Female fencers have unique characteristics that are influenced by hormonal changes throughout their lives. These in turn can impact fencers’ performance and health throughout their fencing careers and beyond.

There is a need to improve the way that our staff, coaches and fencers understand these and other changes to athletes’ bodies, and to ensure that these are being managed appropriately and positively.

The aim of this page is to provide information in order to help open up conversations about topics like the menstrual cycle, RED-S and incontinence. We hope to make these subjects commonplace in the GBR Pathway environment and beyond, just as conversations about injury are commonplace in the pathway environment.

To get started, click here for a short video from our partners at The True Athlete Project, which aims to help increase your knowledge regarding the normal menstrual cycle.

There are also several upcoming workshops on female health, listed below.

For GBR Pathway Fencers and Coaches

Workshop 1  – 12/03/24 – Female Health, the Performance Athlete with Kirstie Urwin

  • For Female Fencers 17:00 – 18:00
  • For Coaches 18:15 – 19:15

Workshop 2 – 28/03/24 – Female Health and Performance (RED-S and Body Image) with Kirstie Urwin

  • For Female Fencers: 17:00 – 18:00
  • For Coaches: 18:15 – 19:15

To sign up for the events, click here.

The topics below cover some basic information on female health and performance.

Facts & myths

Myth: Only women of a certain age get periods.

Fact: Most individuals get their first period between 11-14 years of age, but everybody is different.

Myth: It’s okay to miss your period.

Fact: Although it’s not uncommon to occasionally miss your period, not getting your periods (known as amenorrhoea) may be a sign of relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) and a symptom of poor health and declining athlete performance. (See below for more on both of these conditions).

Myth: You should skip your workout while on your period.

Fact: Exercising is the most effective cure to relief menstrual cramps during your period.

Myth: Every woman experiences PMS.

Fact: About one in four women experience PMS with some having only minor symptoms. PMDD is a severe form of PMS that is characterised by sudden and extreme mood swings.

The menstrual cycle

The length of the menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman, but the average is to have periods every 28 days. Regular cycles that are longer or shorter than this, between 23 to 35 days, are normal.

The menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of a woman’s period to the day before her next period.

The menstrual cycle is a repeating pattern of changes in hormones produced by the hypothalamus, pituitary, and ovaries

Although your period might feel like it interrupts things, it is possible to perform really well in training, competition or games even when it’s that time of the cycle.

Tracking the menstrual cycle and becoming aware of what your own cycle feels like is an important element of self-care for women.

Menstrual abnormalities: do I have a problem?

Irregular Periods. Examples of irregular periods include periods that occur fewer than 21 days or more than 35 days apart, missing three or more periods in row, and menstrual flow that’s much heavier or lighter than usual.

Conditions related to irregular menstruation include:

Amenorrhea – A condition where your periods have stopped completely.

Oligomenorrhea – A condition where your periods occur infrequently. You may go more than 35 days between periods or have six to eight periods a year.

Dysmenorrhea – A medical term for painful periods and severe menstrual cramps.

Abnormal uterine bleeding – Abnormal uterine bleeding is bleeding between monthly periods, prolonged bleeding, or an extremely heavy period.

Low energy availability: what is RED-S?

What is relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S)?

Relative energy deficiency in sport (RED-S) describes a syndrome of poor health and declining athletic performance that happens when athletes do not get enough fuel through food to support the energy demands of their daily lives and training. RED-S can and does affect athletes of any gender and ability level.

If left untreated, RED-S can impair systems throughout the body, including:

reproductive health – disrupted menstruation (missed or abnormal periods) in women and low libido in men.

bone health – increased risk of stress fractures and early onset osteoporosis.

immunity – more infections and colds due to decreased immunity.

metabolism – the body converts food into energy more slowly.

cardiovascular (heart) health – low heart rate causing dizziness and the potential for long-term heart damage.

psychological health – moodiness, depression, and anxiety.


What are the symptoms of RED-S?

The symptoms of RED-S include:

  • fatigue
  • rapid weight loss
  • missed periods or delayed puberty (female athletes)
  • low libido (male athletes)
  • frequent illness
  • hair loss
  • trouble focusing
  • trouble staying warm
  • irritability and depression

Body image in female athletes

What is body image?

Body image is the way we think and feel about the weight, shape and appearance of our body.

It’s also the way we make sense of our body experiences in the context of our life and the world we live in.

Body image can be both negative and positive, with most people experiencing some of both.

If negative body image becomes more dominant, it can lead to problems such as low mood and anxiety, comparing to others, and changes to eating and exercise patterns which can negatively impact our life.

Puberty and development

Puberty is the stage when a child’s body grows into an adult body. In females, it occurs as their ovaries begin to produce the female hormones called oestrogen and progesterone. The associated body changes can take up to four years to occur.

Athletes undergo the same changes as non-athletes, and the timing of these changes can vary from person to person. These changes can happen one after another or can occur at the same time.


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