Strength training for Teens – Do’s and Dont’s

The subject of Strength training for teenagers has always been a highly debated issue. Many fabricated myths and theories over the negative effects it may have on a teenager’s growth development have circulated as long as weight training has become popularised. We’ve all heard “Lifting those weights will stunt your growth” or “your messing with your hormones”. In fact all major studies are now revealing that not only is it safe for teens to weight train but that there are a multitude of benefits both Physical and Psychological that accompany it. Sure there may be isolated incidents of teens having physical problems due to their Strength/Weight program. Severe lack of knowledge or being over eager are usually the main culprits for this but there are guidelines in Strength training that are exclusive to teens and their development. Following are the Do’s and Don’ts of Strength training for teens as well as the benefits it entails.

Before getting started

A physical exam with your doctor is always advisable before you undertake your first Strength training program. Important information from this exam could be utilised by your trainer/coach to personalize your program. It is beyond important to enlist the guidance of a Gym instructor who understands the special needs of teen training. Supervision is highly advisable as you must learn proper technique in order to reduce the risk of injury which as a teenager you are highly prone too when proper lifting guidelines are not followed. Your skeleton is not fully mature till your early 20’s and too much weight can stress young joints and ligaments or possibly in extreme cases separate growth plates. On the flip side weights performed correctly improve bone mass density in teens by increasing calcium in their bones as well as giving them a head start against osteoporosis and strengthening their tendons. So start out slow. Remember it was the Turtle that beat the Hare.

Your program and its benefits

Any good Strength training program for teens has a mixture of both weight and cardiovascular based elements too it. A 50/50 split to start out is advisable and as progression follows the weight to cardio ratio can be increased to 70/30. Although the thought of cardio work may not seem too appealing to younger trainers it reduces the risk of injury by half as well as keeping them supple and will also aid in there fitness whilst lifting. Compound exercises with higher repetition ranges are also advisable for teens anywhere from 12-20 reps  with a moderate weight is where we should be aiming for remembering we don’t want to load up those young developing joints and ligaments too much. Three sets per exercise is advised. Weights may be incrementally increased over time as the lifter gets stronger. Starting out 3 days a week of upper/lower body split would be ideal then moving forward a teen could progress to 5 days a week training once fully confident. If followed correctly the teen could expect the following benefits.

  • Increased muscle strength/size
  • Increased bone density
  • Increased cardiovascular fitness
  • Improved body composition (muscle vs fat)
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased resistance to injury


Other Lifestyle factors beneficial to teens

In the teen years your body is an absolute growing machine and there are three very crucial factors to consider. The importance of Nutrition, Recovery and Sleep cannot be underestimated. The teen years are critical for growth and development so with the added stress put on the body from strength training it is imperative that their body is fully fuelled and recovered to meet these demands. A varied diet including Protein, Carbohydrates and fat are all of significant importance to a teen who is strength training. Three main meals with snacks in between should suffice a growing teens needs with breakfast being the most important meal of the day and on training days a protein shake with a carbohydrate source within 45 minutes of training is imperative. Secondly Recovery periods are paramount. As stated earlier when starting out 3 days training a week is enough as your body learns to cope with the stresses of training. This can be increased as your body learns to tolerate more but it is advisable that after every 6 week training cycle you take one whole week of to rest and repair. 

This rest period would be very beneficial to teens as they continue to grow even when on this week break. Sleep is also a major factor to consider when using weights for teens. This is the period where a majority of growing is achieved and it is advisable that 8-10 hours a night is necessary to fully maximise your gains from training. Not only are these three factors important but crucial in the results teens will see. If neglected results will be poor and the effort put in will not match the results expected. This in turn could potentially damaging psychological effect on a young teenage brain which is also still developing once again bringing back the importance of seeking out the right advice first and foremost.

Common mistakes made by teen strength trainers

In this day and age people want results as quick as possible teenagers being no different. Too many strive for way too much too soon in the gym which becomes the catalyst to injuries, fatigue and in many cases psychological issues. Having to have a “Buff” physique or 6 pack abs has almost become the norm amongst teenagers and when some are so desperate to achieve this they might be inadvertently doing more harm than good. Peer pressure or body image issues may have some teens lifting or training above their own means which may seem a good idea at the time but seriously increases the risk of both injuries and fatigue. Teens first need to be educated that not everyone is created equal and just because your friend can bench press 100kg does not mean you should be able to as well. Education that we all develop at different rates should not only be taught by their gym instructor but at school through physical education teachers.

The 5 most common mistakes made by Teens when engaging in a Strength program are.

  • Ignoring professionals- Many teens start a lifting program without seeking any professional advice. This highly increases risk of injury and should never be done.

  • Lifting above their own means- Remember your still growing. Too much weight can effect young joints and ligaments. A moderate weight for 12-20 reps will suffice and is your best option.

  • Ignoring cardiovascular work- Too many teens disregard the benefits that cardio could add to their training. Cardio reduces the chance of injury by half.

  • Poor diet- A teenager’s body is already working overtime to grow and develop. When Strength training is added the demands become extraordinary. A balanced healthy diet utilising all major food groups is paramount in order to maximise this growth. The occasional treat of fast food is fine but the benefits of balanced healthy eating at this period of their lives are crucial.

  • Not enough sleep or rest- In this electronic and social media world teenagers are commonly getting less and less sleep.  Not only does this take a toll physically but mentally. Now with the added introduction of strength training the body now requires more rest and recovery time. Too many neglect this area and become both physically and mentally fatigued. Not enough sleep and recovery equal poor gains.

In Summary

The best advice that can be given to a Teenager on a strength program is know your limits and respect them. Teenagers can make extraordinary gains from being consistent in their program. It is paramount that in the early stages that qualified professional advice is sought after and leading on from that correct technique and rep ranges are followed. This coupled with a healthy lifestyle will help them achieve their personal goals no matter what they may be.  Each teen must realize they are unique and have their own limitations. Stay within them and great things can be achieved. Attempt too much and the results can be disastrous. Most of all you should enjoy training, don’t fall into peer pressure and bask in your positive results.

Happy Training.