Technique and Training for Young Triathletes
by Bob Seebohar
As more and more young athletes enter the sport of triathlon, there is more urgency for coaches and parents to understand the technique-related aspects behind the three disciplines of triathlon. Poor technique and biomechanics at a young age can predispose youth for a higher risk of injury and can form bad habits throughout their triathlon lifestyle. Below are a few common technique challenges and ways to improve them.
One of the major challenges that young swimmers have is not blowing out all of the air underwater so when they turn their head to breathe, they can take in more air. To help them with this, have them practice blowing out all of their air while sitting underwater next to the wall. This is a more comfortable environment and once the child has a sense of how to do this, slowly progress to practicing it doing breaststroke then freestyle.
Biking is fun but can be a safety risk and a danger to a young triathlete’s growth patterns if a few things are not emphasized. All young triathletes should be taught proper hand signals, rules of the road and verbal communication before riding.
It is best for young triathletes to spend a majority of their time cycling in smaller gears to lessen the strain on the knee joints. If it’s time for a new bike, look for one with compact cranks. While riding the bike, be sure the athlete learns how to change the gears on the rear cassette (using the right shifter) while keeping the front chainring in the small ring. This will help keep a higher cadence and will be much easier on the child’s joints.
All young triathletes should learn proper bike handling skills before trying to gain fitness on the bike. This will improve their knowledge of riding on paths and roads and will improve their self-confidence. Use an empty parking lot and set up cones for the athletes to ride around in various formats. Additionally, have them practice riding with one hand by grabbing a water bottle and waving to you in order to improve balance and confidence.
There has been much debate on proper foot strike patterns and while there is no agreed upon method, it is beneficial to teach young triathletes a flat foot strike running pattern to lessen the strain on their bodies. Heel striking can put a great amount of force on joints as can forefoot striking so achieve a balance of the two and teach how to engage a proper knee lift/drive in order to place the foot on the ground in a relatively flat position while absorbing the force with a bent knee. This will lessen the braking forces and promote a more effective push-off.
Remember, these are only a few (of many) technique challenges that young triathletes may have. I highly recommend having all young triathletes assessed with a Functional Movement Screening prior to beginning triathlon training as this will identify individual movement pattern imbalances more accurately.
Bob Seebohar is a sport dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist and a USA Triathlon Level III and Youth and Junior Certified Coach. He owns Kids that TRI (kidsthattri.org), a nonprofit youth organization and USA Triathlon High Performance Youth Triathlon Team in Colorado.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and not necessarily the practices of USA Triathlon. Before starting any new diet or exercise program, you should check with your physician and/or coach.