Children and Triathlon Training

author : AMSSM
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Many parents wonder about how safe it is for children to participate in triathlons and other endurance events. Unfortunately, there is very little scientific evidence in this area to help guide parents and physicians. Instead, the opinions of experts in the field guide the current recommendations.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that triathlons for children and adolescents be designed with an emphasis on fun, and they make the following safety recommendations:

  1. shortening or canceling the event based on weather conditions

  2. requiring a pre-event swim test, in which each athlete swims the event distance

  3. having an appropriate numbers of lifeguards present during the swim portion of the event

  4. performing the swim portion in a pool, rather than open water

  5. closing the bicycle course to motor vehicle use

  6. mandating use of bicycle helmets

  7. providing fluids during the running and bicycling portion of the event, and at the end of the race

  8. designing a medical emergency action plan

  9. requiring medical screening of participants prior to participation

The earliest triathlon series for children, the Ironkids events, began in 1985 with relatively short distances at two levels, based on age. The Ironkids events now include three divisions with varying distances based on age (see table). Each triathlon in this series includes weekend events for the whole family with activities and information events encouraging physical activity in children. The IronKids mission “is to inspire and motivate youth through sport to lead an active, positive and healthy lifestyle”.

 

YearsSwimBikeRun
6-8 50 yard2 mile500 yard
9-11150 yard4 mile1 mile
12-15300 yard8 mile2 mile


Many other groups now hold triathlon events geared toward children, emphasizing fun and fitness.


Children training in a more competitive fashion for triathlons pose a different issue than those participating primarily for fitness and fun. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatric athletes training in ANY sport have at least one day off each week for rest and that participation in any one event (ie running OR swimming) not occur more than 5 days each week.


Significant controversy exists regarding the participation of children in other endurance events such as marathons. Experts in the field do agree that children should not be encouraged to participate in marathons and other long distance races. However, expert opinion diverges in the case of the child or adolescent athlete who makes the choice to train for a marathon. Some feel strongly that these children should not be permitted to participate in marathons, citing high rates of injury in high school cross country runners where the race distance is only 3 miles. Others feel that some self-motivated children are capable of participating in marathons safely if training is appropriate and the child doesn’t develop injury or experience adverse affects on growth and development during training. In the Twin Cities Marathon experience, none of the entrants under 18 years of age have required care in the medical tent.


Certainly, the participation of children and adolescents in aerobic activities including running, swimming, and biking, in general, is desirable. Regular physical activity is known to enhance and maintain health, improving blood pressure, cholesterol profile, glucose tolerance and body composition, even in children. And with the newest NHANES (National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey) data showing that 17% of 6-19 year olds are obese, encouraging regular physical activity in children is increasingly important.

  

Childhood obesity is a significant risk factor for obesity in adulthood with about 80% of children who are overweight at age 10-15 becoming obese as adults, thus increasing the risk for obesity related health problems such as Type II Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The health community recommends that children accumulate at least 60 minutes of moderate and vigorous activity daily. The triathlon activities of running, swimming, and biking are each lifetime sports that provide an excellent means to obtain vigorous activity and develop a lifelong love of physical activity.

 



Recommended Resources:


Triathlon Participation by Children and Adolescents, American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Sports Medicine and Fitness 1996


Overuse Injuries, Overtraining, and Burnout in Child and Adolescent Athletes, American Academy of Pediatrics, Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness

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date: July 9, 2009

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AMSSM

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

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avatarAMSSM

The American Medical Society for Sports Medicine (AMSSM) was formed in 1991 to fill a void that has existed in sports medicine from its earliest beginnings. The founders most recognized and expert sports medicine specialists realized that while there are several physician organizations which support sports medicine, there has not been a forum specific for primary care non-surgical sports medicine physicians.

FIND A SPORTS MEDICINE DOCTOR

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