T Nation

Early teen training

Not much has been discussed in the way of training for early teens, so here goes.

As I have a son who has just turned 13 what say we use him as a point of reference?

He is 5’6" tall and weighs a staggering 110lbs,refer to Da Joels pre BFL for some sort of idea

He is not athletic at all but does karate 2x pw. Possibly the most uncompetitive person in the world!

I haven’t run any ‘tests’ as yet and was thinking of testing,

vertical jump,
db press for 3 rm (I’ve seen those body flails he thinks are pressups)
squat 3 rm

What do you think?

From this I thought of starting on a 2 x pw circuit with 60 sec rest beteween (remember he has karate 2x pw). For the circuit I thought of,

db press
scissor hip extension (as per CT’s Painful 7 article)
bent over rows
Swiss ball crunch
db shoulder press

all for 6-8 reps or pre failure (failure 1-2 reps away)whichever comes first. 2nd workout being done in reverse order to above.

Comments and discussion appreciated.

What score can he shoot at your local par 72, Mr Hyphnz?

Does he like any sports? What about outdoor activities?

How many chins and dips can he do?

There’s an article on elitefts.com about the use of GPP in athletes from a young age. It’s long, but it’s an interesting read. PM me if you can’t find it and want the link.

Also, consult Nate Dogg; I’ve heard he’s trained a lot of young girls…:slight_smile:

How enthusiastic is he about this? I have other thoughts/comments (as I have a 13 year old son too) but I just have a second right now and that’s the thing I’m most curious about.

Good, solid circuit routine - awesome for conditioning before moving to a more Specialized split routine.

Just 2 point I would make:
Beginners respond the best to 12-15 reps (as per Ian King). According to King, an absolute beginner will make the best hypertrophy/strength gains in this higher rep range.

Charles Poliquin points out testing a begginer’s performance prior to 3 months of experience is useless and unfruitful. Coming from Poliquin, you take it as it is - but even with his fair share of blunders, I would take it as sound advice. The tests just will not be as accurate, and testing a near maximal effort can impose a risk of injury considering, a) the tendons are likely not as proportionately strong as those of an experienced weightlifter, and b) the stabilizer muscles are most likely very undeveloped (if he wobbles too much when doing a bench press, it’s a good sign he needs some time on the bench and soing stabilizer work before being tested for a near maximal effort without undue risk of injury).

Remember, however, that everyone has a much lower threshold to pain when starting out. What feels like nothing to you and me will feel like they’re dying to a beginner, and they’ll want to stop and quit. It’s YOUR job to push him and make sure he sticks to it.

Then again nothing you didnt already know.

I use to train a girls volly ball team and have had teen age clients. You shouldn’t push your son to hard yet. His body is not done growing and to heavy a weight can cause permanent damage to his bones. The squats are good if he is using his body weight. i wouldn’t push to far past that. Becareful oin the bent over rows and maybe switch them out to pull ups, again incorporating his own weight. Help him with the lift if he cannot do it on his own. And if he perform a full pullup, get him on the bar and have him hold it for the count of 5. Do this 5 times. Trust me that’s how I started LOL!! Scissor kicks and swiss balls are great. try to go for at least 8 reps on the presses. If he can’t push at least 8 reps lighten the weight. Try more more exercises like pushups and bench dips and things like lunges.
just my 2cents… good luck.

Well, I don’t have a son but I started training at a about the age your son is now. I don’t think that it had any real impact on my growth or any of the other nonsense that you sometimes hear. Then again, I was shaving at 13 so I may have been pretty much done growing.

I’m trying to remember what my training looked like then, I think it was just a sort of imitation of whatever my dad was doing at the time. In my case not the best training routine. I think that a circuit routine would be great, especially since it should help with his karate. The one you’ve posted looks like it’s got all the bases covered.

The only criticism that I have, and I think others have also said this, is that I would not test 3rm prior to starting his training. Especially on something like the squat. It took me forever to learn to squat properly and I’m still learning more every day. I didn’t do a properly executed squat until college, despite doing them all throughout high school. Had I tried to do a 3rm on the squat when I was 13 I probably would have hurt myself or turned in the ugliest three reps on the squat that you’ve ever seen. So I would definitely skip on the 3rm test for squats unless he already knows how to perform them with good form.

Thanks for the responses. Some more info.

No… he doesn’t play golf yet mainly because I hardly play anymore and also because I am not keen on children much younger than 13 playing as I think they lack the basic muscle strength and cocordination to learn correct technique. Also rather than tie kids up too much with activities they need time just to chill and be kids. End of ramble.

OK, so we’re gonna scrap the test bit, good points people and taken on board.

A bit more info, he (now referred to as L) is keen as much as it is something I do, I am sure this is the ultimate motivator, but he is definitely keen. Burt I recall you telling me how much you enjoyed workouts with your Dad, so I have taken this opportunity to encourage L.

Historically L has a low pain thresh hold and hasn’t really pushed himself, his mental toughness seems to have improved with the karate. He has an ultra competitive younger sister who is a jock-ette so I think that is a motivator as well. He enjoys mountain biking and has indicated he would quite like to do athletics this summer (sis does already).

Good points re the BW exercises, part of the reason I went with the rows and db presses is I doubt he can do much BW stuff and was going to build some strength so he can get into that asap. I like a lot of Mike Mahlers stuff in that regard.

Re the squats, I think I may get him to do zerchers, as I recall Coach D saying these are the best way to learn technique, also it moves stress away from his spine, not only is he growing he is very long limbed.

I am very aware of his limitations and will be with him at least 1 day pw of his training to ensure proper form is maintained even above work capacity.


I have worked with my own teenagers (currently includes a 14 yr-old boy) and it’s tough to be a dad, coach, trainer, motivator, etc. all at once without a lot of hurt feelings all around.

I found the best thing to do at first was to work out a simple upper/lower 5 day rotating split, and go for the classic (ouch - flames coming) 3 sets of 8-12:

“be honest with yourself - if you can do 13 it was too light, and if you can’t do 8 it’s too heavy”

then show him how to do it, tell him I expect a 10% per month increase in volume, give him a log-book, and then turn him loose for a few months with a random checkup on the log-book to see that the 10% is being met, and about once a month a peak over his shoulder to make sure his weights are what he’s writing in his log (sometimes just adding up the plates can be daunting to a teenager).

Oh, and the worst part of it is form - mine can’t see for anything how round his back is sometimes.

Err on the side of safety and simplicity at first.

Trying to go too fast will only ruin it for everyone. If he catches the ‘bug’ it will become a great part of both of your lives.


Wow…I go away for a few hours and nearly all the good stuffs been said – and said well. I know I’m going to be somewhat repetitive, but…oh, well…

I have 17 year old and a 13 year old. Both boys. They have had gym memberships since age 12 but getting them working out regularly is something that hasn’t really happened yet. The older one has had a lingering physical problem since he was about 12 and a half that’s made working out difficult for long stretches of time. The younger one has been growing so fast that he’s just pooped a lot of the time (he’s now 5’10.5", 155 and has stretch marks on his back from fast growth). They both like the idea of working out, but they have trouble being motivated enough at this point and don’t have great endurance.

The older one is trying out for the tennis team this year, so I’m looking to put together a program he can follow on his own (since he can drive himself to the gym now). The younger isn’t playing soccer this season (registration snafus) and is saying that he wants to workout more instead. He needs a program that doesn’t include much isolation work as his joints are still tender due to all the growing.

What they both need is to find motivation on the inside. I can encourage them and give them challenges, but the love of it is something you either have or you don’t. I also think it’s easier for kids if it’s part of preparation for an organized sport, in part because someone else is setting the expections. A parent setting too many expections for an activity like this is a good recipe for a kid coming to hate it.

Obviously, it’s great if can you start young and stick with it. (Hell, if I hadn’t had lapses over the years, I would have been at this for 26 years by now.) But realistically, gyms aren’t going away and you can decide to start lifting at whatever age. You do your best when you’re ready for it and feel motivated.

You’re right, some of my fondest memories from both childhood and my teenage years were training with my dad in the basement. I think it’s definitely the best way to get your kid into it, by having him lift when your lifting. Great way for a father and son to bond.

Have you thought about using box squats to teach L to squat? Zerchers seem very difficult (at least for me) to perform with proper form. It wasn’t until I started squatting on a box that my technique really began to improve. If only I had learned on a box to begin with, who knows what I’d be squatting now. Maybe a mix of box squats and zerchers would be good. I think the best part of learning on a box would be that it gives one a very real sense of where you need to be in terms of depth. That’s very hard to judge for someone just learning to squat and it prevents the lifter from squatting higher the heavier the load gets.

I go with comlex mtor pattern. starnge as it may seem, newbies are the best to teach them to as they dont ahve muscle imbalances and screwed up motor patterns from machines and un-education of the body. also, young age is the best age to fasciliate this learning according to siff and others.

about 3rm test- go ahead. squating is as instinctive as breathing. the only people who will injure them selves on 3rm are those mentioned previosly. the boy’s 3rm, is probably 20K for crying out loud. he’s breaking his 3rm everytime his taking a bigger backpack to school. people make a fuss out of sport activities. they think like bodybuilders. I bet he injured himself plating soccer more then hell EVER hurt himself training.

I would just get him to an olympic weightlifting team. and have him do with me as many different sports as possible.

good luck anyway


I think I broke my own record of spelling errors.

what ever you do, have him change exersize OFTEN, every 3-4 weeks, no exersize is sacred, no machines, make sure you read paul chek’s pattern overloading article to know what NOT to do…

there is a big difference also if youre watching him or not. if you are, you can prescribe more complex/instable drills. if not - have him start with simpler stuff. you cant underestimated how critical this is.

tell us how it goes.


It’s funny how people to this day still say “don’t let him lift heavy too young, he’s not done growing” This is comeplete BS!! Your body is going to grow when you’re young regardless if you’re laying on the couch all day or doing strength training. I started working out when I was 9 years old. I wanted to do Karate but we could not afford it so my mom got me some weights. Every single person at the gym including trainers were saying how it was going to stunt my growth and mess my bones up. I can only laugh out loud.
By the time I was 17 I was able to bodybuild and won every single bench press contest I entered because I started lifing heavy so young. If there is any time for a kid to start working out it SHOULD be during puberty. There is no other time in your life when all your hormones will be at the level they are during that time frame and is ideal for growth.
Of course, moderation is key and he should be trained on how to lift properly. But as for people touting the various dangers of lifting young…they should not speak unless they know exactly what they are talking about. And it can only improve his self esteem and physical appearance.


My son is 12, plays catcher for a baseball traveling team, inline skates, and generally plays outside a lot. This summer he wanted to start lifting and I wanted to encourage his interest.

The program I started him on was, at first, mostly bodyweight, chinups, dips, pushups, body rows (like an upside down pushup, done hanging from a low bar), and bodyweight squats. Even at 12 his hamstrings are already a bit tight, so I have him stretching as well. But I wanted to see him able to move his own body, and learn core bracing that’s needed to achieve those exercises, before he began with weights. Being able to do pushups and chinups is an achievement that makes a difference at school and among his friends.

He has shown me that he’ll be serious in the gym and not goof around on the equipment. He can do 20 full ROM pushups with good form, good core strength, and about 5 bodyweight chinups. He can do 6-8 bodyweight dips.

So now I have him doing The Bear. He loves it. We have preset bars in increments of 10 lb. He started with the 20 bar. He can do several reps with the 45 Olympic bar, but to keep his speed up, we are using the 30 preset bar, doing 4-6 sets of 4-6 reps.

My advice to you is to make sure your son knows how to abdominally brace, that he is willing to take the time to learn good form, and that you choose exercises that incorporate the whole body. Teens need to learn to use their body in a coordinated fashion, they need CNS stimulation and general physical preparation. Moving to specific bodybuilding style exercises should come later, after the ideas of constant muscle tension and motor control have been clearly established, at whatever age that happens.


Tren…I don’t necessarily believe it will stunt growth, but I do think there’s an issue with tendons, ligaments and muscle attachments to growing bones. Those attachments can tear even if a kid is not lifting weights because the body is changing so fast. Especially in the early teens.

Every kid is different, but what does it hurt to start off slow? The best way to make someone want to stop doing something is to make it hurt.

Go over to Elite and read Tom Myslinski’s “The Development of the Russian Conjugate Sequence System”, if you haven’t already.

Next, consider upping the rep ranges. No doubt you’re looking for strength gains for him, but at his age (both real and training) he’ll more likely respond better to higher reps (10-15), at least for a while. (See: King)

Also, go ahead and work a classical Western Periodization scheme with him. Now is the only time he’ll get anything out of it, might as well use it for the next year or two.


Take this to heart.

“Trying to go too fast will only ruin it for everyone. If he catches the ‘bug’ it will become a great part of both of your lives.”

"What they both need is to find motivation on the inside. I can encourage them and give them challenges, but the love of it is something you either have or you don’t.

Give him the tools. When he’s ready, they’ll be there for him.


Great post Knight!

Ike, that’s the article I was talking about. It’s kind of eye-opening for the development of young athletes.

Seriously, if you haven’t read it, do.