Regular exercise helps teens reach and maintain a healthy weight, have more energy, be more self-confident and handle stress better. It also lowers their risk of suffering from heart disease, diabetes and other serious health problems in the future. Teens can improve aerobic fitness with cardio training, build muscular strength and tone with body-weight and weight-training workouts and simultaneously develop aerobic fitness and build strength with circuit workouts. Each workout should start with a five- to 10-minute warm-up of easy cardio, like light jogging or jumping rope.
Teens benefit from adding regular cardio workouts to their routine. Training aerobically is safe and beneficial for prepubescent teens and those who have already reached puberty. According to Dr. Paul R. Stricker, while cardio training results in more significant aerobic developments in teens once they've reached puberty, prepubescent teens who train aerobically see technique and efficiency of movement improvements and experience more significant aerobic ability developments once they do reach puberty. Exercises like running, riding a bike, rollerblading, swimming and exercising on an elliptical trainer strengthen the heart and circulatory system and burn calories. Teens looking to get in more cardio can fit in a run before school, ride their bikes to school and back, go for a jog during lunch break or add in a bout of swimming before dinner. In the beginning, teens should shoot for 20 minutes of continuous cardio with the intention of gradually increasing overall workout time each week. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends that youth ages six to 17 get about 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous cardio three days per week.
Not only is strength training safe for teens, it helps them build stronger muscles, tendons and bones and boosts their metabolism. Teens are still growing, but as long as the strength-training workouts are appropriately prescribed and the lifters are accommodated with competent instruction, the activity poses little to no risk of injury to their bones' growth plates. Because teens don't produce large amounts of testosterone, they won't see gains in muscle mass from strength training. Rather, their strength improvements are due to improved motor control and coordination. The National Strength and Conditioning Association claims that if a kid is old enough to participate in sports, it is also safe for him or her to participate in resistance training.
Rather than weights or machines, body-weight exercises use a teen’s own body weight as resistance. Body-weight exercises are inexpensive and easy to implement, and they strengthen and build endurance in the muscles throughout the core, which include the abs and lower-back muscles and the muscles surrounding the hips. Strengthening the core first is important for teens because it provides a solid strength base before they move onto more complex exercises.
The Department of Health and Human Services recommends three days of strength training each week. A workout of pushups, pullups, crunches, bicycle crunches, back extensions, body-weight lunges, body-weight squats, step-ups and dips will work all the major muscle groups. Teens should start out doing one to two sets of 10 to 15 reps.
After beginning with body-weight training, teens who mature can begin to add multi-joint and free-weight exercises into their routines. Because teens of the same age can vary by as much as two years in terms of physical and mental maturity, Dr. Scott Riewald of the National Strength and Conditioning Association suggests not using age or body-weight training duration to deem weight training safe for a teen. Instead, he suggests teens move onto weight-lifting activities when they can demonstrate both physical and mental maturity during body-weight workouts. Physical maturity means teens are able to complete exercises using correct technique, and mental maturity refers to a teen's ability to stay focused and composed during training.
Workouts with free weights like dumbbells, barbells and kettlebells are ideal because most weight machines aren’t sized properly for teens. A workout consisting of barbell bench presses, dumbbell rows, military presses, dumbbell or barbell squats and deadlifts hits all the major muscle groups. Teens should start with one to two sets of 10 to 15 reps and use light barbells and dumbbells to master technique and allow their muscles, bones and tendons to adapt. More experienced teens can do three sets of six to 15 reps and lift with heavier weights. Once teens can comfortably complete 15 reps of an exercise, they can bump up the load lifted by five percent for upper body or 10 percent for lower-body exercises.
Circuit workouts incorporate both cardio and body-weight strength-training exercises into a single workout and therefore allow teens to strengthen the cardiovascular system and build muscular strength at the same time. A 2011 study found that Latina teenagers who participated two circuit training workouts for 16 weeks significantly improved their cardiovascular fitness and developed leg strength. Workouts are designed for teens to move from one exercise immediately into the next. A complete circuit routine includes 15 pushups, one minute of jumping jacks, 35 situps, 5 pullups, 30 seconds of jump squats, 20 walking lunges, 30 seconds of front kicks, 30 seconds of shadow boxing and 10 body-weight squats. After resting for 60 seconds, the battery of exercises is repeated and this routine continues until the teen has finished three total sets.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association Education Department: Strength Training for Young Athletes
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: Youth Resistance Training
- The Science of Soccer Online: NCSCA Position Statement on Youth Resistance Training
- American Council on Exercise: Teens, Fitness and You
- Kids Health: Fitness and Your 13- to 18-Year Old
- Inspire Kids and Teens to Fitness; IDEA Health & Fitness
- Health.gov: Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans: Youth Physical Activity Recommendations
- Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise: Startup Circuit Training Program Reduces Metabolic Risk in Latino Adolescents
- HealthyChildren.org: Aerobic Capacity and Training Ability
- Photo Credit RusN/iStock/Getty Images
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