Training for triathlon as a teenager

In 2018, Sport England reported that teenage girls often become less active than their male counterparts, reporting that only 10% of girls aged 13-16 are meeting the recommended Chief Medical Officers activity levels of 60 minutes every day. So how can you make sure that your daughter/niece/friend exercises consistently, and safely, over these crucial developmental years?

How to support teenagers doing sport

Encouraging your teenage daughter, in a supportive manner, to begin or continue her journey into a triathlon is an important part of becoming active for life. Because negative attitudes towards female participation in sport can begin from a young age, Her Spirit is partnered with British Triathlon, and recently with Women In Sport, to explore ways for mothers and daughters to be active together in swimming, cycling, running and tri.

At this age, girls are hugely influenced by their peers, and appearance and body shape awareness is more at the forefront of girls’ minds than in their formative years. So it’s crucial that parents role model positive behaviors and language surrounding nutrition, exercise and body image.

Taking up any sport in the teenage years is obviously great, but triathlon in particular can help build confidence, resilience and perseverance traits, at a time in life when girls can become unsure of themselves.

Doing any sport can help build a love of fitness from a young age; it also allows the athlete to recognise what their body is capable of. The healthy ‘behaviour’ of physical activity develops awareness of health, and then these behaviors are often replicated into other areas of life, such as diet and general lifestyle habits.

What are the warning signs of overtraining?

Overuse injuries are less prevalent in triathlon because of its multisport nature, so there’s less repetitive movement. As such, it’s great for strengthening muscles, tendons and ligaments throughout the teenage years, helping to develop full body strength.

That being said, overuse injuries and overtraining does happen, particularly if they train more than once per day and are in a highly competitive environment. Some signs can be hard to spot, but she may try to mask or guard sore areas of the body, or become moodier than usual (!).

As a parent, it’s a good idea to keep things realistic and fun for their age-group, and encourage rest and hobbies outside of their sport. High levels of competitiveness can result in her putting too much pressure on herself to perform and, as a result, overtrain.

Signs of overtraining can include:

Poor immune function

• Lethargy or even exhaustion

• Irritability (again, common in teenagers!)

• Poor recovery

• Stress fractures or tendonitis

Poor sleep

• Low mood, depression

In teenage girls, you also need to be aware of the red flags that may put her at risk of any of the following interrelated conditions of the female athlete triad:

• Disordered eating (intentional or otherwise) which can lead to under fueling (too few calories) for her level of activity (energy expenditure).

• Menstrual dysfunction – no period at all, or they may disappear or be irregular.

• Decreased bone mineral density, often presenting with a higher incidence of stress fractures or breaks.

The most notable sign will be weight loss or slow growth, and in this instance you should seek help from a medical professional.

Because girls become more aware of body image at this age, you may hear her talk more about body shape. She may also have the perception that lower body mass results in increased performance. Encourage your daughter to track her periods, ensure she doesn’t skip meals and has snacks for before and after training, and help her to understand that if she looks after her body now, she’ll be a healthier adult who will be better
at her sport as a result.

Furthermore, ensuring that she maintains sufficient levels of fuel and nutrients, that she gets plenty of recovery and that she understands the signs and symptoms as described above.

How much strength training should teenage triathletes do?

Strength training needs careful consideration because a teenage girl’s bones are still growing and hardening. Bodyweight exercises are an ideal place to start because there isn’t a high load. Her Spirit strength coach, Mel Young, delivers bodyweight classes within the Her Spirit community app and some of our members are often accompanied by their teenage daughters.

Keep training positive

At Her Spirit we’re passionate about using positive language around sport, diet, exercise and body image, which is of upmost importance among teens who are so often easily influenced by their peers and social media.

Help her to find a support network, such as a local tri club, where she can have the guidance of a coach, meet other girls her age who she can connect with and where you can meet other parents/carers.

Through her own development with Her Spirit, English teacher Teresa Pearce has inspired her son and daughter, Izzy, 15, to train with her. “My training and the visibility of me training to my children has meant that they’ve also trained during lockdown,” says Teresa. “If I run, they run. If I bike, one of them will bike with me. Particularly my daughter. She’s going to race the Cardiff Tri because I’ll be doing it. I don’t think she would have done an event if I wasn’t doing it.”

Takeway advice

  • Triathlon is a fantastic way for teenage girls to develop a lifelong love of multisports, engage with other girls, and develop confidence, a strong body and mind, and resilience the opportunity to understand how to develop great nutritional and exercise habits for life.
  • As parents, it’s important to be aware when things are taken too far, but these can be mitigated potential by having appropriate conversations, being able to recognise the signs and symptoms of the risks of overtraining and under fueling, and encouraging your daughter to understand the importance of having fun in her chosen sport.
  • At this age, for the healthiest outcome, the focus should very much be centered around completion and enjoyment rather than competition.

Top image: Getty Images

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