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May 03, 2022
One of the great things about the gym is that anyone can work out. Guys, girls, elderly, and yes, even teens. However, somewhere in time, there were murmurs of resistance training being risky for teenagers and that they shouldn’t lift weights. You've probably heard it before - "it'll stunt their growth". This is not true at all (no studies have ever shown this), and in fact, your teenage years are the best time to start going to the gym. That said, a teenager is still relatively young, and we believe there are several factors to take into account when it comes to programming. In this article, are going to explain the training variables that are ideal for teenagers who want to workout AND we are going to hook you up with what we think is the best workout plan for teens (boys and girls alike).
Table of Contents:
Remember youngins - you should not drink, and you should not do drugs, but you CAN lift weights!
While this should go without saying, teenagers are not adults. Sounds crazy, but it’s true. In fact, they are very different from adults.
This does not mean we need to take it easy on teenagers. Actually, a teenager is primed for growth and can handle a good bit of volume. However, it does mean we need to realize that their (or your) physical and emotional maturity can significantly affect training. This is facts, nothing to be sensitive about. Really, if you understand and accept this, it is an advantage.
Age doesn’t really play a factor when determining when a teenager should start 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.
The reason being is that while a 5-year-old can literally workout, the workouts are going to look much, much different than a teenager. When we get to teenagers, activities are going to look very different for those who have gone through puberty and those who are still waiting for that magical time in their life.
Puberty is the most significant factor when determining what type of training is appropriate for a teenager. Specific age doesn’t even really matter as different individuals can pass through this time at different ages; some young and some old. While there are multiple stages of puberty, we’re going to simply look at two main groups. Those who have begun their growth spurt and those who haven’t.
Before puberty, youth and teens can lift weights, but the goal should be more focused on learning movements and increasing fitness than it is on raising heavyweight and building muscles. This is basically because a youth can’t really put on mass before puberty.
Before puberty, a youth hasn’t had their hefty dose of testosterone and other growth hormones dumped into the bloodstreams. As these hormones are vital for muscle growth, not having them literally makes it impossible to grow muscle at any sort of significant rate.
However, this doesn’t mean a child still can’t work out. The neuromuscular system can still definitely be improved during this time. While a muscle may not be able to grow bigger, it can definitely learn to work better. Therefore, this age should include a lot of bodyweight movements to learn body control while also improving neuromuscular control. This group may also benefit more from unilateral training in the aspect of balance and coordination.
Also, we should mention that while muscle mass may not be able to be gained, the cardiovascular system can. Therefore including some metabolic conditioning is also a great idea. Things like HIIT or sled work are a great idea.
Once your body gets a dose of testosterone, now you’re ready to start hitting the weights and putting 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 has a healthy weight, many coaches will recommend a bulking diet along with a plan that looks more like a bodybuilder.
For this group, they can train very similarly to their adult counterparts, but more on this below. While we still like to implement strength training, it’s definitely on the lighter side of strength training as we’ll go over below along with other important variables.
For whatever reason, there has been a growing negative attitude towards teenagers’ training. Fortunately, this has changed for the better over the years but still persists some. This way of thinking is based on old beliefs similar to the other old wives’ tales. Maybe not as ridiculous as being told you’re going to grow a pair of hairy mitts for playing pocket pool too much but still pretty ridiculous. There are no studies that show training for teens is dangerous and in fact, studies have shown the exact opposite1.
So now that we know that working out as a teen isn’t dangerous let’s look at some reasons why teens should be working out. There are some good ones.
1. Be A Stronger And Healthier Adult:
It should come as no surprise, but youth who work out tend to be healthier adults. This can be due to numerous causes, but studies have concluded that youth with minimal levels of muscular fitness tend to grow into adults with weak muscular fitness2.
One of these factors is simply developing the proper 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 get to start learning these habits. One standard reply heard when fit individuals are questioned about their routine is that going to the gym is just part of the day, like brushing your teeth. This is the relationship you want to form.
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, a recent study 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 weeks3! This is likely the reason why it’s not uncommon to see muscular adults who say they don’t really work out anymore but perhaps may live an active life.
Regardless, training as a teenager paves the way for a long, healthy life.
2. Develop Fundamental Skills:
The first thing that many people think of when training is muscle growth. While this is definitely a part of resistance training, another major factor is the improvement of our neuromuscular system. Our neuromuscular system is basically the line of communication that exists between our brain and our muscles. It tells our bodies how to move and function. If you’ve ever looked at a baby waddle around, they don’t have a very developed neuromuscular system.
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. This can mean things like running, jumping, climbing, and throwing4. Further, it can also improve things like balance.
3. Decrease Risk Of Injury:
Kids will be kids, and they’re going to get hurt. It’s inevitable (and probably good ’cause it builds character). However, youth won’t get hurt if they are involved in training. Studies show that when youth are engaged in resistance training, their chances of sustaining an injury are greatly reduced5. This is due to several issues, including:
In fact, this benefit holds true for pretty much everyone of all ages.
4. Improve Body Image And Self Confidence:
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 definitely 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.
So now, let’s look at some of the factors to consider when developing a teen’s training plan.
Whether Puberty Has Started or Not:
We talked about this above, but knowing if a teenager has gone through puberty or not will play a significant factor in determining what the training program will look like.
Again, 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).
Experience Working Out:
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 there are two boys who have both gone through puberty, but one trained before puberty and one didn’t. The one who has will be able to handle higher volumes and higher intensity.
After the puberty issue, time restraints might actually be the second largest factor when writing a program. Teens are incredibly busy with school, friends, and whatever else they’re getting into. That being said, teens would likely 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.
Above were some outside issues to consider when writing a plan. Now let’s talk about training variables. There are really only three.
Assuming you (or your teen) has gone through puberty, here is the perfect training plan to follow. If you have yet to hit puberty, you can do this calisthenics workout plan.
If you are truly ready to hit the weights and build strength and mass, this is the plan you want to follow:
|Back Squat||3||6||2 mins|
|Bent Over Row||3||6||1.5-2 mins|
|Sled Push||3||10 meters||1 min|
|Sled Pull||3||10 meters||1 min|
|Leg Extensions||3||12||1 min|
|Leg Curl||3||12||1 min|
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.
|Bench Press (Dumbbell or Barbell)||3||6||2 mins|
|Hip Thrust||3||6||1.5-2 mins|
|Romanian Deadlift||3||8||1.5 mins|
|Chin Ups||3||5-8||1-1.5 mins|
|Leg Press||3||10||1.5-2 mins|
|Face Pulls||3||12||1 min|
|Cable Lateral Raise||3||12||1 min|
Note: Add Push Ups - 3 sets x AMRAP (as many reps as possible) - during session 2 for your first month**
|Trap Bar Deadlift||3||6||2 mins|
|Military Press||3||6||2 mins|
|Seated Back Row||3||8||1.5 mins|
|Walking Lunges||3||10||1-1.5 mins|
|Sled Push||3||10 meters||1 min|
|Sled Pull||3||10 meters||1 min|
|Arm Curls (any variation)||3||12||1 min|
|Triceps Pushdown or Extensions||3||12||1 min|
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.
This program is intended for teens who have correct supervision. Like any lifter, you need some guidance on some level.
For the first 4 weeks, we advise you to work strictly on form with the barbell movements which means your goal is not to add weight. Take this time to use a minimal amount of weight that allows you to feel the load. Then, work strictly on form. This might mean you scratch the rep scheme and focus on getting a lot of volume to perfect your form.
After your first four weeks, you’ll still be loading the barbell with minimal weight and follow progressive overload. Again, and we can’t stress this enough, DO NOT be in a rush. You have your whole life.
In this manner, you should be able to run this program for at least 6 months before you start to experience any sort of stalling.
For most of these, you should be able to increase the weight a little bit every week. When you do so, add the smallest amount you can. AGAIN, don’t be in a rush to add a ton of weight because it will stunt your progress fast.
If you do put on weight and find you can’t get the same number of reps, just keep that weight and use it again the week after. Again, your first six months of training should require minimal alterations with your rep scheme. Just keep pushing.
So now that you have the training program let’s look at some other factors to keep in mind.
Don’t Train Too Much:
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.
Remember To Eat:
We told this above, but we want to reiterate that you are going to need to eat! While this is hardly an issue for most teens, it still needs to be said as it’s that important. 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.
Nutrition For Teens:
The first step is to find your TDEE using a calculator online (there are a ton of them). This will tell you the number of calories that you need to eat on a daily basis 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.
Now it must be said that we always recommend more protein than the RDA’s recommendation regardless. However, it makes sense that this same tendency is applied to teenagers as well. While they’ll still fall in the same protein range of 1.6-2.2g/kg, it would be wise to use the higher end. Therefore, we would 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.
Should Teens Take Supplements?
Supplements and teens is a touchy subject, with some saying not at all while others say yes to everything. We have a moderate take. We believe teens should be a little more conservative with supplements merely because they can get plenty of growth without anything.
Also, we believe the phrase “You can’t enjoy the sweet without the sour” applies here. Due to the fact that you can progress so quickly without supplements, we feel teens should take advantage of this and do it as supplement free as they can. Then, once gains start to stall out, begin trying different supplements.
At the same time, supplements are perfectly safe for teens. Any nonsense you have heard about creatine or protein being harmful has been proven to be false many times over now.
Just a thought on society, it’s funny how you’ve probably heard the horror stories about the dangers of these supplements but never any of the positive reports, or just that those horror stories were false.
By the way, creatine and protein supplements are all natural too!
Regardless, protein powder would be the only supplement we would recommend for a teen simply because it’s just an efficient way to get in your protein.
That’s about it. There’s really not a whole lot of difference between adults and teens training other than not going as heavy and easing into the training. But other than that, just monitor your weight, lifts, and mental state. Adjust as necessary and crush it. Come on back when you’re ready for another program like our Powerbuilding or P/P/L!
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