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Teens: Whether you're here to get big and strong, improve in sports, or simply fill out your t-shirts a little better, we've got good news.
You can do all of that! Not only can you do it, but your teenage years are the best time in your life to start doing it. As long as you do it right.
This means training smart, which includes knowing the ideal training variables for teens, how to train for best results, and the best workout plan for teens (boys and girls alike). Fortunately, you've come to the right place, because we're about to get into all of that.
Table of Contents:
If you have hit puberty, keep scrolling to the workout plan, because it is for you! If you have yet to hit puberty, switch to this calisthenics workout plan as bodyweight moves are better for you.
Before puberty, youth and teens can lift weights, but the goal should be on learning movements and increasing fitness rather than raising heavy weights and building muscles. Youth can’t put on mass before puberty, as they haven't yet had their hefty dose of muscle-building hormones, like testosterone and other growth hormones, dumped into their bloodstream.
A pre-puberty child should instead work out to improve their neuromuscular system, meaning they're training their muscles to work better. This can be done using bodyweight movements and unilateral training, in addition to improving their cardiovascular system using things like HIIT or sled work.
After puberty, once your body gets a dose of testosterone, hit the weights to put on mass and strength. There’s a theory that this time, and the few years following, are the best times to put on mass. Assuming a teen is at a healthy weight, many coaches will recommend a bulking diet along with a plan that looks more like a bodybuilder.
Post-puberty teens can train very similarly to their adult counterparts, with a few changes (we'll talk about this later).
Assuming you (or your teen) has gone through puberty, here is the perfect training plan to follow.
This is a 3-day workout split, meaning you should perform each of these sessions once in a week. Never perform them back to back, allowing 24-48 hours between each. For each exercise, I've recommended how much rest you should have between sets.
Programming Note: If you have trouble with back squats, do goblet squats and spend a little time during your warm-up to practice barbell back squats with an empty barbell. Once you master the form, you can add the back squat into your routine in place of the goblet squat.
Programming Note: Add 3 sets of push ups, performing AMRAP (as many reps as possible), during session 2 for your first month.
Programming Note: For Arm Curls and Triceps Pushdown or Extensions, you can switch up equipment and variations each week. For example, you could do dumbbell bicep curls one week and cable machine rope hammer curls the next. Equipment for tricep and bicep isolation exercises can be cable machine, dumbbells, straight bar, or EZ bar.
Looking for the most success possible with your workout routine? Here are a few suggestions and tips regarding the program above.
This program is intended for teens who have correct supervision. All lifters, whether you're a teen or adult, need some guidance and support. Other guidelines to follow include:
So now, let’s look at some of the factors to consider when developing a teen’s training plan. This will give you the skillset to begin to learn how to build your own routine (after following the above program for 6 months, of course).
The factors to consider when creating a teen workout program are:
Remember, knowing if a teenager has gone through puberty plays a significant factor in determining what the training program will look like.
If a teenager hasn't gone through puberty, the focus should be on bodyweight training and other movement-based workouts. However, you should still get a barbell in hand at some point to teach proper biomechanics.
If puberty has started, teens should be placed on a bulking type diet with a resistance training program that utilizes progressive overload. The focus should be more on hypertrophy training with loads in the 75-85% range. It's time to start building muscle (if you want).
Just like any age group, the training age of a teen will play a massive role in what their plan looks like.
For example, let’s say two boys have both gone through puberty, but one trained before puberty and one didn’t. The one who has been training will be able to handle higher volumes and higher intensity.
Teens are incredibly busy with school, friends, and whatever else they’re getting into. That being said, teens will do best with training 3 days a week utilizing full-body workouts.
This is plenty of time to get in their training while allowing other time for their other responsibilities. Unless a teen really wants to train or be on an actual weightlifting team, there’s no need to push for any more of this. Remember that one of the benefits of training as a teenager is that it can help create a stronger adult. Burning out with too much time in the gym is not going to help do this.
Don't let time constraints or misbeliefs about how teens shouldn't lift weights stop you from doing it. Teens who work out will be rewarded with tons of improvements, both mentally and physically.
The best benefits of working out as a teen are:
It should come as no surprise, but youth who work out tend to be healthier adults. Alternatively, youth with minimal levels of muscular fitness tend to grow into adults with weak muscular fitness1.
One of these factors is simply developing the proper healthy lifestyle habits one needs to live a long healthy life. Being healthy isn’t necessarily “natural” in the modern world, where fast food and a sedentary lifestyle are the norms. Therefore, it’s almost like a skill that needs to be learned, and just like anything else, skills are easier to learn when you’re younger.
When you begin training in your teens, you start learning these habits. Many fit individuals will tell you that going to the gym is just part of their day, much like brushing your teeth.
Another critical factor is that while muscle can be challenging to gain, it’s much harder to lose. While you may need to hit the gym 3-4 days a week for years to put in a sizable amount of muscle, research has found that training just once per week, which included training each muscle group with one set, can be enough to maintain muscle mass for 32 weeks2!
This is likely the reason why it’s not uncommon to see muscular adults who say they don’t really work out anymore but simply live an active life. Trust me, training as a teenager paves the way for a long, healthy life.
The first thing that many people think of when training is muscle growth. While this is a part of resistance training, another major factor is the improvement of our neuromuscular system, which is the line of communication that exists between our brain and our muscles. It tells our bodies how to move and function.
When we apply a load to our muscles through a full range of motion, it will significantly improve this neuromuscular system that controls how effectively our muscles speak together. In addition, resistance training does involve a significant amount of athletic movements and mobility.
Together, studies show that resistance training can improve basic fundamental skills, like running, jumping, climbing, and throwing3. Further, it can also improve things like balance.
Kids will be kids, and they’re going to get hurt. It’s inevitable, but fortunately, resistance training can lower their risk. Studies show that when youth are engaged in resistance training, their chances of sustaining an injury are greatly reduced3.
Their reduced injury risk can be attributed to:
In fact, this benefit holds true for pretty much everyone of all ages.
Being a teen is brutal. Being a teen with no self-confidence is even more brutal. Getting involved in a training program as a teenager can do incredible things for self-confidence.
Resistance training can help improve body composition and physique, which will have a direct effect on self-confidence. However, this confidence doesn’t just come from improving body composition but from actual enhanced mental health.
Fitness is one of the best prescriptions for mood and mental state in teens or adults.
When it comes to working out, there are several factors that teens need to approach differently than adults.
When designing a workout routine for teens, training variables to consider are:
The good thing about being a teenager lifting weights is that it’s pretty simple. Your body is primed for maximal growth, meaning all you need to do is provide a stimulus.
At the same time, you want to use the main compound movements as these are not only the best exercises for strength and muscle mass, but they will also produce the greatest improvement in your neuromuscular efficiency. At this point, there’s no need to include any exotic exercises. Keep it simple with moves like squats, lunges, deadlifts, presses, and rows.
While it’s good to lift heavy at around 85%1RM, there’s no need to lift much heavier than this. At this point, you want to get in volume and increase muscle mass and strength, and 85% is the sweet spot for both strength and muscle hypertrophy.
And remember, when lifting at 85%1RM, focus on having good form, respecting the weight, and knowing how much your body can handle.
At this point in time, there’s no need to use any fancy periodization or anything like that. You can do well for at least 6 months using a simple linear progression plan like we just went over, which means that you perform the same rep scheme every week and just increase the load for progressive overload.
While you should still use some variance in your rep range in the actual session, that’s about as complicated as it needs to get. Keep things simple and train hard.
So now that you have the training program let’s look at some other factors to keep in mind.
As a teen with plenty of energy, it can be tempting to crush it in the gym and go too hard. Don’t. Even though you are primed for growth, there still is a limit. Training extra hard isn’t going to result in extra gains.
While there is a dose-dependent relationship with volume and muscle/strength gains, there is a threshold. Going past this threshold doesn’t do anything but build up fatigue and possibly increase the chance of injury. Plus, it’s an excellent way to just end up with DOMS.
While you’re sure to get DOMS at some point, there’s no need to make it worse.
Eat to grow! Not only is your body growing from puberty (either if you’re in it or about to go through it), you’re now placing a tremendous load on your body.
So eat. But try to eat relatively clean. This brings us to the next category.
The first step is to find your TDEE using a TDEE calculator online. This will tell you the number of calories that you need to eat daily to maintain your weight. You’ll then want to alter your TDEE to account for bulking by adding 500 calories.
If you have never trained before, you should be able to put on at least 1-1.5lbs of muscle a month for a year during your first year of training as a teenager, assuming you’ve passed puberty. However, you’ll still need to monitor your weight and identify if you have lost weight, gained too much weight, or if nothing happens.
The same basic principles for adults apply to teenagers as well. The one variable you need to consider might be protein. When looking at RDA values for protein, they will put teens’ protein needs at a slightly higher rate than adults. This is due to the extra growth that takes place during this time.
While teens will still fall in the same protein range of 1.6-2.2g/kg, it would be wise to use the higher end. I suggest a protein intake of 1.8g/kg-2.2g/kg.
After you have this, you have to calculate two more macros to consider, but it’s easy:
Now that you have your macros, you just need to be consistent, and don’t think too much about it. Aim to eat as healthy as you can, keep your calories from drinks to a minimum, get plenty of sleep, and that’s about it.
When it comes to teens and supplements, I have a moderate stance on it, meaning I believe teens should be a little more conservative with supplements merely because they can get plenty of growth without anything.
Because teens can progress so quickly without supplements, take advantage of this and do it as supplement-free as you can. Then, once gains start to stall out, begin trying different supplements.
But, do keep in mind, that supplements like creatine and protein powder are perfectly safe for teens. And I do recommend teens take protein powder because it’s an efficient way to get in your protein. Plus, when you pick from our list of Best Tasting Protein Powders, it's going to taste like a treat.
Any remaining questions? We'll answer them here!
Whether you have gone through puberty or you have not is the biggest thing to consider when working out. In reality, you could have started working out even before you were a teenager. The real question should be at what age should teenagers start working out with free weights. Or, at what age should a teenager start working out to gain muscle and strength?
So, don't go by age. If you've gone through puberty, lifting heavier weights is smart. If you haven't yet, stick with bodyweight exercises.
For whatever reason, there has been a growing negative attitude toward teenagers’ training. However, there are no studies that show training for teens is dangerous and in fact, studies have shown the exact opposite4.
Teens, this a great time to not only kickstart healthy habits but build serious mass. Monitor your weight, lifts, and mental state, all while slowly but surely progressive overloading.
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