio Olympics. After completing the race and earning fourth place with her teammates, a reporter asked her why she was on the ground clutching her stomach and doubled-over in pain.

“I feel I didn’t swim well today—I let my teammates down,” she responded frankly. “My period came last night and I’m really tired right now. But this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim as well as I should have.”

While many appreciated Fu for her honesty and bringing the taboo topic of menstruation out in the open, many criticised the swimmer for the unhygienic act of getting into the swimming pool during her period. Experts say that it’s absolutely hygienic to use the pool wearing a tampon. Fu’s comments also kicked off a discussion on China’s popular social media app Weibo about the use of tampons, which aren’t commonly used there.

Given how much of a taboo topic menstruation still is, both in professional sports and in general, it is extremely important to have such open and healthy conversations.

The Rio Games had the largest number of women competing in Olympic history, according to the International Olympic Committee, with 5,157 women out of 11,429 total athletes.

How periods affect athletes

Having a period during tournaments, especially athletic, can be difficult. Cramps and fatigue aside, there are the practical issues of changing the pads or tampons. Athletes from highly intensive sports like gymnastics or athletics are also prone to developing athletic amenorrhoea, or frequent missed periods, which can lead to reduced fertility and loss of bone density, if untreated.

Marathoner Kiran Gandhi made news when she chose to run without a pad or tampon, bleeding through her running clothes during the London Marathon 2015.

Twenty-six-year-old Kiran Gandhi got her period on the night before she was set to run her first-ever 26.2-mile race. She had spent a full year training and had never practiced running marathon-length distances while on her period. To her, the thought of going through such an intense mind-body challenge with a tampon or pad in between her legs did not make sense.

“It seemed like it would chafe me, it seemed uncomfortable, and I didn’t want to have to stop running to deal with something, I wanted to just go and be free,” Kiran later said. So she completed the London Marathon in 4 hours, 49 minutes and 11 seconds with blood running freely between her legs and shocking the spectators.

She used her period flow as a form of protest to make people understand that menstruation is completely natural—“something we should honour, enable, allow”—but is considered shameful in many places around the world.

Better understanding periods is simply a part of helping female athletes perform better and more comfortably.

Why Athletes Need to Follow the Principles of the Power Stack

Power and the ability to sprint over and over again win games. This leads to a very important question: How do you improve these abilities?

While it may seem as simple as just throwing in some jump training and conditioning, it is not that simple. Power and repeat sprint ability are at the top of what's called the power stack. The law of the power stack is that you can only improve power and repeat sprint ability if you build them on a foundation of other important qualities.

It takes time to turn your body into a performance machine. In the fast-paced world of athletics, it is easy to give in to the pressure to skip levels. However, you have to respect the law of the power stack. You have to go in order. If you try to skip levels, you may succeed in the short term. However, you can also get hurt or hit a huge plateau far below where you want to be. Take the time, go in order and build each level of the performance stack. Reach your full athletic potential!

Level 1: Health
Effective training is built on a foundation of good health. As an athlete, if you don't have your health, you have nothing. If you have any injuries or other health problems, work with a trusted healthcare professional to deal with these issues first.

Also, make sure you are doing all the simple things you already know you should be doing to stay healthy and recover as fast as possible. These include proper sleep, rest, stress management, soft tissue work, washing your hands, brushing and flossing your teeth, etc.

Level 2: Movement Quality
Physical Therapist Gray Cook explained this in his Performance Pyramid. The idea is that performance is built on a foundation of movement quality. If you don't move well, you will never be able to actualize your potential and you will likely end up hurt. Basic movement competencies and proper exercise technique are the next level in the power stack. Also, at this level you want to work on your landing, jumping, stopping, starting, sprinting and cutting mechanics.

Level 3: Work Capacity
Once you are healthy and move well, it is time to build up your work capacity. This is your ability to handle work. Imagine for example that you have been sitting in a desk all school year and then you suddenly get an intense manual summer job. The first week is brutal because you don't have any work capacity. However, after a few weeks, you build this up and can handle the work.

If you don't have very good work capacity, you won't be able to handle the volume of training need to build things like strength, speed and power. I like to start offseason programs with a base-building phase of a higher volume work. Performing many sets of loaded carries builds work capacity.

Note: At times athletes need to gain muscle or lose body fat. If you need body composition changes, this is where you do it.

Level 4: Relative Strength
This is your foundation for power, and if it is a small foundation (i.e., you are not that strong), you won't get very powerful. You can also get hurt, as the best power exercises require a lot of strength to do safely and effectively. In addition, the stronger you are in relation to your body weight and size, the easier and safer it is for you to move your body around.

Level 5: Power
Once you are strong, you now have the foundation to get what you really need—power. Power is the ability to produce a lot of force in a very short amount of time. It is the combination of strength and speed. Power lets you out-sprint or out-jump your opponent.

If you play a collision sport, power is what allows you to knock your opponent off his/her feet. It helps you rapidly start, stop and cut. Power wins games. Once you have a base of strength, you can start to emphasize more power exercises such as: jumping, plyos, sprints, agility and explosive weight room movements.

Level 6: Repeat Sprint Ability
The final level of the physical performance pyramid is repeat sprint ability. This is being able to use your newly gained explosive power and speed over and over until the game is done and won. In the final phase of offseason training, the focus shifts to repeating fast, explosive movements with relatively short rest intervals. Preseason practices and scrimmages also play an important role here.