The US Soccer Team Prove That It’s Time To Stop Letting Our Periods Get In The Way Of Sports

Working out on your period can be a big help, so why are we using it as an excuse to sit on the sidelines?

US team use their periods to boost their performance

by Rebecca Reid |
Updated on

Cast your mind back to your school days.

It’s cold, it’s raining and you’re expected to put on your P.E kit, go outside and run around in the rain. It’s going to be wet, it might be muddy and you really aren’t in the mood.

Luckily, if you’re a girl, you’ve got a trump card. All you’ve got to do is convince your sports teacher that you’re on your periodand bingo, you can skip the whole miserable process. Rather than charging around an asphalt playing field after a ball you can sit in the warm comfort of your common room, pretending to do your homework. What’s not to love? No wonder a 2012 study by Panadol found that 38% of women had used their periods to get out of certain activities.

As a deeply unsporty dyspraxic who hated sports, I was a big period faker. And I loved it. Watching The O.C in the common room certainly beat cross country running.

What I didn’t realise at the time was that the ongoing acceptance of periods as a reason to duck out of sport comes at a price.

Allowing girls to miss sport because of their periods sends a message, and that message is that your period weakens you and makes you less able to compete.

It’s a misconception that the US soccer team are working to absolutely smash.

Rather than giving the team the first day of their periods off to sit at home with a hot water bottle and a DVD of The Notebook, the squad used cycles to supercharge their performance.

The team’s coaches develop strategies to minimise the performance impact of the players periods, adjusting their diets, sleeping habits, lifestyle factors for each individual player and her period. ‘There’s no evidence that someone can’t perform to their best at any time in their cycle – if they are proactive about taking steps’ explains researcher and scientist Georgie Brunivels, who was a consultant to the US team.

Your average UK school girl isn’t going to turn her P.E lessons into a launch pad to an Olympic or World Cup career. But what she might do (if she isn’t taught to see her period as a reason to avoid working out) is develop a lifelong relationship with exercise which can support good mental and physical health.

I don’t judge girls who use their periods to skive from P.E (or anything else for that matter - we know that young women missing school due to period poverty is a major problem) for a second. I did it time and time again, without hesitation. But the fact that we were allowed to use our periods to skip netball sent a message: your period weakens you, it makes life more difficult, it is a legitimate reason not to take part in aspects of daily life.

In reality, most women don’t need to sit out sports on their periods. There are those who have conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis, for whom periods are extremely heavy and painful. Those women shouldn't feel any pressure to work out if they don't want to. But for most of us, gentle workouts are totally possible during our periods. The NHS recommends exercise as a way to alleviate period pains.

Every school had the hated P.E teacher who shouted at you as you dragged yourself around the pitch, telling you that a period was no excuse for skipping out on your lesson, noting down how many times that month you’ve attempted to use it to get out of swimming.

At the time, that teacher seems like a hideous battle axe. But she was the kind of woman who helped the US soccer team win the world cup, the kind of woman who refuses to regard menstruation as an excuse unless medically necessary.

As adults there’s no one to make us do the things we don’t want to do. If you don’t feel like putting on your leggings and checking in to a HIIT class, no-one will make you. And because we as women have absorbed the message that we probably can’t work out while we’re bleeding, we often don’t. But let’s be totally honest, if the US soccer team can win the World Cup on their periods, you or I can manage a gentle walk around the nearest park.

It might not feel fun or easy, but unfortunately sometimes the most important things aren’t. Self care doesn’t always mean eating a pint of ice cream or getting a massage. Sometimes it’s becoming your own battle-axe P.E teacher, forcing yourself out of bed, putting on your trainers and going out into the fresh air. A tiny act of rebellion against a world which teaches us from adolescence that our periods make us less able to achieve.

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