Does the Menstrual Cycle Negatively Influence the Performance of Menstruated Circus Artists?
Despite the increasing mediatisation around the effects of the menstrual cycle, this bolstered awareness of the topic has not yet reached the sports world, and even less so, the world of circus. No complete study explores the positive and negative effects of the menstrual cycle on the performance of menstruating athletes-artists. Indeed, the physiological and hormonal phenomena involved in the menstrual cycle are not part of the common knowledge passed on to coaches and performers. However, concentration, motivation, physical state and tiredness are some of the factors that vary in the different phases of the menstrual cycle. Moreover, these factors influence the training, performance, and creativity of circus artists, but surprisingly, not necessarily in a negative way.
Disclaimer: This text is a very brief and compacted version of Sarah’s essay on the menstrual cycle. All the information found here was gathered by Sarah herself in different studies. As well, since there is still no extant research on circus performers, she put together a survey that more than 80 athletes and performers answered. If you are interested in the development of these arguments, or simply want to know more about the different subjects, the full text is available for free.
But first… some basics
In order to clarify what will be discussed later on, it might be of use to make precise the workings of the menstrual cycle. Indeed, the whole cycle takes around 28 days and is regulated by the fluctuations of different hormones. The cycle is divided into four stages which are defined by these fluctuations.The first of these four stages is the menstrual phase in which menstruated people have their period. The follicular phase, during which the body begins to produce estrogen, takes place right after this, followed by the ovulation phase, when the estrogen level gradually decreases and the metabolism is accelerated. At last, there is the luteal phase, where progesterone level increases constantly until it reaches its peak in the middle of the phase. All of these phases are characterized by either a peak or a low of a given hormone. These changes can impact the body and mind positively or negatively with regard to creative abilities. However, it is important to state here that all menstruated athletes won’t react in the same way and to the same extent to those hormonal changes.
The positive effects on the artistic and creative abilities
The hormonal changes taking place during the first part of the menstrual cycle, i.e. from the middle of menstruation until the end of ovulation, have a positive influence on creativity and artistic sense. Indeed, the high level of estrogen during the follicular phase not only increases the production of serotonin, thus improving mood, but it also reduces premenstrual syndromes (PMS). Moreover, the estrogen will lead to a peak of energy, boosting the artists-athletes’ metabolism and motivation. Later on, in the ovulation phase, cognitive functions will also benefit from this hormone. Indeed, the high level of estrogen, leading to the production of serotonin, can induce a better adaptation to social situations and improved interactions with others, as well as better concentration and acquisition of new knowledge. Thus, all these biochemical reactions bring not only physical benefits to the menstruated person but also psychological and cognitive benefits. This set of factors will provide an environment that is more propitious to the artistic and creative senses.
The negative effects on the artistic and creative abilities
During the second part of the cycle, and more precisely, from the luteal phase until the beginning of the menstrual phase, both the ability to create and motivation overall are negatively affected. The drop in progesterone and estrogen levels just before menstruation can result in emotional discomfort. Indeed, this is known as premenstrual syndrome, which is characterised by the following effects: depressed mood, anxiety, anger, lack of interest, and difficulty concentrating. Apart from the difficulty in performing and training, menstruation causes additional stress in athletes-artists as it comes with the fear of staining and the lack of understanding from coaches and the sports world in general – thus affecting their artistic and creative abilities.
In order to illustrate the argument, here are two representative testimonies from the survey:
“My heart sinks every time I am hired for a show and I see it is at the same time as the first few days ofmy cycle because I know how hard I will have to push myself and how uncomfortable it will be. I alwayspush myself to perform through the pain because I don’t want to let my bleeding get in the way of mypassion, but it is always so much harder than when I perform without the extra stress and anxiety ofbleeding. If I am training, I will often take the day to let my body rest, but sometimes as women we don’talways have that option because people in the business do not always accept that as a valid excuse.”
“(…) In moments of shows I see no big chance for how to protect myself and my body from what the “world” isexpecting from me in this moment.I tend to feel very antisocial, [and experience] extreme fatigue and heaviness/bloating the week leading up to and duringmy period. It makes performing shows a lot more challenging.”
The negative effects on physical performances
Towards the end of the luteal phase and until the first days of menstruation, somatic symptoms might take place, such as pain in the lower abdomen or lower back, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness, headaches, fatigue and water retention. Indeed, it came out from the questionnaire that, whether the interviewees are students, athletes, or circus artists, a majority have experienced a decrease in their performance during this phase, some to the extent of having been hindered in their daily activities. Effectively, 77.8% of the menstruating respondents preferred to tamper with their cycle or their daily routine during their bleeding rather than adapt to their natural cycle. Moreover, 39.2% of the participants will avoid performing or training during their periods, 19.4% of them will choose painkillers and 19.2% will modify their cycle with chemical contraception to avoid menstruating during their show. Over 65% had difficulty even training during the peak of their period. Furthermore, the various types of stress to which the performers are exposed, whether endogenous or exogenous, have serious and aggravating consequences on their menstrual cycles. Indeed, symptoms such as infertility, amenorrhea, osteoporosis, and other malignant diseases can disrupt the performer’s cycle and are thus reflected negatively in their physical performance. Moreover, other factors less specifically linked to the circus world, yet very present in it can also disrupt or increase menstrual pain. Indeed, cosmetics; scented or chemically tinted sanitary products; specific foods, such as dairy products or foods containing estrogen and fruits or vegetables containing pesticides; or coffee can have negative effects on the cycle. Thus, during the second half of the cycle, hormonal changes can negatively impact performance, beginning with somatic symptoms that make the athlete feel less than optimal for training and/or performing. In addition, there are specific aggravating factors that performers need to be aware of in order not to exacerbate these effects. These conditions force most performers to block or alter their natural cycles.
The positive effects on the physical performances
There is good evidence in favor of the advantages of training and eating in accordance with one’s cycle. As an athlete, it is therefore important to have a good knowledge of one’s own body and the processes that take place in it. Moreover, it might be beneficial not to alter one’s cycle by taking chemically processed hormones, as this may have additional negative effects on the body. Indeed, this essay is based on unaltered menstrual cycles; however, one could imagine a future study of people choosing hormonal treatments and designing personalized training programs. To come back to the present study, what has been found is that at the beginning of the menstrual cycle, there is an increase in strength. Thus, in this phase, the focus on more intense, more difficult and new training forms might be beneficial. During ovulation, one can maintain intense training but must be careful to take time to warm up as the risk of injury is higher. Finally, there is a general drop in performance in the second part of the cycle, so the performer’s focus at that phase should be on the consolidation of existing training. Despite the drop in performance, it is important to continue with sport during this period, as physical activity might prevent period-related pain and improve mood.
This graphic is the fruit of my research and compiles the information I could gather from different studies and in my survey. It is meant to be printed, looked at, annotated and shared with everybody interested. The full text of my essay is available to download for free.
To view the graphic in high res .pdf click here.
To access the full length research paper click on the image below:
You can reach the Author for direct feedback on Instagram @sarahrepond or via her website: https://sarahrepond.com...