Industrial - Bachelors

The Era

Emerging evidence suggests a significant opportunity to optimise the training and performance of elite athletes based on their menstrual cycle phase. Despite this, there is relative disconnect between the elite athlete and their body. The Era is a clip-on wearable device which provides athletes with their individual menstrual cycle profile, enabling them to plan their nutrition, rest and training programs in advance.

The Background

There is an increasing awareness of the potential training and performance benefits afforded by targeting training to the menstrual cycle phase. The body undergoes discernible fluctuations in progesterone and estrogen hormones across the menstrual cycle, which is commonly divided into three distinguishable phases based on these hormonal concentrations. The first phase is the follicular phase, followed by the ovulatory phase and then finally the luteal phase. These hormonal fluctuations impact the cardiovascular, respiratory, musculoskeletal, metabolic, thermoregulation and fluid regulation systems and thus may tangibly influence athletic capacity differently in each phase [1].

However, there exists relative disconnect between the elite athlete and their body. Various apps claim to predict menstrual cycle phase but rely on subjective self-reporting of symptoms such as mood, energy, and pain, and are therefore inaccurate in their predictions [2], [3]. These apps are also based on traditional understandings of the standard menstrual cycle and therefore do not cater to the wide range of individualised experiences. Without using inconvenient methods such as salivary or blood testing, the elite athlete is unable to draw definite and useful conclusions on their menstrual cycle phase.

[1] K. L. McNulty et al., “The Effects of Menstrual Cycle Phase on Exercise Performance in Eumenorrheic Women: A Systematic Review and Meta Analysis,” Sports medicine (Auckland), vol. 50, no. 10, pp. 1813–1827, 2020, doi: 10.1007/s40279-020-01319-3
[2] M. L. Moglia, H. V. Nguyen, K. Chyjek, K. T. Chen, and P. M. Castaño, “Evaluation of Smartphone Menstrual Cycle Tracking Applications Using an Adapted APPLICATIONS Scoring System,” Obstetrics and gynecology (New York. 1953), vol. 127, no. 6, pp. 1153–1160, 2016, doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000001444.
[3] B. E. Hohmann-Marriott, T. Williams, and J. E. Girling, “The role of menstrual apps in healthcare: provider and patient perspectives,” New Zealand medical journal, vol. 136, no. 1570, pp. 42–53, 2023.

We need a convenient, accurate and non-invasive method of determining menstrual cycle phase for elite athletes.

the research

View Research Report

Through a review of existing literature pertaining to topics such as menstrual cycle biology, biomarker technologies, and training adaption to the menstrual cycle, as well as targeted end-user surveys and interviews, an understanding of the implications for product design was garnered.

Literature review

User Research METHODS

user research findings

The design implications

Research Finding 1

Technologies exist which are proposed to be able to track hormonal profiles based on sweat. These technologies exist in many forms throughout the literature reviewed but can be as small as nanosensors. They rely on skin contact and can incorporate sweat generation technologies to collect adequate sweat.
These sensors could be utilised to track the estrogen and progesterone profiles of the user, supported by sensors to monitor skin temperature and heart rate. The device must enable direct contact between the sensors and skin.

Research Finding 2

Estrogen and progesterone concentrations rise and fall over a cycle which is commonly between 24 and 38 days. Given the broad cycling of these hormones, a singular daily measurement is adequate to observe the fluctuations over time. The device should be designed with the intention that the user might take a singular daily measurement and could focus on daily activities to integrate into existing user routines.

Research Finding 3

Many highly active and elite athletes already use a wearable device for tracking of training and health data.

The menstrual cycle phase device should therefore be designed to integrate or function alongside existing wearable devices such as smartwatches.

Research Finding 4

There is a strong preference for a wrist-based device, however this may be biased by existing products. The wrist was the significantly preferred location for a wearable device, followed by the lower arm, upper arm, elbow, and shoulder region. However, given smartwatches are the most widely accessible fitness tracking wearable, an element of bias exists in this data.

The device would likely benefit from incorporating the same features that make the wrist the most preferred location. While future studies could reengage users to identify these elements, it is hypothesised that these include accessibility, interactivity, efficient application and comfort.

Research Finding 5

A sports bra is the most common clothing article during training. 100% of survey respondents nominated a sports bra as a typical clothing item they wear during training. This was followed by shoes, socks, tights, shorts, and singlets.

The device could be designed to complement or integrate with worn clothing items such as the sports bra.

the Initial Concepts

Seven initial concepts were generated based on the design implications.

The design development

Concept 7 – Clip on Pod, was selected to be progressed through the second phase of the double diamond design thinking process. Through cycles of ideation, iteration, prototyping, testing and modelling, the clip-on pod was refined to become the Era.

View Design Development Record

The Era

The Era is a clip-on wearable device which attaches to the bra strap. It uses sweat sensors which sit on the underside of the device, directly against the skin. These sensors collect sweat and then measure the concentration of menstrual cycle hormones such as progesterone and estrogen. Once the sensors have collected enough data, the user is alerted through the status LEDs and is able to remove the clip when they are ready.

By taking a daily measurement, the Era is able to provide the user with their individual menstrual cycle profile. This enables the athlete to plan their nutrition, rest and training programs in advance, targeting the types of training and foods that are suited to each cycle phase.

The clip is easily inserted onto the strap of a sports bra and can be removed just as quickly when required, even if the user is wearing multiple layers of clothing. The soft sensor pod sits flush to the skin and flexes with the user, allowing for full range of movement to be maintained.

A storage case houses the clip when not in use. The compact size of the case enables it to be easily transported, whether it’s around the home, to training, or to competition.

The user connects a compatible Bluetooth device to the Era, to view the analysis of menstrual cycle profile in the Era App.

The Era enables athletes to connect with their bodies and take their training to a whole new level.

The technical

materials AND Manufacturing

Jacinta Nicolas

Jacinta is an industrial designer with a passion for innovative and future-focused design. Whilst studying a dual degree in both industrial design and mechanical engineering, she has developed a keen interest in the relationship between technical and aesthetic aspects of design. Jacinta has industry experience working in marketing, engineering and project management.