Training 13 year old

Hi,

our son (13 years old) does cycle races as a hobby. He races for four years now, with good results. During a race we see his weak points are the breakaways, they seem to drain him rather quickly. His basic conditions seems more than sufficient, he always ends the race at the front, but he wants to improve his ability to react to sudden accelerations. Now it looks like he hits his ceiling immediately if there is an acceleration in the peloton.
He uses Zwift but I want to import TR workouts into Zwift.
My question is: what type of trainings should he do to become better at ‘demarrages’?
Anaerobic? VO2Max?

Any help will be appreciated, thanks!

Personally, before i started getting my kid into training at home with TR, I would investigate which local club, with coaches, are in my area.

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He’s too young for structured intervals if not apart of a similar aged group of riders all doing it. Even then sparingly.

Turn everything into a game or fartlek training. Plenty of ways to work on accelerations out on the road, I wouldnt do anything on the trainer unless it’s a race or a group ride with people he knows, maybe coming in to an A race, but everything on it should be what HE wants himself to do.
Things to do could be townsign/speed sign/ x colour letterbox sprints with you/ people his age, accelerate out of corners, (if you know his gears are good and its not busy) out of traffic light to the end of the intersection, over the top of every climb or you attack him when he doesnt know and he has to respond and follow you.

Everything just needs to be fun, and at that age slogging specific time frame at certain intensity isnt fun. But you can essentially do the same secretly by finding ways to do it or hills similar length to what you want. Thats how you ‘sneak’ in ways to do longer intervals too, but just remember that about right is close enough, theres not much difference really doing 2 or 3 min climbs so find a bunch similar rather than reps, and don’t stress if it’s not 180seconds.

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Reading the above it instantly made me think of the audiobook I’m listening too at the moment… would recommend it (to all)…

Thanks, just to be clear, I only do what he wants. We never force him into anything. He wants to improve and I want to help him.

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@IL.Grillo hit it right on the head and has amazing advice… This is coming from someone who started his competitive cycling career at 12y/o and was a cat 3 in the US by 14y/o and a Cat2 by 16y/o.

You need to be motivating and find fun ways for him to grow, structured training will flat out burn them out and potentially harm their growth if forced too hard. They need to learn naturally and in a inspiring way, if your son has natural talent/ability or genetics they will shine through eventually.

Breakaways are some of the hardest things to learn, especially as a young mind and typically younger riders are exerting way too much effort and not riding smart. You need to make sure your son knows “how” to ride fast in a small group and be efficient.

The other thing that is a huge factor when we are talking about young riders is bike positioning, is he optimized in fit and aerodynamics? Typically, these kids are not making a lot of power until they get older, they are running mainly on low weight, elasticity, piss and vinegar!

The main goal should be to keep the sport fun, interesting and allowing his body to naturally grow (don’t start doing crazy diets for weight loss etc). You also may want to consider teaching your son how appropriate and okay it is to “lose” as if this is not taught early on in cycling it will stall their career as a racer when they cant see past a “win”.

Keeping loose structure is absolutely fine, but as Grillo has recommended above there are great ways to get his fitness up. I would strongly recommend you look into a local club or even a coach that specializes in JR’s, where are you located?

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I used to struggle with this too. I would recommend surges and than settle into treshold

Pretty sure you replied to the wrong topic, @Lukas1.

He is already riding in a local team. We are from Belgium. His team only trains once a week and for a 20-25k race that is not enough.

Thanks for all the advice, appreciate it!

I can’t help but wonder if he is racing with a power meter? If not, it might be pacing the effort that he needs to practice. If he does, how does his power output look? Is he going harder than he needs to in order to get a gap and then can’t recover? Is he trying to go as hard as he can for as long as he can?

If it is not his pacing and he just can’t hold the power necessary to keep the break, I would consider over-unders or vo2max float intervals like sassafrass. These types of vo2 max intervals are my favorite for road racing.

I echo everything else people have said about keeping it fun, but have a different perspective on coaching: If you are going to find a coach who works with juniors, I would be very very picky. In my experience - personally and through stories of others - a bad coach is what is most likely going to kill someone’s love for a sport. If your son is happy with the sport and you are happy to help, then I don’t see any reason to find them a coach and risk a bad situation.

I don’t understand the mindset of always “keeping it fun” when coaching kids. I grew up playing mostly team sports and it was not always fun, in fact mostly it was not. I remember doing horrible drills and fitness regimens, and it WAS NOT fun but it made me better. I disagree that it needs to always be fun, but you need to read the athlete. Of course there is a balance but a structured plan and periodization definitely has a roll with teenage cyclists, we’re not talking about 6 year old’s here. If I was a young ambitious cyclist I would be very disappointed that my coach/dad didn’t give proper structure and was just trying to keep it fun thus handicapping my fitness.

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When I refer to structured training, I am speaking in terms of ridged schedules and copious amounts of power data and training. The chances of someone making a career in cycling is significantly less than someone making a lifetime hobby from the sport.

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I would agree with this as well - it needs to have fun moments rather than always be fun. For most, simply competing in the sport is fun which is why people do it. Adults often underestimate kids. Especially 13 year olds. As I think back to when I was 13, I definitely wanted to my training to be about improvement rather than fun.

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Good training = good race results = motivation = fun

Getting dropped every time = less fun

I think a good balance between fun and good training is key I think.

Honestly I’d suggest doing more riding that includes surges - off road riding/races (cx, mtb), track, and even zwift races. Its both more fun and more realistic than doing 7x 3minutes at a set power while staring at a timer.

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He basically needs a larger FTP. He gets in a break and blows up because he’s over his FTP. He can’t handle accelerations because he is probably already on the edge at his FTP or a little over.

He’s only 13 and next year he’ll be a lot stronger until he’s fully mature. Unfortunately, there is a large mismatch between kids at this age. My son is 12 and started puberty early. He looks like a 9th grader while some of his peers still look like they could be in 4th grade.

You could certainly optimize his training with power and some structure if he’s interested in that. The first thing might be to know his FTP and power duration curve and compare it to the moments when he blows up in races. Then you’ll know the exact answer.

Totally agree. There’s a huge space between ‘Just riding around’ and ‘Every moment on the bike is scheduled and structured to the second and the watt’. You can do 1-2 interval workouts throughout the week and then the rest just be free rides but keeping it more toward steady Z2. Then you just have to monitor their fatigue and motivation.

As an teenaged athlete, I would have been pissed if every single day was just fun and rainbows and then I got my doors blown off in games/races/meets.

Maybe super super structured intervals are too much (this would be very individual) but you can use the terrain for different intervals. 2-5min hills for VO2s and just say to go max to the top. 20-40min climbs and/or loops for threshold. etc etc.

A few questions… (1) When racing is he competing against riders his own age? (2) Is he racing against competitors with the same training history? (3) What are the long term goals? Is it to be competitive? To enjoy riding as a hobby / lifetime sport?

Training youth is different than training grown adults. It is especially tricky because everyone develops and goes through puberty at different times. Some can handle more volume and more intensity, some can’t. It really is dependent on maturity (physically, mentally) and training / athletic history. The body is going through so many changes that weird injuries pop up just because they might be growing a lot.

I see he has been racing since 9 years old… But what has his training history been in this time? If he is a seasonal rider or beginner, I think the advice to keep it fun, ride more and build a training foundation is the right answer. Thinking back to when I was that age we (the neighborhood kids) rode our single speed BMX bikes everywhere around town. Sometimes fast, sometimes slow, sometimes we stopped. We didn’t have power meters or worried about intervals. We had nowhere to go but just were our riding all day. I think when people are talking about “having fun”… they are talking about trying to harness that same energy. Just go ride. Leave the bike computer at home. Most rides should not have any objective than just going out an riding your bike… not because you have to, but because you want to.

If he has a more competitive background and has a training history on the bike, than introducing intervals may be appropriate. Still at this age it is important to not over-do it. In my 20+ years of coaching youth I have found that 13-18 year old’s with a training history of 1-5 years have about 4-6 weeks of hard interval training in them before they peak and require a season break. Periodization is key at this age.

As for the original question regarding countering accelerations:
At his age and if he has the training history for it, I would… ride more (speed reserve), do hill sprints (strength & power).

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I agree. Growing up, I played basketball all day as much as possible. From ages 10-19, I wanted to do nothing else. Whenever I was on teams, even as a younger kid, it would frustrate me when other players would joke around and not take practice seriously. I was always interested in improving myself, not necessarily having fun. I believed fun=winning. So to each their own. I agree that reading the specific athlete is the most important thing. Different strokes for different folks.

I say if your kid is interested in doing intervals and improving, let him have at it. I personally would avoid talks of cutting weight and really push a healthy diet with sufficient fueling. You wouldn’t want a young kid going down the rabbit hole of weight loss. Scary and dangerous.

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He is competing kids of the same birth year. Some made big progress compared to last year. They clearly increased their training labour.
His goal is to be competitive, being able to follow the better riders.

For the nutrition part we don’t and will not do anything. He is already very skinny, he eats all he likes, me jealous:-)

He constantly rides with +100rpm, should he go slower on hills to increase strength?