The fact that you’re here can only mean one thing: you want to get swole and you want to get strong. That was two things, but you get our point. Whatever your reasons may be for working on your physique, the only thing that’ll get you to your goal will be a training regime that you can stick to.
But, as you might’ve noticed, most workouts are catered towards very specific goals and with a whole shebang of specialized gym equipment.
Obviously, being a teenager warrants not only special considerations for working out, but also special considerations when it comes to the equipment and facilities you’ll have access to. Chances are that most things are out of your control; so we’re going to have to work with what we have.
While you probably want to get into the meat and potatoes of it all, there are several things to take note of before you begin. The more you know about working out, the more you know about your body, the better off you’ll be.
Whether you’re a 13-year-old or a 61-year-old, everyone starts somewhere. But unlike with adults, as a teenager, your body is in the midst of going through several changes.
Depending on whether or not you’ve hit puberty yet, gaining muscle might prove to be more difficult. But the good news is that you should be focusing on building a good base for strength and getting used to the movements. Even training up your flexibility will help a lot with lifts, whenever you are able to hit up the iron temple.
One more thing we should mention before getting into the more nitty-gritty is that weight training will not stunt your growth. It’s an old myth that you may or may not have heard; but rest assured that training with weights won’t impact your physiological development—at least not for the worst.
Whether you’re aiming to build muscle or improve your conditioning, there are a few one-size-fits-all official guidelines to follow.
The CDC, for example, advises that teens up to the age of 17 get a minimum of 60 minutes of cardio each day. We’ll touch on cardio a bit more down below, but just know that this can take the form of anything. Organized sports, biking, walking, jogging; you can ignore the treadmill.
Strength training is also an important component of staying healthy. Fitting in a good session three times a week is the perfect way to go, especially if you’re a teen. You really don’t need to train more than 3 times a week, unless it’s something that you really enjoy and are passionate about. Right now it’s the time for building a solid foundational base of strength while also getting used to the proper movements.
And while these guidelines go for almost all teens, that’s pretty much where the similarities end.
Whether you’re skinny and trying to bulk up or chubby and trying to slim down, the routine you follow will hinge on your goals. While it will mostly come down to having the proper diet, you might want to include more cardio if you’re trying to slim down. And if you’re trying to bulk up, then heavier, compound movements are the way to go.
Let’s face it: being a teen usually means not having a whole lot of control over what your daily routine is. While some of us might be luckier than others, the fact of the matter is that you’ve gotta deal with the hands that have been dealt to you.
That can mean not having access to training facilities, having other responsibilities that might get in the way of weight training, or not having that much latitude when it comes to choosing what you eat.
We’ve tailored the workout below to be adaptable to real-life practicalities that you might have to workaround. One of them is a simpler bodyweight workout, while the other is a good idea to do if you can get your hands on some weights.
Finding a bar to do pull-ups on or dips can also be extremely useful—there’s a lot you can do with a single, sturdy bar. Pull-up bars that are mounted in door frames aren’t that expensive and can get you pretty far, in terms of strength training. Another idea would be to utilize any playgrounds in the area; especially if they have monkey bars.
Lastly, you can do many of the bodyweight exercises as weighted variants as well. For example: holding a plate or dumbbell when doing sit-ups, having someone place a weight on your back when doing push-ups, or even holding a dumbbell between your legs when performing pull-ups. Training at home can be tricky, but with clever utilization of the tools you have, you can train just as well as anyone in a fully outfitted gym.
So, how is working out usually organized? And what does a “good routine” look like?
A lot of people follow programs that are based around “splits”, especially the bro-split in which each day is devoted to one body part or limited to a few. At the beginning, you’ll probably experience some fast gains, so either doing it this way or a full-body workout each training day is the best way to go.
Going farther into your lifting career, you’ll probably end up experimenting with push-pull training routines and other more professionally focused routines, such as those for bodybuilding and advanced weightlifting.
For now, stick to three training days per week that all together hit every major body part. Most plans will include these muscle groups, along with their respective exercises (although this isn’t an exhaustive list):
Many of these are compound movements as well, which you should be focusing on; especially at the beginning. Compound movements work multiple joints and muscle groups, as opposed to isolation exercises which only work a single joint and muscle group. While isolation movements are great for sculpting when you’ve already got some muscle mass to work with, compound movements will get you the greater gains.
But between all of this, remember to take it slow and rest!
For one, make sure that your exercises are done with perfect form. This age is the perfect time to get that memory ingrained in your muscles—you want a full range of motion because that will get you the biggest gains. If you do half-reps (we’ve all seen really bad push-ups), then you’ll just be leaving gains on the table.
Not only that, but having poor form can lead to injuries and hurting yourself in the long run. It’s best to get things right from the get-go. Performing each exercise slowly is the best way to ensure that you’re doing it correctly.
For example, let’s take push-ups. Many people utilize the “bounce” effect at the bottom of the movement when you’re closest to the ground. This happens because there’s energy stored in your muscles and you can quickly bounce back up easier. However, if you pause at the bottom of the push-up, that energy is dissipated and you have to expend more energy to get yourself back up. It might be more difficult, but it’s better for muscle development and strength gains.
While exceptions exist in “explosive” exercises such as the deadlift, you generally want to be moving relatively slowly throughout the motion as well. Taking it slow won’t allow you to use as much momentum, meaning that more of your muscles will be engaged, ultimately resulting in bigger, stronger, muscles.
But taking it easy also means not overtraining.
Make sure you’re taking a rest day after each workout session and sleeping enough. Muscles grow only because you tear the fibers when you’re working out, and then they regrow stronger and bigger. If you don’t allow your body to properly rest, your gains will stagnate. Once you’ve got a good basis for working out and fitness, then it’s recommended to move onto more than just 3 workouts a week. But until then, make sure your body has time to recover.
If you’re younger, don’t have any equipment, or just want to try working out; this is the workout plan for you. Try doing it 2-3 times a week and feel free to fiddle around with the reps and sets. If you’re finding an exercise to be too easy to complete, try upping the number you do or find something to weigh you down. A weighted belt or jacket, for example.
The above will provide a general full-body workout that will get you into the groove of things, especially since you’re just starting out. However, if you do have access to some equipment, you can either do the above with the weighted variants or try out our other workout plan.
While many of the classic exercises are usually done using a barbell, you can also simply use a pair of dumbbells if that’s what you have at your disposal. And if you don’t have a suitable bench, the presses can all be done on the floor as well.
A good warm-up and stretch before each workout are also ideal. A quick jog or jump rope will get the blood pumping and the muscles ready for a workout.
Cardio is a very important part of training and it should have some sort of role in your routine—however, it also doesn’t have to be a drudge.
Team sports such as basketball, volleyball, or football are all great ways to get your heart pumping, along with things such as skateboarding, cycling, and dance. The most important part is to enjoy it enough to be able to stick with it. Then it won’t feel like “working out” anymore; it’ll be something you enjoy doing.
By far the most important aspect of any workout program is the diet. It doesn’t matter how much physical activity you do; you can't out-train a bad diet, so it’s absolutely essential that you’re mindful of what you’re putting into your body.
We’ve all been told this since we can remember, but the name of the game is good, healthy food. That means no junk food—and that goes for whether you’re aiming for weight loss or for building muscle.
Good food means high-quality proteins, healthy fats, and complex carbs. And especially if you’re weightlifting, the high-quality protein is essential. Consume good ratios of these until you’re full, and you’ll be well on your way to getting properly ripped.
High-quality protein includes things like:
Eating enough protein and eating it regularly is necessary if you want to gain muscle mass. But fats and carbs are just as important if you keep them high-quality.
In terms of fats, avoid fried foods and instead opt for things such as milk, cheeses, avocados, peanut butter, fatty meats, fish, and olive oil. When it comes to carbs, avoid foods with a ton of sugar and white flour, along with:
Carbs that are good for include things such as vegetables, oatmeal, potatoes, whole-grain breads, and beans. None of these lists are exhaustive, but they can give you a pretty good idea of what to avoid and what to eat instead.
If you’re having a difficult time gaining weight, it usually comes down to having to eat more food. Add in more snacks throughout the day such as bananas, try adding sour cream or shredded cheese to whatever meals you can, or snack on calorie-dense nuts between meals. Even drinking a cup of milk per day will add a lot to your daily calorie count.
While eating whole, healthy foods is the best way to go, whey powder can boost your protein intake and your daily calorie count. Just always make sure that you’re buying a high-quality powder without any harmful additives.
When you’re working towards anything—whether that’s fitness or some other thing—it’s always helpful to set goals. You want to measure a baseline of where you started from, and where you’re heading to. Having a finish line is one of the best ways to motivate yourself to stick with your training plan.
Without a finish line, you’re not sure where you’re going so you can’t have a good plan for how to get there. Train hard, but also train smarter by progressing in terms of both fitness knowledge and knowledge about your own body.
And lastly, remember to have fun. If you enjoy the process, not only will it help you have the necessary stick-to-itiveness to accomplish your wildest goals, but it might even take the “work” out of “workout”—at least a little bit.