‘It can affect you so much, whether it’s your coordination or your reaction time’
Lioness and Chelsea FC football player Fran Kirby has spoken about the progress being made in women’s football – and how she and her team mates sync their training regimes with their menstrual cycles.
Players use the "Fit For Women" monitoring app to log their symptoms, which is then shared with coaches to tailor the women’s schedules.
“It can affect you so much, whether it’s your coordination or your reaction time – which is so vital in so many sports," said Ms Kirby.
According to the Register of Exercise Professionals (REPs), different stages in the menstrual cycle and associated symptoms – such as body temperature, cramps and water retention – can affect heart rate, breathing, an individual’s susceptibility to injury as well as overall performance.
Researchers at Hello Clue, the period tracking app, encourage women not to skip strength training during the first part of the cycle (the time from their period until ovulation).
They note that women are at increased risk of tendon injuries while ovulating, and that increased body temperature and a reduction in performance may affect women leading up to their period.
Ms Kirby, the 2018 winner of the Professional Football Association’s Player’s Player of the Year award, noted the changing attitude towards women’s football in clubs – both within the Football Association and among the general public, who are now attending more games.
“The attitude in women’s football has changed a lot, especially since I was growing up [when] there were no professional teams," she said.
Ms Kirby acknowledged the sacrifices and challenges of being a professional athlete, with many sportspeople missing Christmas or weddings due to training commitments.
“It’s such hard work,” she said. “It’s the moments when nobody’s watching, it’s the moments when you’re waking up at 5am in the morning to go for a run or go to the gym before work."
Ms Kirby also referenced the role sport can play in contributing to better mental health. For her, football is “a relaxant – when I’m on the pitch, nothing else matters," she said.
The England football star isn’t the first athlete to reference her menstrual cycle in relation to her sporting performance.
At the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui broke sporting taboos by referencing her period after her team came fourth in the 4x100m medley relay.
“I don’t think I performed very well today," she said.
“It’s because my period came yesterday, so I felt particularly tired – but this isn’t an excuse, I still didn’t swim well enough."
In 2016, British tennis player Heather Watson attributed her disappointing performance in the Australian Open as down to “girl things”, a comment which was widely interpreted to refer to menstrual problems.