T Nation

Training a Teenager?

Hi everyone. I need some input from those of you that have trained newbies before.

My 14 year old brother in law asked if he could start lifting weights with me so I agreed.

He’s been a natural athlete so far, accelling at both baseball and basketball but has always been on the husky side. (Right now he’s about 5’-6" and 160 lbs.)

He pretty much gave up sports last year and he’s grown a few inches since then. As a result, I beleive that he’s lost a lot of flexibility.

I am doing total body workouts with him because he’s only coming over to work out 2 days a week, so I thought that would give him the most bang for the buck. I also chose that so the workouts wouldn’t be so long as to discourage him or allow him to lose interest.

I am aware that the most important thing for him to do at this point is to learn correct form, but I’m having trouble teaching him correct formwih the dead lift and bent over row.

To correct the row problem I’m going to have him lie down on the bench and use dumbells, but I’m not sure what to do about the deads. His problem is that he bends his back in the center, just below the shoulder blades. I thought about taping a meter stick to his back to provide a reminder of what straight is, but I’m not sure that’ll work. The other option I’m considering is having him use dumbells with his arms at his sides instead of in front of him. My thought is that this will help him get further back on his heels and into a more correct position for his back.

I also thought about having him perform streches to gain flexibility, but the problem may just be his gut pushing into his thighs at the bottom of the movement.

The full list of excercises that we’re doing are bench press - barbell rows -overhead press - pullups - deadlifts.

Any input is appreciated.


As an aside, I’m 5’3 and 165ish. I wouldn’t consider 5’6 at 160 husky per se. He may or may not have a little more bodyfat than me, but 160 ain’t that big. If he can do pullups too…that’s pretty impressive for a newbie.

As for his program, why is it that there are no squats? While deadlifts do hit the legs, I’m not sure that I would totally remove squats. In fact, I am positive that I wouldn’t remove squats. :slight_smile: If you don’t have a rack there are many leg training options that you can do with barbells and dumbbells.

Now deadlifts…
Is he able to lift a plate a side yet? I find with my clients (especially women that are starting out with smaller plates on the bar) that they need to start with the plates on blocks. This brings the bar to their mid-shin level and prevents them from having to round at the bottom. The amount of weight lifted could also be an issue. You may want to cut back to allow him to correct his form. If things are going smoothly GRADUALLY add more weight. If he breaks form immediately terminate the set.

Here’s an article that may help as well.

AND…most important of all…BE PATIENT. Be supportive even if he doesn’t get it right away. Keep trying and he’ll eventually get it.

I would suggest a couple of things for the deadlifts that have worked for me:

  1. warm up sufficiently with very low weights, concentrating on keeping tension (flexing them) in the lower back muscles during the movement, particularly as he starts to come up. This should get him in the habit of feeling the proper form. Until he can perform proper reps, you shouldn’t add any weight to the bar.
  2. pick a spot on the ceiling to look at during the movement. It’s important that it is in a spot where he can’t see it if his back is rounded. ONce he gets used to the feeling of proper form, he can start to look straight ahead or in another spot, but that helped me out when I first started with DLs.

It’s of primary importance that he learns the proper form right now. You can’t let him start out doing improper reps at a weight and try to get him to correct his form. He needs to get the form ironed out with just the bar before he can start handling loads, otherwise, he may permanently injure himself and ruin your sex life (you mentioned he’s your brother-in-law):wink:

As for the bent rows, you didn’t really correct the problem by changing the exercise to bench-supported rows, you just eliminated it for a while. Once he gets used to the form for the DLs, you can reintroduce the bb bent rows as he will be used to the proper curvature of the low back.

If you are committed to helping this young man, you need to make sure he can perform exercises with proper form. I would urge you to have him do bb bent rows now with proper form before moving him on to supported rows. Start with the basics. I know its frustrating for him because he wants to add weight to his lifts, but trust me, by learning proper form now, his lifts will actually improve faster in the long run and he will have fewer layoffs due to training injuries.

Good Luck,

Overhead squats…just the bar.

Drop Snatches…

Waterbury Walks…

Weighted Dips/Pullups…

Overhead squats are fantastic for developing stability around shulder girdle, midsectionand develop flexibility in the legs.
One legged squats and lunges + stifflegged deadlifts could all be utilised since they offer both strength and flexibility increases.

If you have the knowledge/experience many of the olympic lifts will work extremely well too.

I would keep the volume low and keep it very simple. No need for elaborate set/rep schemes.

Regards, Poul

Thanks for the replies folks.

He actually has quite a girdle on him, so maybe I undersestimated his weight, but I know that his belly gets in the way right now.

I have him working only with an olympic bar at the moment and I tried to have him do deads only from the knees up, starting off boxes, so I guess that I was getting on the right track there.

I’ll have to try the overhead squats with a lighter bar. It’s been my experience that those require a whole lot more balance than most people have, but I’ll give them a shot.

As for pull-ups, he can’t perform any reps yet. In fact we’ve started at the very bottom, with him just hanging from the bar for as long as he can before his grip fails. I tried to start him from the top of the position, but he can’t hold on yet. I figured that we’ll get him to the point where he can hang on for more than ten seconds and then start doing negatives.

As for complexity of the program, I thought I made it as simple as possible. I have him doing 3 sets of ten ( high reps for him to build muscle memory and correct form) for each excercise and we alternate sets. We’re usually done in about 35-40 minutes.

As for olympic lifts, I don’t have enough experience with them myself to teach him yet. I will introduce them once he is more coordinated and less likely to drop the bar on me.

Thanks for all of the input. Keep the suggestions coming.


One thing you can always be sure of on T-Nation: You will get plenty of quality advice, such as much of the above!

One thing I would emphasize is to make sure that you keep it fun for him. I think one reason kids often quit lifting is because they don’t find it fun. Keep it light, in spirit. Change up routines. Perhaps change Gyms occasionally. Less emphasis on making gains and more on sampling different routines.

Also, lots of compliments relative to how he looks, and how strong he is becoming.

Hope some of these ideas help!

Thanks ZEB. We can’t really change gyms, we’re stuck in the 12 x 16 shed in my back yard for now, but I’ve got him bringing tunes that he likes to listen to for the workouts, and told him to bring whatever posters or motivational stuff he want to bring to hang on the walls. I told him it’s his place too so he should have some stuff around that he likes.

Thanks again, everyone, for the advice.