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Quick and Easy Run Warm-Up

By Alan Ley

  1. 20 Toe Jumps (land lightly and quickly)
  2. 20 Hip Circles Clockwise then 20 Counter Clockwise (standing slow and easy rotations)
  3. 20 Slow Knee Bends (do not bend more than 90 degrees)
  4. 3 minute Slow Jog – 90 seconds out and 90 back
  5. 20 High Knees (head up, shoulders back, knee high)
  6. 30 seconds Hamstring Stretch (hold for 20 seconds at least)
  7. 20 Butt kicks
  8. 20 High knees
  9. 30 Seconds Hamstring Stretch
  10. 4 X 45 Quick Big Toe Push off Stride Outs - 10 Breaths for recovery

Coaching Tips for Youth and Junior Triathletes

By Alan Ley - Rocky Mountain Region

1. 7 to 17-year-olds are not adults. Always put their best interests, health, safety and long-term personal development FIRST!

2. Teach technique and neuromuscular pattering before anything else.

  • Use visuals, demonstrations, video or pictures. Young athletes are very visual and need to ‘see’ what you want done first.
  • Keep the technique sessions short.
  • Use slow motion movements and ask the athletes to ‘feel’ the movement.
  • Have them shut their eyes and visualize the movements.
  • Teach the young athletes one movement at a time and repeat it until they get it right.

3. When teaching anything new or a change in movement (swimming, cycling or running) break the change into small sections. Make one small change at a time. Youth and adults become overwhelmed with too many changes or corrections are all happening at once.

4. Coach one thing at a time and have them perform it RIGHT.

5. Not always, but many times a movement done silently or as quietly as possible makes for a more efficient movement pattern. Try asking your young athlete to - swim silently or run quietly and you will be amazed at how the athlete can change their movements based on sound. It works!

6. Last and most importantly, give them plenty of rest when teaching technique and new patterns of movement. This is not the time to work on endurance. Teach technique at the beginning of a session. Revisit it in the middle of a workout and reinforce it at the end with slow short repeats with lots of rest between.

Introducing Your Child to Triathlon

By Matt Russ

Compared to traditional sports, triathlon is the new kid on the block. Participation in a youth event represents some new and perhaps unique challenges for the youth triathlete and parent alike. There are very few “little league” style programs for youth triathletes, triathlons are not part of most school PE curriculums and parents may not even have a working knowledge of what a triathlon is — as they do for basketball or tennis. To top it off, tri parents may find themselves attempting to manage three sports instead one. Where does a tri mom or dad begin?

First and foremost — relax, junior is still a long way from Kona. It helps to have a parent that participates in triathlon, but if you are being introduced to the sport yourself, take some time to get to know the distances, rules, the flow of the race and equipment needs. Most youth distances are designed for participation with a minimum of preparation involved for the active child. A good place to start is in the pool by determining if your child can complete the distance of the swim leg. If your child cannot swim more than a short distance without difficulty, beginner swim lessons or instruction may be appropriate. Not only will this enhance his or her fitness, but it will give you greater peace of mind for general safety in and around the water.

If your child participates in other sports that involve running, do not be overly concerned with physical preparation for the first event. If your child is sedentary, a very gradual progression is warranted. Start with an easy bicycle ride of about half race distance, adding a bit more each week. Run progression should be about the same, and perhaps walk the remaining distance. Each week add a bit more (easy) running and a bit less walking. Acknowledge the progress your child makes: “We stopped at this point last week, but today you are running farther!” A swim lesson, a bike ride and a run with mom or dad each week is enough to prepare a child for his or her first event. The focus should be on having fun, learning, quality time and building self-esteem.

I often field calls from enthusiastic parents that want to know “where to go from here.” Their child may have participated in a few youth events and now desires either a more formal training program or guidance on how to progress in the sport. At this point it is important to understand what is “age appropriate” preparation or training for triathlon. Children are more susceptible to cartilage damage, heat illness, stress fractures and tendon/ligament injuries. More importantly, some injuries, such as damage to growth plates or cartilage, can result in permanent damage. There has been a dramatic increase in overuse injuries following the rise of participation in organized sport programs. For the developing youth athlete, a “first do no harm” approach is warranted. An overzealous parent or coach, even with good intentions, can quickly sideline a child. It is important to recognize that children do not have the same complex motivations to compete as adults. This is something that develops with maturity. For children, their main motivation is to HAVE FUN. They will quickly lose interest or enthusiasm if it becomes drudgery.

Training three sports simultaneously can be difficult at best for the athlete and parent. Of the three, the swim will take the longest to develop and require the most technical coaching. The great news is that swimming is the least likely to injure the developing athlete and promotes incredible aerobic fitness. I often advise the tri parent to start by getting their child into an organized swim program. It is ok to train the sports individually and seasonally, such as an organized cycling or running program with an overall focus swimming.

Although there are few hard and fast mileage guidelines for youth running and cycling, there are some good common sense approaches. For starters, a child should not be running or cycling much over the distance required to complete their race, and this rule is even more important for running mileage. Keep in mind that running is the most likely to injure the developing athlete; three sessions per week is enough, and soft surface running (crushed gravel, grass, or trail) is preferred. Safety should be the foremost consideration when getting the bike rolling. Teach your child how to perform a pre-ride safety check, how the bike works and basic maintenance such as tire inflation, chain lubrication and washing their bicycle. Road skills should focus on the rules of triathlon, passing, braking, manners and safe riding.

With the huge surge in the popularity of triathlon, more youth camps and programs are forming. If there is not one in your area, consider starting a youth tri club. As long as children are properly introduced to triathlon and progressed they will stay engaged. You may be the parent of the next world champion, but remember that the race is not tomorrow. 

Matt Russ has coached and trained athletes up to the professional level, domestically and internationally, for over 15 years. He currently holds the highest level of licensing by both USA Triathlon and USA Cycling, and is a licensed USA Track and Field Coach. Matt is head coach and owner of The Sport Factory. Visit or email

Proper Youth Race Distances

By Justin Trolle

In the sport of triathlon, we are blessed to have a variety of races that are available to us both in type and in duration. With this level of variety comes some level of confusion not for ourselves but for our children and/or the kids we train. It doesn’t matter if you are a parent or a coach, we are all proud of the developing athletes with whom we work. These athletes trust us and rely on us to help them make the decisions that will guide their future in the sport. With this trust comes responsibility, and it becomes very important that the decisions that we make are in the best interest of these developing athletes and not a product of our own ambitions. We all understand the concept of parents living their dreams through their children or coaches whose own ambition takes precedent over the needs of the athlete. However, by doing this we do a disservice to those we got involved in the sport to help, the kids.

Over the past couple of years, I have seen an alarming trend appearing in the U.S. of young kids only 13 or 14 years old doing Ironman events. This is very disturbing as this is not only dangerous to the athlete from a physiological perspective, but it also opens the door for others who may be the same age or younger to try as well. I have worked with elite athletes now for more than 15 years in triathlon as well as across all three sports individually. I have seen athletes develop from entering into the sport at 13 and 14 years old and watched them progress to become some of the best triathletes in the world. However, I have yet to see any athlete that goes long early achieve anything meaningful in the long term. 

If as a parent or coach you are looking at setting race distances for your children or athletes, you should take the following into account:

  • Never put an athlete into a race that is longer than they will be actually able to race. By this I mean don’t put developing athletes into races that they are just there to say 'I did the distance and finished.'
  • Age limits – while there are no labeled age limits for athletes doing endurance events, try to use this as a guide when picking age appropriate races for your athletes:
    • 12-15 years old – Super Sprint ≤ 500y Swim / 10km bike / 3km run
    • 15-18 years old – Sprint Distance ≤ 750m Swim / 20km bike / 5km run
    • 18-23 years old – Olympic Distance ≤ 1500m Swim / 40km bike /10km run

The reason I have suggested these distances is for safety reasons and also from the point of view that if you want your athletes/children to be successful in the sport of triathlon long-term, then you need to protect them in the short-term. Endurance athletes by their very nature are a little crazy. To the general population what we do seems to be outside the realms of what people consider normal. Developing athletes often have a very active “can-do” attitude, which is great but when it come to going longer earlier just because we “can do” doesn’t mean we should "do." It is our responsibility as coaches and parents to pick races that are age/ability appropriate.

So remember, next time you are preparing your athlete/child for an event what the long-term goals are and put the child's developmental needs before your own ego. If you can do this you will get far more respect from your peers as well as better results from your athletes.

Choosing Your Next Race

By Steve Kelley

By the time you are reading this article, it probably means that you have already completed a couple triathlons this season. If so, congrats! Now you may be asking yourself, “What should I do next?”

For young triathletes, sometimes this is a complicated question to answer. In addition to getting mom or dad to register you for, and drive you to, the event, you may also find yourself navigating family vacations, summer camp, and other athletic commitments. The first piece of advice I’ll offer is to sit down with mom or dad now and develop a schedule that makes sense for the entire family.

Now, with your calendar in front of you, your next task is to identify an age-appropriate event. Athletes 12 years old or younger should look for an event designed specifically for youth triathletes. These events typically feature a pool swim, a bike course closed to traffic, and extra volunteer support. One sign of a well-designed youth triathlon is incremental age divisions, such as 7-8, 9-10, 11-12. Likewise, race distances should increase gradually with each advance in age. See the table on this page for recommended distances by age group.

Recommended Competition Distances for Youth and Juniors

Racing age* Category Distances
Swim Bike Run
7-8 Youth 50-100m** 2k 1k
9-10 Youth 100m** 3k 1k
11-12 Youth 200m** 5-7k 2k
13-15 Youth 200-400m 8-10k 2-3k
16-19 Junior 400-750m 15-20k 5k
13-15 Youth Elite*** 400m 10k 2.5k
16-19 Junior Elite*** 750m 20k 5k

*Racing age is determined as of December 31 of the year in which the event takes place.
** Pool swim recommended
***Youth elite and junior elite races are draft-legal, typically staged on multi-lap, closed courses, and are officiated using International Triathlon Union Competition Rules.

Please note: The recommended minimum age for Olympic/Intermediate distance events is 16. The recommended minimum age for long course/half-iron/ultra distance events is 18.

Once you have a few finishes under your belt, the temptation to compete in longer events will surely arise. Rather than look to longer distance triathlons, focus on improving your speed and skill. Identify your weaknesses and work on improving in those areas until you have maximized your speed at a given distance. One approach is to create a personal race-against-the-clock by having your parents or coach to time you at certain key points during your next race. Can you swim the second half of the swim faster than the first? Can you transition in under a minute? What is your personal best first half-mile off the bike? Tracking these personal bests is a way to improve your overall speed and skill and stay motivated for the shorter races.

Athletes in their early teens often are drawn to racing with the adults in sprint distance triathlons. If you and your parents feel you are ready to try a sprint distance event, look carefully for one that takes good care of its youngest athletes. Choose an event that recognizes multiple age divisions under 19, as this indicates that the race organizers have an eye on younger participants. Also, look over previous results and try to predict your finish time. If the event is likely to take you longer than 80 minutes to finish, you are better off sticking to youth triathlons and working on your speed. Most importantly, make sure the course is suitable for your ability.

Another option for athletes in the 13 to 19 age range is Youth Elite and Junior Elite triathlon. These events add the challenge of draft-legal bicycle racing, just like the elites do at the Olympics. Before diving into this race format, however, it is best to acquire some draft-legal experience in junior cycling races or by working with a coach or club that practices pack riding. You’ll also need to look over the equipment regulations to ensure that your bike is set up properly. Youth Elite racing is an exciting and dynamic format and a great way to develop speed and skill while continuing to improve your speed and skill at the half-sprint distance.

Once you have made a short list of events, you can develop a racing plan that will keep you healthy and motivated, and mom and dad sane. For athletes under the age of 15, I recommend racing no more than twice per month and a maximum of six times per summer. If you are inclined do more than that, then spice up your calendar with some junior bike races, a swim meet or two, or a different sport altogether. End the triathlon wanting more.

Steve Kelley is the athlete development coordinator at USA Triathlon. Contact Steve at

Sample Training Plan

This plan is for 11-12-year-old athletes preparing for a youth distance race.

Prepared by Tony Noll, USAT Level 1 Certified Coach


  Week 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Week 5 Week 6
Day 1 Swim 300 yards Swim 400 yards Swim 300 yards Swim 500 yards Swim 300 yards Swim 300 yards
Day 2 Bike 30 minutes Bike 30 minutes Bike 45 minutes Bike 40 minutes Bike 45 minutes Bike 30 minutes
  Run 10 minutes Run 10 minutes Run 10 minutes Run 12 minutes Run 15 minutes Run 10 minutes
Day 3 Run 10 minutes Run 12 minutes Run 12 minutes Run 10 minutes Bike 40 minutes Run 10 minutes
Day 4

Swim 300 yards

Swim 500 yards

Swim 500 yards

Swim 400 yards

Swim 400 yards

Bike 30 minutes
Day 5 Rest    Rest Rest Rest Rest Swim 300 yards
Day 6 Bike 30 minutes Bike 30 minutes Bike 40 minutes Bike 30 minutes Bike 35 minutes Rest
  Run 10 minutes Run 10 minutes Transition Transition Transition  
      Run 10 minutes Run 10 minutes Run 15 minutes  
Day 7 Bike 40 minutes Bike 30 minutes Bike 30 minutes Bike 45 minutes Bike 30 minutes RACE DAY!

Race Day Equipment Checklist

By Coach Todd

1. Triathlon equipment bag (with USA Triathlon membership tag)
2. Small hand towel or transition mat for transition area layout
3. Towel for personal use (optional)
4. Trisuit or swimsuit
4. Goggles
5. Swim cap
6. Flip flops (optional for after the race)

1. Bike (serviced and ready ahead of time)
2. Bike pump or tires pumped
3. Cycling pants (optional, if you don’t race in your trisuit or swimsuit)
4. Cycling shirt or running singlet (optional, if it is cold or you don’t cycle in a trisuit)
5. Cycling shoes (if you use clip-in pedals or not cycling in your running shoes)
6. Socks (optional if you wear them)
7. Bike helmet

1. Running shoes (with lace locks optional)
2. Singlet (optional, short sleeve and/or long sleeve depending on weather)
3. Running shorts (if you don’t race in your trisuit or swimsuit or you want to change after the race)
4. Nutritional bar or snack
5. Water bottle (water and fluid replacement)
6. Race number (if you picked up your race packet in advance)
7. Race belt for your race number (running singlet needed if not using race belt)

1. Sunglasses
2. Baby powder (small)
3. Glide (wetsuit)
4. Sunscreen
5. Cap or hat

“It’s not WHERE you finish but HOW you finish!”

Todd Waldner is the founder, director and lead coach of iCAN Junior Triathlon Club. He is a USA Triathlon Youth and Junior Certified Coach and Certified Race Director.

Youth Coaching: Fueling the Athlete’s Lifestyle

By Alan Ley

USA Triathlon’s slogan is, “Fueling the Multisport Lifestyle.” I propose that in 2011, coaches use the slogan, “Fueling the Athlete’s Lifestyle” The fuel athletes need the most is fuel for the mind.  

Young athletes, like adults, are exposed to all kinds of daily emotions and stress, and it is important for the coach to understand this. The coach must be perceptive to what’s going on in his or her athlete’s head and what is affecting the way the athlete feels and performs. The coach’s passion, preparation and commitment are high octane fuel for the young athletes as they prepare for sport and life. 

Key Youth Coaching Concepts

  1. How you coach is the key to an athlete’s success, even more valid than what you coach.
  2. Mental preparation and training is more critical than physical training.
  3. Always instill passion, desire and enthusiasm in the hearts, minds and souls of your athletes. Young athletes will be heavily influenced on what you model.
  4. Attitude, effort and focus should be three key components of every practice.
  5. Neuromuscular training comes first. Use visuals, explanation and demonstration, then practice and provide feedback immediately.  
  6. Practice never makes perfect — only perfect practice makes perfect.
  7. With youth and juniors, the will to prepare trumps talent every time.
  8. The younger your athletes, the more professional you must be. Lead by example.
  9. Learn from watching — looking, listening and asking them questions.
  10. The coach empowers and can instill a winning vision in each athlete.

When you prescribe the next two weeks of swimming, cycling and running sessions and you are trying to determine heart rates, intervals, rest and the progression of workloads, be sure to implement the 10 coaching concepts above into your sessions. All athletes look for validation, but it is even more important for the young triathlete in training. Mental fuel is essential to the athlete whether they are in the multisport lifestyle for play or performance.

Alan Ley coaches the WickedFast Triathlon Team in the Rocky Mountain Region.