A woman’s guide to Monthly Timing of Training

What you’re getting yourself into:
~5500 words
20-25 minutes read time (cup of tea advised)

For desktop users: Hovering over a study link shows a citation that supports the claim made in the article (Example et al., 2017).

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Key Points

1. A lot of women experience fluctuations in strength, training motivation an fatigue during their monthly cycle.

2. Women with a natural menstrual cycle and women who take tri-phasic birth control pills have multiple hormonal phases with different hormone concentrations during the month. Synthetic hormones in mono-phasic birth control pills suppress their natural production of female hormones. That’s why these women only have one (mono) hormonal phase.

3. Science supports anecdotal claims of increased strength at certain moments in the month. Studies show that strength often peaks around ovulation in women with a natural menstrual cycle. This is probably because of a peak in estrogen at that time, which is thought to enhance strength.

4. Science has repeatedly shown Menstrual Timing of Training is important for women with multiple hormonal phases (natural cycle and tri-phasic birth control). It gets them more muscle and strength for the work they do in the gym. Actually, doing the bulk of your training at the wrong times can even hamper your muscle and strength gains!

5. Scheduling your workouts and diet according to your menstrual cycle is a great strategy to get the best possible results with the least fatigue/motivation struggles.

Every time I’m at the gym, doing my thang, I see women putting in the hours. Upon hours, upon hours. Women who are actually giving weight training the benefit of the doubt, which demonstrates that the stigma of getting bulky from weights is disappearing little by little. However, for most women the hormonal circumstances aren’t great when it comes to shaping their bodies and butts. Nothing like the circumstances of the young testosterone-oozing fellows who seem like they can stuff themselves with peanut butter-lathered cheesecake. Which then of course gets turned into muscle.
This sparked a desire in me. To investigate whether women can use their rollercoaster hormones to their advantage.

A lot of women experience dips in training at different times during the month. One day, they feel on top of the world, easily deadlifting Personal Records off the ground. Other days feel like an uphill battle: low energy, low strength, low motivation to train.
There’s a logical explanation for this. It has to do with the fluctuation of hormones during a menstrual cycle. Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the workout struggles they cause. Even better, you can exploit these hormone fluctuations for better strength and muscle gains. It can be done by working with your hormones instead of against them: by timing your training according to your hormonal fluctuations.

This article will show that your menstrual cycle should dictate your training schedule if you want the best possible results with the least amount of struggles. At the end, I give some sample workout programs that you can start implementing today (and in the month to come…), along with dietary advice in line with this approach.
This article may also be of interest to (male) trainers that want to help their female clients get the most out of their training.

The menstrual cycle in a nutshell

First off, let’s have a 101 on menstrual cycles (yup, that sounds strange coming from a man, I know).
You can divide the menstrual cycle into 2 major phases:
Follicular phase (FP) – day 1 to 14
Luteal phase (LP) – day 15 to 28
image_0_MS_101
Of course, some women have cycles that take longer or shorter than 28 days, but let’s imagine it always lasts 28 days.
Within these 2 major phases, there are 2 shorter phases:
Menstruation phase – day 1 to 5
Ovulation phase – day 12 to 17 (ovulation occurs somewhere between those days)
image_0.1_MS_101
The amount of certain hormones in your body shifts from one phase to another. Especially the female hormones estradiol (an estrogen) and progesterone fluctuate up and down during the cycle. The image below illustrates this.
image_1_no-oc_graph

Taking birth control pills

These hormonal fluctuations don’t apply to all women. Birth control pills, such as Yaz, Alesse and Orthocyclen, suppress the natural production of estrogen and progesterone during most of the month (Coney & DelConte, 1999; Rechichi et al., 2009). The pills contain synthetic hormones which have the same bodily actions as their natural counterparts.
However, the blood levels of these synthetic hormones don’t fluctuate. That’s why these pills are called mono-phasic birth control pills. There’s only one distinct hormonal phase of 3 weeks, in which synthetic estrogen and progesterone are constantly elevated. Then there’s a week off the pills (or taking placebo pills). This off-week reassures women they aren’t pregnant, and it enables them to have their period.
image-1.1-monophasic-graph
In the 1980s companies started producing tri-phasic birth control pills to mimic the natural fluctuations of hormones during a monthly cycle. Brand examples are Enpresse, Trivora and Ortho Tricyclen. Women on tri-phasic birth control have to take 3 types of pills thoughout the month, each with different amounts of synthetic hormones. That makes for 3 hormonal phases. Each of these phases is characterized by certain blood concentrations of these synthetic hormones (Rechichi et al., 2009). Then there’s a week off the pills. The image below illustrates this.

In a nutshell, women with a natural menstrual cycle, and women taking tri-phasic birth control pills have multiple hormonal phases. Their hormonal environment is constantly changing. That’s the main reason why scheduling their training during specific times of the month could have benefits (Sung et al., 2014; Wikström-Frisén et al., 2015).

Women on mono-phasic birth control pills have only one hormonal phase. As we will see, for them there’s no benefit of timing their training. Then again, if you are one of these women, and you’re thinking about stopping your mono-phasic birth control pills or getting an IntraUterine Device (copper or hormonal), you may want to keep reading.

Now let’s look at why timing your training according to your menstrual cycle is so important when your hormones are fluctuating during the month…

 

Strength peaks around ovulation

Many women tell me their strength levels are as stable as a tourist on a bicycle in Amsterdam. Take Monika for example, one of my correspondents. She noticed that some workouts her strength was through the roof. On other days just the stairs to the gym posed a serious challenge. What frustrated her most: that there wasn’t any information on this phenomenon available that she could pass to her personal trainer. Her 2014 training log, shown below, clearly shows a pattern of ups and downs in workout performance. This pattern was in line with certain phases of her monthly cycle.
image_2.0_log_monika
Science supports Monika’s claims of feeling fatigued and weak one workout, and feeling like squatting a full-grown cow the next. Multiple studies show a strength peak during ovulation (between day 12 to 17) (Bambaeichi et al., 2004; Phillips et al., 1996; Sarwar et al., 1996), after which strength declines rapidly. On average, the literature shows that strength fluctuates about 10% during the month. Hypothetically, that’s an extra 22 lbs on a 100 lbs squat! At bodyweight 120 lbs, so 10% of 220 lbs. The following infographic illustrates this.
image_2.1_strength_around_ovulation_studies

(Studies that didn’t include ovulation phase not included)

Researchers are not sure about the mechanism behind these strength fluctuations. However, the peak in estrogen right before ovulation may have something to do with the sudden leap in performance (Phillips et al., 1996; Sarwar et al., 1996; Gordon et al., 2013). There’s a theory that estrogen directly improves the function of the contractile chains (myofibrils) within the muscle (Lowe et al., 2010).
There’s also some (more convincing) evidence of testosterone having a enhancing effect on the contractile chains in women (Dent et al., 2012). Considering the fact that testosterone peaks around ovulation, it’s another possible explanation for the strength fluctuations.

image_3_peak_estrogen_and_test_strength
Strangely, there is one study that showed no increase in strength around ovulation (De Jonge et al., 2001). Because of this conflicting study, my best advice would be to track your workouts and see whether your strength fluctuates, or not. If it does, it’s a clear sign you might benefit from timing your training according to your monthly cycle, which we’ll discuss in the next section.

Finally, all the studies that investigated women taking mono-phasic birth control pills didn’t show these ups and downs in strength (Phillips et al., 1996; Sarwar et al., 1996). This is indeed what we would expect, looking at the lack of hormonal fluctuations. Some researchers even think taking a birth control pill decreases overall strength in women by reducing the amount of free testosterone in the blood (Dent et al., 2012). However, this is rather speculative, so don’t attach too much importance to it.

 

Menstrual Timing of Training and gains in muscle and strength

This is where it gets interesting. In the past years multiple studies have investigated the effects of Menstrual Timing of Training (MTT) on gains in muscle and strength. To do this, they scheduled most of the training during a specific phase of the month.
Overall, the results show that doing most of your workouts during the Follicular phase (day 1 to 14) grows your muscles bigger and gets you stronger than doing most of your workouts during the Luteal phase (day 15 to 28). Follicular phase training also beats consistently doing 3 workouts per week during the entire month (regular training) (Reis et al., 1995; Sung et al., 2014; Wikström-frisén et al., 2015). The following image shows the results for one of these studies (Wikström-frisén et al., 2015).
image_4.0_results_MTT_wikstrom
Now, when we split the participants of the 3 studies (Reis et al., 1995; Sung et al., 2014; Wikström-frisén et al., 2015) up into women with a natural cycle, women who take tri-phasic birth control, and women who take mono-phasic birth control, we start to see a pattern…
image_4.1_split_up_participants_studies
The closer you are to a ‘natural’ menstrual cycle, with its highly fluctuating hormones, the more important MTT seems to be: for women who weren’t taking any birth control pills, timing of training had the biggest impact on muscle and strength gains. For example, doing most of the workouts in the first 2 weeks (Follicular phase) increased muscle mass by 2.0%, while doing most of the workouts in the last 2 weeks (Luteal phase) decreased muscle mass by 1.9%! (Wikström-frisén et al., 2015)
In women who took tri-phasic birth control pills (which mimics the natural fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone), timing of training had a moderate impact on muscle and strength gains.
Finally, for women on mono-phasic birth control, timing of training didn’t matter much at all. Whether they did the majority of their training in the first 2 weeks or the last 2 weeks, there was almost no difference in muscle and strength gains.

From looking at this pattern, you could say there’s an ‘order of effectiveness’ of MTT:

  • Natural menstruation (very effective)
  • Triphasic birth control (moderately effective)
  • Monophasic birth control (timing of training doesn’t matter much)

Finally, there was one study from 2016 that showed no significant difference of training mostly during the first or last 2 weeks of the month (Sakamaki-Sunaga et al., 2016). This goes against the other findings. However, the women in this study were all untrained. When you’re untrained, you’re so sensitive to weight training that the mere sight of a barbell will kick your muscles into growth. Also, they were eating only 55-60 grams of protein per day. Clearly, these are not the perfect conditions to test whether MTT is effective for women with experience in weight training, like yourself.

 

Why does Menstrual Timing of Training give better results?

So why does MTT seem to work so well for women with a natural menstrual cycle and women taking tri-phasic birth control pills? As stated previously: hormones probably have something to do with it. Specifically, researchers argue it’s because of estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone (Wikström-Frisén et al., 2015). Let’s look at their reported effects on muscle.
Estrogen is repeatedly shown to have anabolic effects by increasing the amount of myonuclei in the muscle (Enns & Tiidus, 2010; Sung et al., 2014). In turn, this increases the muscle’s capacity to grow (Bruusgaard et al., 2010).
Estrogen also seems to have indirect anabolic effects: it increases growth hormone levels (Constantini et al., 2005; Trenkle 1976). Growth hormone in turn promotes muscle-building (Fryburg et al., 1991) and muscle preservation (Moller et al., 2009).
Progesterone, which is elevated during the last 2 weeks of the cycle, is shown to have catabolic effects (Landau & Lugibihl, 1961; Kriengsinyos et al., 2004). In other words, it breaks down muscle (Oosthuyse & Bosch, 2010).
Testosterone might also play a role in the better results with MTT (Sung et al., 2014). It peaks around ovulation, and workouts during these few days may be extra productive for strength and muscle gains (Bui et al., 2013; Longcope, 1986). Additionally, testosterone on its own has major effects on muscle growth, even without lifting a single finger (Brodsky et al., 1996).
The image below summarizes these effects.
image_5_possible_mechanisms

To better understand the bigger picture impact of these hormones, let’s look at an analogy of sowing and reaping. The first 2 weeks of the month, the soil is extremely fertile because there’s more estrogen and testosterone. Also, there aren’t many gains-eating insects flying around (progesterone). All the sowing you do in this period by planting seeds with your workouts will reap more muscle growth and strength gains.
During the last 2 weeks, the soil is less fertile, because there’s less estrogen and testosterone. Additionally there are more pesky insects (progesterone). All the sowing you do by training will reap less muscle growth and strength gains.
image_5.1_sowing_reaping_analogy

A recent study supports this theory of hormones ‘making the soil more/less fertile’. They found less muscle damage and better strength recovery from a workout during the first 2 weeks compared to a workout during the last 2 weeks (Markofski & Braun, 2014). These were women with weightlifting experience. Another study showed contradicting results… A workout either in the first 2 weeks or last 2 weeks both produced similar muscle growth rates the day after (Miller et al., 2006). However, women in this study had no weightlifting experience whatsoever: the bare thought of a barbell would increase their muscle growth rates. As such, we could say that the more experienced you get, the more the rules of MTT apply.

 

What about IUD?

(you can skip this part if IUDs aren’t relevant to you)
We don’t know a lot about IntraUterine Devices (IUD) and the effectiveness of MTT. However, keeping the sowing and reaping analogy in mind, we can look at what and IUD does to the monthly fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone. A copper IUD (such as Paragard) doesn’t affect female hormone production. Makes sense. For hormonal IUDs (such as Liletta, Mirena, Kyleena and Skyla) it’s a different story…

Hormonal IUD effects on estrogen

Most science shows a hormonal IUD doesn’t affect natural estrogen levels at all (Järvelä et al., 1998; Xiao et al., 1998). However, one study shows peak estrogen levels aren’t as high with an IUD (Barbosa et al., 1990). All in all, we could say estrogen still fluctuates, as in a natural cycle, but probably not as dramatically.

So why do birth control pills suppress natural estrogen levels, and a hormonal IUD doesn’t? Birth control pills work systemically by sending synthetic hormones through the entire bloodstream, while an IUD works locally in the uterine.
image_6_IUDvsOC_estrogen

Hormonal IUD effects on progesterone

What about progesterone? Two studies show that long-term hormonal IUD use (4+ years of use) doesn’t affect the ups and downs of progesterone much (Barbosa et al., 1990; Xiao et al., 1998). However, another study showed a hormonal IUD decreases peak progesterone levels to 4 times less than usual (Järvelä et al., 1998). A possible reason is that the women in this study had had the IUD for just 3 months. We could say that in the short run (several months after IUD insertion), the peak levels of progesterone really take a hit. Hence, the total fluctuation of the hormone isn’t as dramatic. However, that probably recovers to natural-like fluctuations in the long run (years).


image_6.1_IUD_and_progesterone

It’s important to note that about 1/6th of all studied women experienced irregular menstrual patterns, which was related to low peak levels of progesterone (Barbosa et al., 1990; Xiao et al., 1998). For this reason Menstrual Timing of Training as discussed in this article probably doesn’t work for women who experience the same. More on this in the next section.

To sum it up, women with a copper IUD very likely benefit from MTT, as nothing happens to their natural hormonal fluctuations.
Long-term use of a hormonal IUD mildly flattens the fluctuations of estrogen and progesterone. This is especially true for those with irregular menstrual patterns. However, there are still specific hormonal phases (be it less pronounced). That’s why we can assume that the discussed timing rules also apply to women with a hormonal IUD. However, until studies validate this, we can’t be certain. Feel free to experiment with the set-up for MTT I lay out in the next section to see if it works for you.

The image below summarizes these findings.


image_6.2_IUD_vs_natural_hormone_profile

 

Applying Menstrual Timing of Training

For women with a natural menstrual cycle, women who take tri-phasic birth control pills, and women with an IUD, MTT seems to be effective for more muscle and strength gains. They are best off doing the bulk of their weight training in the first 2 weeks (Follicular phase) of their menstrual cycle.

Identifying where you’re at in your menstrual cycle is a challenge by itself. Helpful tools are apps like Clue (iOS/Android) and Period Tracker: my calendar (Android). When you’ve got an idea of where you’re at in your cycle, and you know how long your cycle generally lasts, you’re ready to put the above knowledge to use. As noted, some women with an IUD may experience irregular menstrual patterns. For them it’s not certain whether MTT is effective… But it might be worth experimenting with.

First 2 weeks (Follicular Phase)

During the first 2 weeks (Follicular phase) you want to focus on the iron part of the fitness game: weight training 3 to 5 times per week, doing many sets, performing different Types of Exercises. Your calorie intake should be a little (5 to 10%) above maintenance. These are the perfect conditions for muscle building and getting stronger.

Days around ovulation

At the end of these 2 weeks (Ovulation), when you’re at your strongest, make sure your workouts are tough, heavy, and long. Really squeeze the last bit out of you. Try to go for personal records in multiple compound exercises. The last 2 weeks you’ll have enough time to recuperate.

Last 2 weeks (Luteal Phase)

The last 2 weeks of your menstrual cycle probably includes some of your weaker days. And the science on Menstrual Timing of Training showed weight training isn’t as productive during these weeks. For these reasons you should do less weightlifting-workouts and focus on fat loss. This is perfect, because you probably gained some fat along with the muscle during the first 2 weeks. Trimming it off will require you to lower your calorie intake. Optionally you can add in 1 or 2 days of low intensity cardio for about 20 – 40 minutes.
Make sure you’re still doing 1-2 weightlifting workouts per week, though, as this will do 2 things:

The muscle you worked for in the first 2 weeks by training 3-5 times per week is not going to evaporate by only training 1-2 times per week (Bickel et al., 2011). Even better, there’s evidence it re-sensitizes your muscles to the subsequent 2 week block high-frequency training, which might increase muscle gains in the long run (Ogosawara et al., 2013b).

Some of my clients told me they really love to train often. If you’re like that as well, I would advise to do 50% – 70% of your regular training volume during the last 2 weeks,
while keeping your training frequency the same. For example, If you did 4 sets per exercise, 4 times per week in the first two weeks, you would decrease that to 2-3 sets per exercise for the last 2 weeks.

One 24-week study demonstrates these benefits of short periods of “taking it easy on the weight training”. They divided the participants in two groups: (1) training continuously, and (2) training with interspersed de-training periods. Both groups got the exact same muscle gains in the long run (Ogosawara et al., 2013a). The image below illustrates the results.

 

image_7_detraining_longterm
We do have to take into account that these participants were untrained. That’s why we err on the safe side by actually training some during the last 2 weeks, instead of not training at all (‘de-training’).

We should also note that all the studies showing benefits from short periods of de-training are mostly done in men. Men without the hormonal fluctuations of a menstrual cycle. Adding this hormonal ingredient to the soup may have reaped even more benefits from periodic blocks of less training, which is also what the Menstrual Timing of Training studies suggest (Reis et al., 1995; Sung et al., 2014; Wikström-frisén et al., 2015).

If you’re still not convinced that 2 weeks of infrequent training can do no harm and might even help your long-term progress, you can choose to emphasize activator/stretcher-type exercises in this phase. Examples would be exercises like deep Squats, Hip Thrusts, and Bulgarian Split Squats, which suit the low training frequency better. That’s because they probably take longer to recover from than Pumper-type exercises, such as Band Hip Thrusts, Band Lateral Walks, and Frog Pumps (Gibala et al., 2000 and Gibala et al., 1995).
The image below summarizes these training and nutrition strategies in relation to the sowing and reaping analogy.



image_8_recommendations_based _on_analogy

Final note: some women are especially sensitive to the Pre-Menstrual Syndrome. Every cake or cookie in sight looks like heaven. For them, I would suggest to ’loosen up’ on the diet during these days. Treat yourself with some nice foods, but make sure you don’t overdo it. This will probably give some mental relief, which is much needed for the 2 weeks of frequent and hard workouts to come.

Without further ado, let’s get to the sample programs you can follow after you’ve established where you’re at in your Menstrual Cycle (for example, with the help of Clue (iOS/Android) or Period Tracker: my calendar (Android)). Depending on your whether you want to train your whole body, or focus on your Glutes, the following training programs could be implemented.

 

Full Body Sample MTT Training Program

Full Body MTT (first 2 weeks, 5x/week)

The first 2 weeks of the sample Full Body program has you hitting all major muscles of the body 4x per week. There’s a special focus on Glute training, as they get worked with 3 exercise categories per day. “a” and “b” denote exercises that can be combined in circuit-style. Who wants to spend 2 hours in the gym when you can get everything done in 60 minutes? Make sure you’re still resting for about 30 secs in between the exercises (don’t do them back-to-back). This way the exhaustion from the previous exercise can’t carry over to the current exercise and decrease performance.

Try to progress by increasing the weights every week. If the increment is too large, you can also progress by doing an extra rep or two (for example: doing 17 reps with the same weight instead of 15). The week after you can probably successfully increase the weight and do 13-15 reps.

Monday:
1a) Barbell Hip Thrust (activator Glute exercise, for more on this, see my previous article for Bret Contreras) – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
1b) Bench Triceps Dip – 3 x 10 – 12 (video)

2a) Front Squat (stretcher Glute exercise) – 3 x 10 – 15
2b) Upright Row (video) / Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3 x 12 – 15

3a) Dumbbell Bench Press – 3 x 10 – 15
3b) One-arm Dumbbell Row – 3 x 10 – 12 (video)

4a) Band Sumo Walk (pumper Glute exercise) – 2 x 20 (video)
4b) Hanging Knee Raise – 2 x 12 – 15 (video)
4c) Leg Curls – 2 x 8 – 12

Tuesday:
1a) Romanian Deadlift – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
1b) Upright Row / Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

2a) High Step-Up – 3 x 10 – 15
2b) Push-up (on box) – 3 x 10 – 15

3a) Cable Shoulder Pull – 3 x 10 – 15 (video, pulled towards your armpits instead of your face)
3b) Cable Overhead Triceps Extension – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

4a) Frog Pump / Elevated Glute Bridge – 2 x 20 (video)
4b) Dumbbell Curl – 2 x 12 – 15

Wednesday:
1a) High-bar Squat – 3 x 10 – 15
1b) Band Upright Row / Band Face Pull – 3 x 15 – 20 (to failure) (video)

2a) Cable Pull-Through – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
2b) Cable Fly – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

3a) Assisted Chin-Up – 3 x 10 – 15
3b) Assisted Chest Dip – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

4a) Band Seated Hip Abduction – 2 x 20 (video)
4b) Reverse Crunch – 2 x 10 – 15 (video)

Thursday:
1a) Band Hip Thrust / Kneeling Band Hip Hinge – 3 x 20 (video)
1b) Band Upright Row (video) / Band Face Pull – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

2a) Pendlay Row (no pause at bottom) – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
2b) Standing Overhead Press – 3 x 8 – 12 (video)

3a) Lying Leg Curl – 2 x 8 – 12
3b) Off-bench Side Lying Hip Abduction – 3 x 10 – 15 (instagram video, third exercise)

4a) Walking Squat Bouncer – 2 x 20 (video)
4b) Band Biceps Curl – 2 x 15 – 20 (to failure)
4c) Band Triceps Extension – 2 x 15 – 20 (2 at a time, to failure) (video)

Friday:
1a) Bulgarian Split Squat – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
1b) Dumbbell Lateral Raise – 3 x 12 – 15

2a) Incline Dumbbell Press – 3 x 10 – 15
2b) Incline Dumbbell Row – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

3a) Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift – 3 x 10 – 15
3b) Standing EZ-bar Triceps Extension – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

4 Swiss Ball Reverse Hyperextension – 3 x 20 (video)

Full Body MTT (last 2 weeks)

In the last 2 weeks, there’s only 2 workout sessions per week. That means you’re hitting all major muscles 2x per week. You may still try to increase the weights you’re working with, but don’t expect it to go as easily as in the first 2 weeks. If you can maintain your strength on all exercises, that’s great already.

Monday:
1a) Eccentric DB Sumo Squats – 3 x 10 – 15 (instagram video)
1b) Upright Row – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

2a) Bench Press – 3 x 10 – 15
2b) Reverse Crunch – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

3a) Rounded-back Hyperextensions – 2 x 20 (picture)
3b) 45-degree Bench DB Row – 3 x 10 – 15 (video, same idea but now on Back Extension bench)

4a) Standing Cable External Rotation – 3 x 10 – 15
4b) Cable Biceps Curl – 3 x 12 – 15
4c) Cable Triceps Extension – 3 x 12 – 15

Thursday:
1a) Deficit Backward Lunge – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
1b) DB Lateral Raises – 3 x 12 – 15

2a) Romanian Deadlift – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)
2b) DB Reverse Fly – 3 x 12 – 15 (video)

3a) Assisted Wide-grip Pull-up – 3 x 10 – 15
3b) Assisted Triceps Dip – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

4a) Incline DB Press – 3 x 10 – 15
4b) Incline DB Curl – 3 x 10 – 15 (video)

Glute-specific Sample MTT Training Program

Glute-specific MTT (first 2 weeks, 4x/week)

In this sample program we’re focusing exclusively on the Glutes. The first 2 weeks we’re doing more frequent training, hitting the Glutes with 3 exercise categories per day. Sets per week are set at 37 in this specific program. However, you can adjust this according to how advanced you are (and how you respond to the program!).

Progress still happens in the way described in the Full Body sample program. For the pumpers, you can gradually increase the amount of reps you do, while periodically increasing the toughness of the resistance band. For instance: with a red band you can first try to progress by increasing the amount of reps you do (going from 20 to 26 reps in 3 weeks time, for example). When you can do 26-30 reps, upgrade to the tougher blue band and start at 18-20 reps per set. Then slowly build your way up again.

Monday:
GS_monday

Tuesday
(more sets, because just before rest day)

GS_tuesday

Thursday:

GS_thursday

Friday:
(more sets, because of the 2 rest days in the weekend)

GS_friday

You may respond better to certain exercises. For example, if Band Hip Thrusts leave you stumbling around the weight room while knocking over water bottles, do those instead of the barbell version.

As Bret Contreras and James Krieger underscored in their latest article collaboration, individual differences are very important. If like Erin, your Glutes fire when thinking of resistance bands, you might want to do 5-6 workouts of exclusively pumpers.

Glute-specific MTT (last 2 weeks, 2x/week)

The last 2 weeks are designed to maintain the Glute muscle you gained during the first 2 weeks. As explained earlier, we’re focusing on long-recovery stretcher exercises here, because they fit the low training frequency better.

Monday:

GS_LT_monday

Thursday:

GS_LT_thursday

I hope this article has given you insights into why Timing of Training is so important. If you care about spending your time in the gym as productively as possible, and taking your physique to the next level, I cannot recommend enough that you at least experiment with the above set-ups.

If you need any help with setting up your program; ask away in the comment section. For more in-depth programming/nutrition help, you may hire me as an Online Coach.

References

  1. Bambaeichi, E., Reilly, T., Cable, N. T., & Giacomoni, M. (2004). The isolated and combined effects of menstrual cycle phase and time-of-day on muscle strength of eumenorrheic females. Chronobiology International, 21(4–5), 645–660.
  2. Barbosa, I., Bakos, O., Olsson, S. E., Odlind, V., & Johansson, E. D. (1990). Ovarian function during use of a levonorgestrel-releasing IUD. Contraception, 42(1), 51-66.
  3. Bickel, C. S., Cross, J. M., & Bamman, M. M. (2011). Exercise dosing to retain resistance training adaptations in young and older adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 43(7), 1177-1187.
  4. Brodsky, I. G., Balagopal, P., & Nair, K. S. (1996). Effects of testosterone replacement on muscle mass and muscle protein synthesis in hypogonadal men–a clinical research center study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 81(10), 3469-3475.
  5. Bruusgaard, J. C., Johansen, I. B., Egner, I. M., Rana, Z. A., & Gundersen, K. (2010). Myonuclei acquired by overload exercise precede hypertrophy and are not lost on detraining. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 107(34), 15111-15116.
  6. Bui, H. N., Sluss, P. M., Blincko, S., Knol, D. L., Blankenstein, M. A., & Heijboer, A. C. (2013). Dynamics of serum testosterone during the menstrual cycle evaluated by daily measurements with an ID-LC-MS/MS method and a 2nd generation automated immunoassay. Steroids, 78(1), 96–101.
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By | 2017-06-06T10:05:00+00:00 April 3rd, 2017|Articles|27 Comments

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27 Comments

  1. Eugen April 4, 2017 at 22:29 - Reply

    This article was seriously too fucking good. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Dre April 7, 2017 at 14:51 - Reply

    I really wanna try this I jis have a question. You have the start day as Monday but we don’t always start our period on a Monday. So would Monday = day 1 of period and follow from there? Or do I start on the first Monday after my period?

    • Stijn van Willigen April 7, 2017 at 20:11 - Reply

      Definitely you can start the first 2 weeks on another day. The weekdays in the training program are just an example. Best of luck!

  3. Dre April 8, 2017 at 03:25 - Reply

    Ok awesome thanks!

    Also the frog pumps video link goes to the Romanian deadlift link.

    • Stijn van Willigen April 11, 2017 at 09:37 - Reply

      You’re welcome Dre. Ah, thanks for the heads-up.

  4. L Bird April 15, 2017 at 12:41 - Reply

    Hi, thank you so much for this in depth article! i have bookmarked it so I can refer to it often. I hope you don’t mind but I have a couple questions for you:

    Firstly, it seems to me that the goal of this program is body recomposition, since the first two weeks when we are stronger are aimed at muscle gain, and the last two weeks are aimed at fat loss. Is this correct? I ask because I have a rather specific body goal in mind: I want to lose 20lbs of body fat, but gain muscle in glutes ONLY ( I naturally have very developed quads, perhaps because I used to be a dancer, and they are out of proportion to my body. I would love to maintain my general muscle size and just gain glute size). I have been unsure of whether it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously, and if not, which I should focus on first. Not to mention, I am super hormonal in general and whenever I start a lower calorie diet, I inevitably falter during the last two weeks of my cycle and undo anything good I had done in the first two weeks.

    Secondly, I found this article right after the one you wrote about training frequency on Bret Contreras’ site (another amazing article, btw!). I wonder if it would work to do the 3 days of glute specific heavy resistance training for the first two weeks (with maybe 2 days of upper body resistance training in between), and 6 days of pumper exercises for the last two weeks of the cycle?

    Thank you in advance if you are able to answer.

    • Stijn van Willigen April 17, 2017 at 14:45 - Reply

      Hello L Bird,
      Thank you, I’m glad it’s helpful.

      Don’t mind at all.

      Firstly, it seems to me that the goal of this program is body recomposition, since the first two weeks when we are stronger are aimed at muscle gain, and the last two weeks are aimed at fat loss. Is this correct? I ask because I have a rather specific body goal in mind: I want to lose 20lbs of body fat, but gain muscle in glutes ONLY ( I naturally have very developed quads, perhaps because I used to be a dancer, and they are out of proportion to my body. I would love to maintain my general muscle size and just gain glute size). I have been unsure of whether it is possible to lose fat and gain muscle simultaneously, and if not, which I should focus on first.

      Yes, it’s indeed aimed at body recomposition. It’s definitely possible to gain muscle and lose fat simultaneously, under the right circumstances. And yes, muscle hypertrophy is specific for the muscle you focus on most. So you could maintain your leg/upper body size and gain muscle in the glutes.

      Not to mention, I am super hormonal in general and whenever I start a lower calorie diet, I inevitably falter during the last two weeks of my cycle and undo anything good I had done in the first two weeks.

      I see, so you think calories have to be higher in the last 2 weeks to prevent this from happening. I’m wondering then how many calories (under maintenance) you are consuming in this period.
      Also, there are multiple methods to create a (weekly) calorie deficit that you could experiment with. For example, you could eat at maintenance during the entire week, and do 1-2 days of “Protein Sparing Modified Fasts” on rest days to still have an average deficit of 10-20% per day.

      Secondly, I found this article right after the one you wrote about training frequency on Bret Contreras’ site (another amazing article, btw!). I wonder if it would work to do the 3 days of glute specific heavy resistance training for the first two weeks (with maybe 2 days of upper body resistance training in between), and 6 days of pumper exercises for the last two weeks of the cycle?

      Thank you. That’s what part 2 of Optimal Training Frequency for the Glutes is about: training status. A beginner needs a different training frequency than an intermediate trainee. Hence, first an assessment should be made on where you are in relation to your genetic potential of Glute strength/muscle size. I do not recommend switching up exercise types (from stretcher/activator to pumper) every 2 weeks. Rather stick with a certain type of exercises over a longer period of time, so you can see whether you’re getting stronger on those exercises long-term (=muscle gain).

      – Stijn

      • L Bird April 22, 2017 at 18:55 - Reply

        Thanks so much for the in depth response. To answer your question, I am eating 500 cals under maintenance when I face the aforementioned problem. But if I am raising calories to gain muscle the first two weeks, I’m going to caution a guess that it could go a long way towards alleviating the psychological effect of dieting that could be causing my adherence issue. It’s worth a try anyway! And I definitely intend to experiment with the PSMF style eating on rest days.

        One last question sorry! I enjoy cardio for mental as well as physical reasons, and also enjoy going to the gym every day (I’m a stay at home mom so it’s my fun thing to do). Is it ok on this program to include some sort of cardio every day even during the muscle gain portion of the program? Will it have an effect on the gainz? Also, is it ok to do it every day during the last two weeks of my cycle?

        • Stijn van Willigen April 28, 2017 at 19:04 - Reply

          You’re welcome. Yes, I think you should definitely experiment with Protein Sparing Modified Fasts then (one or two days per week of as low calories as you can go while still eating 120 g + protein per day. Tip: lots and lots of veggies help here). This allows you to decrease your deficit to 200-300 calories on the other days, possibly giving you less hormonal problems.

          One last question sorry! I enjoy cardio for mental as well as physical reasons, and also enjoy going to the gym every day (I’m a stay at home mom so it’s my fun thing to do). Is it ok on this program to include some sort of cardio every day even during the muscle gain portion of the program? Will it have an effect on the gainz? Also, is it ok to do it every day during the last two weeks of my cycle?

          It’s a risk you’re taking with cardio, as you can see from this infographic.
          In short: Cardiovascular adaptations compete and even undo some of the strength/muscle adaptations if cardio is taken too far. I suggest you keep the cardio sessions short (30 mins tops) and perform them on very low intensity.
          During the last 2 weeks, I would suggest maybe keeping the frequency higher (4x per week) but splitting the amount of sets in half. That way, you do half the training volume, but you can still go to the gym often. If you only perform cardio on the remaining 3 days, you can go to the gym every day, while keeping negative effects on your gains as low as possible.

          • L Bird June 30, 2017 at 11:54

            I have only just seen this reponse, my apologies for not thanking you sooner for all your advice! I have begun putting this advice into practise so will keep you updated on my progress. I also make it a point to share this article whenever possible so I can spread the joy to all women of the world. Thanks again!

  5. L Bird August 6, 2017 at 17:09 - Reply

    Just wondering, since this is aimed at body recomp, should one cut first if they are around 25% body fat? Is there an ideal body fat to start this at? I started this last month but wonder if I should cut first then restart this?

    • Stijn van Willigen August 6, 2017 at 17:22 - Reply

      Cutting first is a good idea, yet. For women, I recommend cutting down to about 15 percent before considering ‘bulking’. However, there’s a very good chance you’ll gain a significant amount of muscle mass if you give the outlined program your best shot, practically turning it into a body recomp with more fat loss.

      • Lygia Martin August 6, 2017 at 17:57 - Reply

        I seeee ok thank you!!

  6. Kelly August 8, 2017 at 20:59 - Reply

    Hi, Thank you very much for the great article.. I have been lifting weights for past two years now and try to progressively increase weight/rep per week. I have been training legs/glutes 3 times per week i.e. every other day. Would you suggest me to continue with 3 days of heavy Legs/glute specific training and then two days for upper body or full body for 5 days as mentioned in this program.
    Thank you

    • Stijn van Willigen August 16, 2017 at 18:14 - Reply

      More than welcome, Kelly. Glad you found the article helpful.

      Very good that you’re trying to gain strength progressively.
      About your training frequency: it depends. I suggest taking a look at my Glute recovery calculator ( http://www.bodylogiq.org/en/estimating-glute-recovery-time-culculator/ ) to find out how often you should optimally train your Glutes per week. You can also do this for your upper body muscles and legs to decide on their optimal frequency (make sure you’re counting them as ‘Stretcher’ exercises).

      Then, during the second 2 weeks, either take 33% off your total training volume for the respective muscles (lower sets per training), or lower your Glute/other muscle training frequency (by about 1-2 days per week; so going from 5x per week to 3-4 times per week training the Glutes).

      Hope that helped,
      Stijn

      • Kelly August 18, 2017 at 02:28 - Reply

        Thank you very much Stijn. I did use the calculator and according to that I can train glutes 7 days a week. I want to lose some body fat as well, I am currently at around 24%, should I focus on slow cardio or HIIT?

  7. Lynda August 16, 2017 at 23:19 - Reply

    Good article but everything changes once you hit menopause as I am. Like to know what happens then.

    • Stijn van Willigen August 19, 2017 at 15:28 - Reply

      Hey Lynda,
      When you hit menopause, things change significantly. Because your estrogen goes way down, and hormonal fluctuations are absent, I recommend lowering the training volume (there’s less recovery capacity) and keeping training frequency and volume constant (no fluctuations in hormones). See if you recover from the workouts and get stronger, and tweak along the way.

  8. Irina October 20, 2017 at 10:09 - Reply

    Thank you for the article!
    One thing is still not clear for me. At the beginning of the follicular phase am I supposed to be already strong to do 5 times a week workouts? Personally, I am very weak during the first 2 days (I cannot manage the pain without medication like ibuprofen), the next 2 days are better but still not 100%. So for me the first 2 days are no workouts at all, the 3rd and 4th day I am stronger, but not enough for a “hard and heavy” workout.
    The question is – should I start heavy workouts on my 5th day?

    • Stijn van Willigen October 21, 2017 at 19:38 - Reply

      You’re welcome, Irina!
      Yes, in your case it’s better to start frequent/high volume training from the 5th day and on. You basically shift the 2-week period forward, so you would be doing more volume or higher frequency until the 19th day, then switch back to lower volume or lower frequency.

  9. Mo October 23, 2017 at 04:20 - Reply

    Thank you so much for this! This has helped me and my GF tremendously. I just had a question. did you make the workout for the Glute-specific Sample MTT Training Program in an app? Those tables that shows the exercise type, video. reps per set looks really nice. May i ask if its available for download?

    • Stijn van Willigen October 24, 2017 at 12:59 - Reply

      Hello Mo,
      More than welcome. Happy it helped you two. No, I mostly use a customized excel to create workout programs for my clients.
      Sadly, because of this it’s not available for download. Hope you understand.

      However, I am thinking of launching an app somewhere in the future that helps people program their workouts better.

  10. Irina October 23, 2017 at 15:23 - Reply

    Thanks!
    It is strange for me that the reasearch doen’t show that a lot of women are quite weak the first 1-3 days of the cycle (like me) – hence not able to start the heavy workouts yet.

    • Stijn van Willigen October 24, 2017 at 13:03 - Reply

      Of course, Irina!
      The infographic on strength levels during the month does show that strength isn’t at its peak during menses according to the science. However, I think you’re making a good point, and for some women they may need to postpone the start of their two weeks like I described above. Thanks for that input!

  11. julianna November 1, 2017 at 01:13 - Reply

    Hi Stijn!

    Great article! I am definitely going to start implementing this in my training! I’m just curious about one thing…the Study of De/Retraining infographic essentially shows a long term progressive overload result with the untrained young men and I understand that it illustrates gains won’t be lost in that 2 week de-load period. But can you, and if you can, how do you continue to gain lean mass if you take those 2 weeks off each month? In your other article on optimal training frequency, you speak about avoiding over-training and under-training to prevent decreased performance (and gains). By reducing frequency of training to 2x/wk or decreasing training load by 33%, how are you still inducing physiological adaptations? Most periodised training programs train 3-5 weeks before a de-load. They aren’t targeting what you are, but I’m just interested in how the science translates.

    Obviously, your protocol works and I’m definitely not saying you’re wrong – I’m studying exercise physiology at uni and am genuinely curious! 🙂

    • Stijn van Willigen November 1, 2017 at 21:37 - Reply

      Thanks, Julianna!

      Great article! I am definitely going to start implementing this in my training! I’m just curious about one thing…the Study of De/Retraining infographic essentially shows a long term progressive overload result with the untrained young men and I understand that it illustrates gains won’t be lost in that 2 week de-load period. But can you, and if you can, how do you continue to gain lean mass if you take those 2 weeks off each month?

      During the 2 weeks not a lot of muscle will get broken down. However, the water content of the muscle (and glycogen stores), etc. will probably go down, which is quickly regained when you start training again, along with rapid rebuilding of the little actual muscle that’s lost (muscle memory in action).

      In your other article on optimal training frequency, you speak about avoiding over-training and under-training to prevent decreased performance (and gains). By reducing frequency of training to 2x/wk or decreasing training load by 33%, how are you still inducing physiological adaptations?

      Well, because the body is a lot less resistant to training stress in the last 2 weeks (probably mostly due to lower estrogen levels), it’s wise to tone down on the training to match this reduced recovery capacity. Otherwise overreaching will occur very soon, which is not good for long-term muscle growth in this context.

      Most periodised training programs train 3-5 weeks before a de-load. They aren’t targeting what you are, but I’m just interested in how the science translates.

      There is no scientific research whatsoever (to my knowledge) that shows de-loads (as in a periodized program) give superior results. Please read our article on this if you’re interested: https://bayesianbodybuilding.com/autoregulation-reactive-deloading-avt/
      Especially note this quote:

      “The arbitrariness and proactivity of this type of deloading is that it’s planned in advance at a set date or time in the program. At best, it’s an educated guess about when overreaching is likely to occur, but in practice it often just comes down to one-size-fits-all programming in an attempt to make the program look fancy and sophisticated without more than abstract theory as its rationale. You can’t accuratley predict in advance when an individual will experience higher stress in their life, sleep less well or deviate from their diet, so overreaching in any program can occur at many different time points for different people, if it occurs at all.”

      Of course, I like the depth of your questions. If you can point me to any scientific papers opposing my statements, I’d be glad to read them.

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