Re-designing the interaction of rowers with their menstrual cycle

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There are more and more women who participate in sports on a professional level. The Olympic games in 1964, in Japan, have been the first ones where almost half of the athletes participating were female. But still, a lot of female athletes train based on what has worked for men. As in many other fields, there is a research data gap because studies of exercise, muscle and cardiovascular physiology are commonly studied on male participants (O’Halloran, 2020). That comes with obvious problems. Not taking the unique biological differences that women experience, including the menstrual cycle and hormonal fluctuations into account. Women’s bodies are not simply smaller versions of men’s, so it’s important that we approach training in a way that acknowledges and accommodates these differences. (Criado-Perez, 2019)

This graduation project explores the impact the hormonal cycle has on rowers performance and wellbeing. As well as how to include this female health aspect in the rowing practice to empower rowers to reach their fullest potential. The project applied a co-creation approach involving multiple experts from different disciplines such as gynocology, sportspychology and of course rowers and coaches. The research includes a study with over 200 rowers, multiple interviews and co-creation sessions with the experts.

The insights gained from the research were coined in the final result of this thesis. The outcome is a novel more meaningful approach to performance tracking and communication. As every women is different in their needs the rowers can choose one of the 5 tracking paths in the app. This ask daily questions to put their individual menstrual health factor in correlation with their performance. After each cycle, they reflect on their data by transferring information from the digital app into a physical booklet. This allows them to put their data into their own context, making them the owner of their experience and lets them select the relevant insights they would like to share with their coaches. Moreover the booklet also prepares the rowers for coach reflection meetings, that occur after three individual reflection moments, fostering proactive action by both rowers and coaches.