carnegieXchange: School of Sport

Omar Heyward investigates the relationship between physical performance and the menstrual cycle in women's rugby

As part of our celebration of International Women's Day 2020 we have spoken to academics in the Carnegie School of Sport whose research is having a significant impact in women's sport.
Published on 03 Apr 2020

My name is Omar Heyward and I currently hold a dual practitioner-researcher role at Leeds Beckett University. I am a PhD researcher and a strength and conditioning coach embedded within England Rugby.

As part of my PhD researcher role I am investigating the relationship between physical performance and the menstrual cycle in women's rugby. As a strength and conditioning coach, I work within England Rugby's women's pathway where I lead on the Under 18 and Under 20 programmes.

My PhD research work aims to better understand the female rugby athlete to improve sport science support, not only specifically to the female rugby athlete but also generally to the female athlete. My PhD journey can be broken down into three key areas:

1) Understanding the context of the female rugby athlete:  This is where we identify and describe the women’s rugby game in terms of physical qualities, match demands and physical preparation training.

2) Menstrual cycle phase effects on athletic performance: This area aims to understand the current evidence base, and where the scientific knowledge gaps are.

3) Application of knowledge to the female rugby athlete: The final step is to apply the newly gathered information to the female rugby athlete while considering the female rugby athletes’ context and menstrual cycle-athletic performance relationship.

As a staff member in England Rugby’s women’s pathway we aim to prepare the next generation of rugby players to excel in a world leading future senior England team. I work in a multidisciplinary team of doctors, physiotherapists, nutritionists, analysts and rugby coaches. My role as a strength and conditioning coach is to lead on all areas of physical performance and recovery. This work involves some of the following:

- Ensuring athletes are undertaking appropriate physical training programmes
- Monitoring and reporting on speed, strength and fitness changes over time
- Measuring and reporting on how much players are working during rugby sessions
- Monitoring how athletes are feeling and responding to sessions
- Educating athletes on appropriate recovery modalities

With this dual practitioner-researcher role I believe my work will positively impact women’s sport on multiple levels, both in the science and with the athletes I work with.


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