Strength periodization for women.

Strength periodization for women.

I have previously written about how you can periodize your training (read here). This time, I will focus on strength periodization for women.

«The purpose of periodization is to

• optimize the development of muscle strength and the ability to develop great effect.

• make top form coincide with important competitions.

• avoid injury and overtraining. [1] »

Several research reports describe the training effects of different types of periodizations. Such as the effect of block periodization, wave periodization, or linear periodization. However, most of these research reports have been conducted on men. The problem with this, however, is that men and women are not exactly alike. Besides the obvious differences between men and women, hormone production is also different. Should not the strength periodization for women take this into account?

In any case, my experience is that women achieve better results with individual periodization according to their menstrual cycle.

Therefore, I will review how to create a strength periodization for women.

Periodization according to the biological adaptation.

Firstly, it is essential to understand how the body adapts to increase the exercise load. Jan Olbrecht has presented a pretty good description of the biological adaptation in his book The science of winning:
«The adaptations of the human organism follow a regular pattern. During the first 1 to 2 weeks of a new training cycle the body adapts quickly to the new stimulus. In the next few weeks the power of this same stimulus to provoke an adaption will progressively fade to end up completely after 6 weeks (fig 1). We therefore call week 1 and 2 of the adaption process the «fast adaption phase» and weeks 3 to 6 the stabilization phase». [2, s7]
Course of training adaption
Fig 1. Shows the training adaptations of the human organism.

The menstrual cycle.

We may divide the menstrual cycle into three phases:

  • Menstruation (7 days)
  • Proliferation phase (follicular phase) (7 days)
  • Secretion phase (luteal phase) (14 days) [3].

Ovulation occurs at the end of the proliferation phase.

The duration of the various phases is not set in stone but varies from woman to woman.

It is helpful to know these phases because the body’s hormone concentration changes during them. And its hormone concentration can have a significant impact on strength training. For example, the hormone concentration of estrogen and DHEAS will change drastically throughout the menstrual cycle.

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEAS).

The adrenal cortex is the leading producer of DHEA.

However, the testicles (in men), the ovary (in women), adipose tissue, and the brain also produce this in small quantities. This hormone has androgenic properties. It is also a precursor to other hormones such as testosterone and estrogen.

In other words, the concentration of DHEAS increases the potential for higher estrogen production. Consequently, the body has access to the positive training effects this entails.
Just before ovulation, the production of DHEA increases, which in turn increases the production of estrogen. [4] In addition, DHEA has several other essential functions in the body.
“Most studies suggest that DHEA can improve many health and age-related ailments, precisely by improving the body’s hormone balance through natural conversion to other hormones.” [4]


Estrogen is a crucial hormone when talking about strength periodization for women. Both because it has several positive effects and the hormone concentration increases so noticeably during the women’s menstrual cycle. Estrogen is chiefly an anabolic hormone and thus can be used to build muscle and ligaments [7]. Furthermore, it has several protective effects.

In other words, the hormone will contribute to better recovery after exercise and have an injury-preventing effect. During the menstrual cycle, estrogen levels can actually increase by up to 100-fold during the follicular phase [7]. With this in mind, it is not surprising that women respond differently to exercise depending on where they are in the menstrual cycle phase.

Fig 2. Shows the estrogen and progesterone levels throughout the menstrual cycle.

In which phase do women get the most effect from strength training?

A study from Umeå University tried to answer the question in the headline. 59 women participated in a four-month study to answer this question [5].
The study concluded that:
«The high frequency periodised leg resistance training during the first two weeks of the cycle is more beneficial to optimize resistance training, than the last two weeks. The high frequency periodised leg resistance training was not associated with exercise-related negative consequences and was well accepted when performed during the first two weeks of each cycle. Due to seasonality and impact of OC use, oxytocin and cortisol are not suggested to be optimal, diagnostic markers alone/in combination with others, to detect OR/OTS in physically active women.» [5]

How do we use this information to create strength periodization for women?

According to the research from Umeå University, the training effect is higher in the first two weeks after menstruation. It coincides with the periods when the estrogen level is elevated. At the same time, we also know that estrogen has an injury-preventing effect. So not only will you get a greater training effect in this phase, you can also endure more training.
In other words, you have a window of opportunity. This training effect is also partially present in the secretion phase, although it is slightly lower. While in the menstrual phase where hormone levels are low, but the training effect is also modest and the risk of injury higher.
With this in mind, we have a decent rough plan for how we can set up strength periodization for women.

The menstruation phase

Since the risk of injury is slightly higher in this phase than in the others and the training effect is lower, we can use this phase as a recovery phase. Thus the body has time to recover before the next training phase. However, it is essential to point out that you should continue to exercise during this phase. Even if it’s only to maintain your current fitness level. 7 days without training will make it harder for you to start again afterward.
Personally, I would recommend general strength with a load of approx. 40-60% of 1 RM. It may also be beneficial to avoid strength training with complicated muscle coordination such as the deadlift and Clean & jerk.

The follicular phase

This is probably the phase that gives the best training effect. So we should use this training window as best we can. In other words, you can enter extra high intensity and amount during this period. Several of the athletes in my own training groups comment that they feel much more ready for hard training in this phase.

The content of this phase depends on your goals. For example, hypertrophy and maximal strength require different training loads (read more about that here). However, if you want maximal strength, you should use a heavy weight-load of 85-100%.

The luteal phase.

Training in this phase still gives a good training effect. The athletes  I have trained still feel reasonably fresh in this phase, although not as ready as in the follicular phase. Therefore, I often recommend a sub-maximum load in this phase (70-80%).

Finally, this is how you make a strength periodization for women.

If you follow the recommendations above, you get a natural variation of intensities and load throughout the menstrual phase.
The follicular phase constitutes the first 2 weeks of the training cycle. In other words, it coincides with the rapid adaptation phase described by Jan Olbrecht above. While the luteal phase becomes a part of the stabilization phase where the body adapts to the new training load. And finally, the menstrual phase becomes a good recovery phase where your body gets ready to handle a new training cycle.
Fig 3. Shows the intensity recommendations according to the menstrual cycle phases.

Training plans with strength periodization for women.

After the summer holidays (September 2022), I will submit several training plans with strength periodization for women. You will find them in my online store. When purchasing, you can download a PDF file that contains a detailed training plan. The training plans consist of 6 to 8 weeks of training and are structured according to different training objectives. This means that sets, repetitions, rest between sets, weight load, and lifting speed are set for you to get the most out of your training.


[1] Kraemer WJ, Ratamess NA 2004 «Med Sci Sports Exerc»


[2] Olbrecht J, 2007 «The science of winning. Planning, periodizing and optimizing swim training.» F & G partners, Partners in Sports.



[5] Wikstrøm-Frisén, 2016 «Training and hormones in physically active women: with and without oral contraceptive use» Umeå Universitet.

[6] Martina Velders & Patrick Diel, 2013«How Sex Hormones Promote Skeletal Muscle Regeneration» Sport Medicin 43, 1089-1100

[7] NkechInyere Chidi-Ogbolu & Keith Baar, 2019 «Effect of Estrogen on Musculoskeletal Performance and Injury Risk» Biomedical Engineering Graduate Group, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, United States

Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, United States


Department of Physiology and Membrane Biology, University of California, Davis, Davis, CA, United States