TO mark International Women’s Day, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) is raising the profile of some important female health initiatives.

HEADLINES
– Pioneering work is being done around pelvic floor training and menstrual cycle education, both in the performance programme and the community game.
– The Welsh Rugby Union has joined forces with menstruation underwear brand WUKA to become the first ever dedicated partner of its national women’s squad
– Principality Stadium to provide feminine hygiene products free of charge

The first 12 full-time contracts were awarded to Wales Women players in the New Year, and 11 players on retainer contracts have since joined the programme. Progress has been made on all fronts since the start of the programme [CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW WALES WOMEN ARE RAISING THE BAR] with the focus now moving to a squad-based environment ahead of the Tik Tok Women’s Six Nations.

Along with rugby skills and strength and conditioning, the additional contact time with WRU staff means the medical team can make a real difference to players – in terms of injury prevention and rehab – but also by driving some pioneering health initiatives to improve their well-being – and performance.

These measures include pelvic floor training, menstrual education and now there is also practical support with WUKA, which stands for Wake Up, Kick Ass, providing the Wales Women senior squad with a range of sustainable period underwear along with discounts for the rest of the female pathway (CLICK HERE FOR MORE INFO).

Head physio Jo Perkins has been key to these initiatives.

She said: “The whole programme aims to support the girls to be the best rugby players they can be, and in order to achieve that aim, we need to address certain aspects of female health.

“The first step is to acknowledge the issues. There are some aspects of female health we still don’t talk about enough, especially when it comes to performance sport. We need to acknowledge the importance of a menstrual cycle to start with.

“Many women especially youngers girls may think it’s quite convenient not to even have a period but periods are a vital sign of female health and not only that but we now know how to use a menstrual cycle to our advantage.

“We use an app called FitrWoman which tracks players’ cycles and allows players to tailor their training and nutrition around certain times in the cycle to achieve gains in the gym and on the pitch.

“Pelvic floor is a key area and certainly an area we don’t talk about enough. These issues can include incontinence which is highly prevalent in all female sport, not just contact sport. We have linked up with ELVIE who have who have provided pelvic floor trainers for the squad and we are also providing practical support, such as WUKA who have come on board as official period underwear partner and we are looking at breast health too, making sure players have the right supportive sports bras etc.

“We are also addressing female-specific injury prevention. This includes strength and balance work in lower limbs to prevent anterior cruciate injuries for example.

“The players have been very receptive to these measures to support them. We’ve already seen benefits of the pelvic floor training, not only with incontinence issues but also with players who suffer from abdominal pain which can be down to over-use of the pelvic floor. There is a misconception that these health issues are only suffered by mothers which is certainly not the case. We hope to continue to see the benefits as players become more in tune with the training and the plan is to roll out this information and education to the rest of the pathway in order to address these issues early going forward.”

WRU Performance Director Nigel Walker said: “We are determined to create a world-class environment for our female players. It was vital to award the first full-time and retainer contracts for 2022 in order to enable us to challenge the best teams in the world.

“It is clear to see the gains players have already made both on and off the field but a performance environment has many elements, all of which need to align in order to create the best model for success.

“The players are performance athletes so in order to reach their potential, all areas of their health and well-being need to be addressed. It is so pleasing to be able to make a difference to players’ long-term health with these initiatives, which will, in turn benefit their performances too.”

These issues are also being addressed in the community game, starting with a menstrual education programme which will be made available to ALL coaches within the community game.

There will be a series of workshops on offer for coaches in every region, along with support and content available on the WRU Game Locker.

More than 42 000 Fab Little Bags, more than 400 sanitary dispensers and more than 10,000 period products will be provided in every club in Wales and to female teams.