Building a base for a inactive teen

Well i put my foot in it. My parter wants me to help her 15 year old get start in the gym.
He doesnt have a father ( dead for over 5 years) . So she wants a masculine role model for him. Plus , hes suffering from body image issues as a Freshman in highschool. Currently hes 5’9 127lbs… with his main form of physical activity being gaming alone.

Shes wanting to get a gym membership for him. I personally dont want to throw him under a bar at this point. Id rather him focus on some GPP.

This is uncharted territory… because most individuals ive worked with had some level of a base to work from.

I have a strategy in mind…BUT.
Im open to any suggestions.

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It’s 100% your call, but here’s my view on it. The lifting community is super supportive, and lifting weights is exciting. If you can get him engaged with the culture and progress, he’ll naturally want to continue. Lifting would seem more prone towards solving the body image issue than calisthenics or whatever else. Also, joining a sport would be good.

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My only advice is for you to remember that his mind/emotions are way more delicate than his body. Build him up both physically and mentally. Which means, just as you wouldn’t start him off with heavy singles on a compound movement, instill confidence and show him unwavering support more than anything else in the beginning. Pushing him to progress will obviously be part of things once you build that foundation of trust and he knows you believe in him.

I don’t know you personally, so please don’t think I’m making any assumptions about you. I’m sure his mother sees those qualities in you or she worldnt have asked for your help. I just wanted to get it out there. Besides, there could be others reading this that need to remember those things before training their own kids or young clients. And in actuality, this really applies to anyone. As a trainer, we take a great deal of responsibility for the whole person, not just their muscles and athletic enhancements.

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Try to get him to play a sport.

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Not an expert on the topic but I do have children that I am trying to teach how to workout as well.

Whatever you do don’t make it un-enjoyable. It doesn’t necessarily have to be fun, but just don’t make it painful and difficult (Looking at you burpees).

What I quickly realized is that if you were athletic as a child you take for granted how uncoordinated some people can be at first. They may be trying really, really hard to do the exercise you just showed them and you kinda just gotta roll with it to some extent knowing that perfect is the enemy of good enough. Give them some encouragement and avoid knit picking the movements with lots of advice and things they should think about while executing an exercise. Keep it simple.

Goal for me was to slowly teach them some of these basic movements (push-up, air squat, DB curl, KB deadlift, hang from pull-up bar) with highest importance on safety and not letting them do anything that they could hurt themselves with.

Hard part for me was that every resource I read said for kids to do endless amounts of body weight work, which I think is great advice especially for younger ones, but then what I noticed is that my kids already had some idea of what goes on in a gym and they wanted to lift weights and not do sit-ups.

So sort of finding a balance with that and watching out for them to not get frustrated, bored, or hurt. …still figuring this out. If they don’t want to workout that day…cool I just let it die there and I do it without them.

They can push themselves and make it challenging later on when they find their own motivations.

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This is not in his favor. He has grown accustomed to being comfortable.

Might he have some reasonably good genetics, you knowing his parents? That would be a big help.

But the bottom line is that I have no clue how to motivate anyone to want to excel at lifting weights.

My thoughts exactly.

I LOVED the prescription Dave lays out in this story

New guy spends his time spotting and loading, then eventually works up to sleds, push ups, lunges, GHRs, then technique work, then FINALLY gets to touch a bar.

Tell him it’s like leveling up in real life. Strength, constitution, charisma, ect.

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I work as an S&C coach across two high schools and multiple junior sporting clubs. Within these roles, I’d say 20% of my job is working with athletes who are good at gym, and 80% with the kids who couldn’t give a flying fuck

The key principles I’ve learnt are:

  1. Spend ~20-50% on your time on the 1-3 key movements that give them the highest physical return. Generally, this could include:
  • Skipping rope
  • Goblet squats
  • Push ups or bench press
  • Hanging/climbing or chin-up
  1. Spend the remainder of your time being guided by the athlete, and the things they find valuable. You could also just play games
  2. If you’re going to do stuff the athlete doesn’t inherently enjoy (like the “big” movements), find a way to make it more fun. This could include giving them opportunities to set rep or load PRs, or just doing the movements with them
  3. Avoid movements that give implicit negative feedback about an athlete’s strength and/or body composition. This is why I’m not a huge fan of force-feeding push ups and chin-ups on young athletes, as they tend to make weak and unfit athletes feel even more weak and unfit
  4. Always remember: perfect is the enemy of the good. Spend your time chasing “good enough” exercise selection, “good enough” technique and “good enough” effort and you’ll be fine
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What does her son want? Does he want to go to the gym?


Find a friend of the Son who also wants to do sports in the gym and it will work.

Unfortunately the friends he currently have. arent interest in physical improvement .

Me personally… i think he wants to see improvement. Since hes feeling very self conscious about his appearance to the point hes becoming distressed over it.
But, i question if he has the motivation to actually put in the required effort to see improvement. Im trying to keep his mother from investing in a gym membership until i can verify if the true interest is there.

Yeah at this point as i mentioned above. i just want to evaluate him at the moment along with doing some GPP stuff just to help build a fitness foundation to work from.

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Ill tell him it will raise his hit points and attack %… lol

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Yeah thats sorta my mind set from the start.

Has he spent much time with your sons? I would think he’d be kind of hero-worship-y about their physiques. If so, you’re ahead of the game.

Which i also view as a obstacle myself.

Well im familiar with his mother since we are in a relationship. Ive seen pics of his father .

I would hate to make a call on any potential he might have as of yet. Since i think he " might" be a late bloomer. On a good note he is relatively lean and seems to have a decent metabolism. Based on his bone structure and the amount of lean muscle he does have. Hes not going to be " jaked" ( hate that term) any time soon if at all. So i think it would do well for his mother or my self to manage expectations at this stage. So he doesnt get discouraged if improvement is slow.

Thats no lie… this is part of my concern. Case in point… when i finally but my oldest under the bar he had a few years of youth football and wrestling under his belt. So he had a athletic and fitness foundation to draw from.

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That would be a good idea in my world view… but hes more of a drama and music type of kid.