T Nation

Starting a Boy Off Right


I'm looking for thoughts for getting my son started on the right foot. He's a big twelve year old who's grown too fast and is going through that clumsy stage as a result. He's at the outset of puberty (probably Tanner stage 2.5-3, for those for whom it will mean something).

I've got him doing multiple unweighted or very light weight repetitions for the major lifts to get him used to the movement patterns, but it's slow going. He's afflicted with the same tight hip flexors as the rest of his generation, though I think in his case it's too much soccer rather than being sedentary.

So, he's learning to squat and deadlift, and doing multiple lunges, mostly unweighted until he masters the movement. I'm also having him do fifty pushups and twenty pullups a day in as few sets as possible, and working him toward being able to do dips, but he just doesn't have the upper body strength yet.

In the next month as he settles into comfort zone with these movements, I plan on setting up a basic beginners workout built around one compound movement per day. I'm looking for insights and ideas, and any precautions you might suggest for a boy in early puberty.

Thanks in advance.


edit: chop for wtfwasithinking


My honest recommendation would be to NOT have him squatting and deadlifting heavy weights until he's at least 14 years old, and to just let him stick with calisthenics like pushups, pullups, and situps. That's just from one parent to another, I understand that the research is muddy and inconclusive, I just don't believe it would be worth the risk to his growth and safety at such a young age.


Make sure he's eating enough (total food and protein), he won't get stronger with those movements unless there's enough fuel for the fire... and I'm guessing it's going to take a lot of fuel for him.

Would like to hear more specifically what your goal is for him though. General coordination? Strength building? Athleticism? You don't sound like you need a lot of help (this is a compliment).


Also on a sidenote, why the hell does fr01V1an feel the need to give advice in every single thread when he's clearly still struggling to break into the intermediate stage as it is?

When you are flopping and flailing at your bodybuilding attempts, YOU DON'T GO AROUND ADVISING PEOPLE as though you know everything simply because you have read a lot of internet articles.


because I'm on vacation and have way too much time on my hands dammit!!

so you don't think the kid could work with the bar or something?


We should have a thread defining intermediate.. I'm only half kidding. I felt qualified to give advice deadlifting 275 and now I feel unqualified while pulling 400plus. Funny how perspectives change.


yeaaa I should really keep my mouth shut especially when my preworkout has me in turbo hyper squirrel mode...


There are a bunch of benefits of bodyweight training for untrained youths. Prevention of injuries, "anatomic adaptation" (basically prepping the body for the stresses of resistance training), improved body awareness/coordination, increased general conditioning and strength.

My go-to beginners bodyweight routine for younger kids is:

Mon., Wed., and Fri.
Squat 2x15 (No weight, keep both feet flat on the floor.)
Push-up 2x15 (On your toes, go until the chest almost touches the floor.)
Lunge 2x15 (Alternate legs, 1 rep left/1 rep right.)
Neutral-grip pull-up 2x15 (assisted if necessary. Could be substituted with inverted rows.)
Plank 2x15-count (Hold the top part of a push-up, on the toes, arms straight, keep the whole body straight. Count to 15.)
Burpee/squat thrust 2x15

As soon as that workout is easy from start to finish, the kiddo can progress to a well-designed free weight-based program.

What do we consider "too much" soccer? How many games and practices does he have each week?

Why only one compound movement per day? Even without knowing more details, that doesn't sounds like a very solid plan.

Also, if he's interested in getting stronger and/or more muscular, make sure he understands the importance of having three good meals everyday.


Lol, he's about the same size as you unless your stats are outdated.



not trying to belabor the point here, just trying to learn... what about a broomstick while the kid squats, or something to that effect? maybe after the bw squats become more comfortable? if only to get him used to holding the bar.


It's unnecessary. Why would we use 45-pound barbell or a 2-pound broomstick when he's still learning how to move correctly with zero pounds of added weight?

"Getting used to holding a bar" speaks to building exercise technique - where to put the bar for back squats, how to take the bar from the pins in a bench press, etc. - and that's something he can learn just fine when it's the appropriate time to teach those exercises.

Like I said, after the kiddo has achieved competence with a variety of basic bodyweight exercises, then we definitely want to progress to free weights and external resistance.

One more thing that's crucial: Avoid muscular failure. No set of any exercise should be taken to the point where he physically can't do another rep (regardless of the "mental toughness" some might say it builds in a young lifter.) That's when injuries will occur, most especially in an untrained youth.


Very good posts, but I just gotta ask about this last part. Lots and lots of kids have done pushups to failure. To learn to do my first pullup I jumped and did eccentrics to eccentric failure. Do you really think it's that bad?


It definitely can be, especially once we start getting into exercises with additional load (like free weights). I suppose someone could make the case that there's more leeway with doing bodyweight exercises to failure, but I'd rather not push that envelope, and I'm not sure I'd agree anyhow.

In younger lifters, lifting to failure is going to end up overloading the support musculature (cartilage, tendons, ligaments, etc.) more than the target muscles because they're (the support system) still underdeveloped. Over time, this can lead to those support structures being damaged. I believe this is where the old "weight training stunts your growth"-myth came from.

Also, it's generally difficult to have kids lift to muscular failure and still keep 100% solid technique. No need to ingrain bad motor habits for the sake of grinding out a rep or two. Since they're still in a learning phase, technique is the over-riding priority.

Add in the fact that lifting to failure increased post-exercise soreness (which can range from "uncomfortable" to "painfully demotivating") while increasing necessary recovery times, plus the general mind games that can happen when you do hit failure and can't complete a rep (panic from being pinned under a bar, general disappointment in not finishing the set, etc.), and there's just really no legit reason to have a kid lift to failure.


Mr. Popular,

I'm with you on the caveat about heavy weight too early. Until I see very clear evidence of signficant hormonal changes, probably around the age of 15 or so, I won't be encouraging much weight. As he becomes comfortable with the major movements, I may suggest relatively high (e.g., 12-15) reps with moderate weight.


Yep. Getting enough calories shouldn't be a problem -- the kid's eating everything that isn't bolted down. My problem is generally getting him to eat clean, especially with Totinos pizzas in the freezer.

As far as goals are concerned, I'm trying to stick close to what I hear from him, which is a pretty general desire to be stronger for sports.

(Thanks for the vote of confidence, by the way).


Well put, thank you!

I never got sore as a kid. Other kids complained about soreness all the time from gym class or practice but I had no idea what they were talking about until I started lifting weights.


I'm with you on all this, which is very close to what I've got him doing, with the exception of the burpee/squat thrust. I like the idea of including that as an explosive movement.

I don't think it's a case of too much time at soccer so much as playing only soccer. From what I've seen, kids who just play soccer end up with tight (but strong) hip flexors and hamstrings.

I was thinking that I'd like him to focus on a higher number of reps and more time at each movement, with the idea that he'd be able to really groove that main movement. I guess the reasoning was kind of keeping things simple and avoiding the distractions that might come with multiple big movements, at least at first. Thanks for the input though -- you've got me thinking, which was kind of the point, right?


Thanks, CC. Well reasoned and convincing.


To chime in on the age factor: I believe I speak for the majority when I say that there is no negative effect of barbell training on growth. The second edition of Starting Strength quotes several studies on this topic as well.
At the Oly gym I train we have kids as young as 8 or 9 who are learning the basic movements as well as the dynamic ones. They all use loaded barbells, albeit with weights they can handle. We obviously try to challenge then while making sure that they don't do any strained reps. This is common practice in many gyms around the globe and the kids are growing up injury-free just fine.

Moreover, high reps might not be the perfect solution for a novice lifter. You mentioned neural adaption as a reason for doing this. However, in sets of 10,20 or more, how many of these reps are actually going to be proper?
To me it makes more sense to stop between 3-5 reps to make sure form is picture perfect. If his main goal is strength, anything more than 8 is a waste of time anyways.