Workout Advice for Younger Teens

Teens who want to start fitness training should follow the same advice that I’d give to any other beginner: Use a nice, steady progression to build your capabilities. Start off with the basics with calisthenics, stretching and some form of cardio activity, such as walking, biking, jogging or running.

I have seen some of your articles about how it is important to not overtrain or hurt yourself when you are young. What would you recommend for a 17- to 18-year-old, a 16-year-old and a 130-year-old? I am 17 years old and have some younger brothers who want to join me with my calisthenics and weight training program. Do you have any suggestions? — Thanks!

Yes, it is important not to overtrain at any age. Where most youthful beginners make a mistake is by starting off way too hard. My personal recommendation to young people is to first build a base of calisthenics strength and moderate cardio events (walk, run, bike, etc.). Once you’ve started that way, you can then do pull-ups, push-ups, dips, squats and lunges, and add weight in the form of dumbbells.

My son is also 17 and has been training with me since he was 13 years old. Before that, his exercise was in the form of lots of calisthenics in martial arts, basketball and baseball. We did not touch a weight until he was in high school, but we did build a solid foundation of calisthenics and flexibility during his early teen years.

When he turned 14 years old, we started with basic lifts, using dumbbells for squats, deadlift and bench press, along with a few machines in the gym.

By the time he turned 15, we started adding barbell weights and built up his body weight in all the lifts. We purposely stayed at or below his body weight when we lifted. Once he could comfortably do his body weight 5-10 times in weighted exercises like squats, deadlift and bench press, we added weight greater than his body weight. This journey has taken two years, so do not be in a rush to get there.

Looking back at my son’s progress, he started at 13 to 14 years old, a tall skinny kid of 6’3″ and 140 pounds in 8th grade. Now, he is a 17-year-old senior in high school at the same height but weighs 195 pounds. He did this by eating full meals, plus added snacks like PB&J sandwiches, glasses of milk, milkshakes and Instant Breakfast drinks. He has not experienced any injuries from improper form or overuse, so my advice is to start them off with the workouts like the PT Pyramid.

The PT Pyramid and Super Set have been a staple for us over the last few years. If you find them easy, add weight with the weight vest in order to challenge yourself.

We also set up the workout to allow for recovery from each workout. Our cycle was the following:

Monday: Upper body

Tuesday: Lower body

Wednesday: Day off or sports day with stretching

Thursday: Upper body

Friday: Lower body

Saturday and Sunday: Days off or sports days, depending on the season

Some recommendations with beginner and intermediate programs are Calisthenics and Cardio Workout and 101 Best Pyramid Workouts.

You’re doing a good job by being an example to your younger siblings. Keep yourself and your brothers on a normal schedule. I have found our workouts to be the only constant in our lives because of restrictions and loss of sports due to COVID this year. Stay safe and train smart. See more workout ideas at the Military.com Fitness Center.

— Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you’re looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to stew@stewsmith.com.

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