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Go With the Flow: How to Help Young Female Athletes Train Smarter Through Puberty

Seven tips to help you train your best when your body is changing.

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Puberty is a massive growth spurt in more ways than one. Puberty affects balance and coordination, plus moods and feelings. No wonder it also affects your training, recovery, and subsequent adaptations. This is an especially important time to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Here are seven tips for running and training during puberty that can help you emerge stronger.

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1. Emphasize aerobic conditioning.

Low-intensity activity builds and maintains base-level fitness and promotes circulation, plus it relieves stress on the body and mind. Focus on your base mileage by logging easy, conversational miles and/or cross-training, such as swimming, cycling, or other sports. Coaches should be able and willing to tailor your training to what’s happening with your body.

Graphic that shows the fluctuations in hormones in an average menstrual cycle and how running during puberty can change.

2. Track your period.

It might take a while for your periods to get into a rhythm. Recording your cycle and symptoms can help you figure out what’s normal for you. Use an app

or training log to track your period, recording flow (heavy, light), any pain (cramping, migraines), and factors like mood, sleep, and energy level. Note any unusual changes from month to month. While irregularities aren’t always serious, they may indicate health issues; bring them up with a doctor.

Hormones alter our bodies in many ways. They affect our energy systems, how we handle heat and regulate body temperature, our ability to gain strength and recover, and even injury risk. Woof! That sounds like a lot! But with a little self-awareness, you can actually tailor your training and lifestyle to these changes, from month to month, season to season, and year to year.

Even better, you can perform—and perform well—no matter the phase of your cycle. In fact, you can hit personal records (PRs) on your period. Paula Radcliffe set a women’s marathon world record, 2:15:25, on her period, with cramps!

Your experience may differ from your teammates’—that’s natural. For example, some people never deal with cramps but struggle with insomnia. Others get stomach troubles and break out like clockwork every month. Having a strong sense of what’s going on with your own hormones and their symptoms can help you as both an athlete and a human. Understanding your body invites you to give yourself grace, adjust nutrition and sleep, and work out and recover smarter. That’s why we recommend tracking your cycle, including your own unique signs and symptoms. Knowledge is power!

3. Keep your energy levels steady and balanced.

Not having enough fuel (energy from eating and drinking) can delay your first period and cause serious health complications along with decreased performance. Remember to fuel not just for running, but also for your body’s daily functions, all the growing you’re doing, and other activities. Prioritize pre- and post-workout snacks to avoid energy deficits.

4. Address food and body issues.

Puberty, and cultural expectations around it, can have negative effects on your body image and eating habits. Stay alert. What messages do you hear about your body from parents, from coaches, or when you talk to yourself? What about from what you see online? How do these messages make you feel? Think, talk, or write about these influences. Practice mindfulness and use nutrition tools to help avoid dangerous traps. Seek help if you’re struggling.

5. Build your athleticism and strength.

Incorporate resistance training, cross-training, and plyometric exercises to increase power, strength, and fitness. Multidirectional activities help build bone density, increase core stability, and improve explosive movements. Embrace other sports too!

6. Invest in a good sports bra.

During puberty, you’ll grow physically, which requires adjustment. Case in point: boobs, which might hurt or feel wonky when you run. A well-fitting sports bra can be a lifesaver.

7. Speak up.

Yes, puberty is a big deal but it’s also a natural process. There’s no need to hide it under the rug—even if some people don’t like to talk about it or periods. Talk about what you’re dealing with or wondering about to teammates, your coach, or another trusted, supportive resource. If you’re open about it, you might inspire others to speak up too.

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Adapted from Girls Running by Melody Fairchild and Elizabeth Carey with permission of VeloPress.