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Fitness for Athletic Kids (Teens)

stew smith

People often ask me about fitness programs for kids who are actively involved with sports, martial arts, and other physical activities. Recently, a friend of mine asked, "My 12 year old son has done a few years of karate when he was younger, plays sports, runs on a cross country team, and has tried P90x. Is this OK and do you recommend working out this young? What about weight lifting?"

I think that it is great that one of the first introductions to athletics was a martial arts program. Kids at a very early age learn not only discipline, focus, and other intangibles of the martial arts, but they also learn how to make power with their bodies. Some of the most important pieces of athleticism is the ability to make power by properly using the legs, hips, shoulder (core) muscles to create the power relay as well as flexibility, agility, and speed. You can build those vital synapses at an early age and help your child for a lifetime. Personally, my kids do Tae Kwon Do from a 7th degree Master from Korea and have increased their abilities in so many areas of both athletics and personal life skills.

So to comment on the foundation of this particular 12 year old, he has a great foundation of martial arts and calisthenics to build upon. But there is a difference in adding a resistance training exercise program and weight lifting or power lifting for kids. In fact, it is fine to add in resistance training like calisthenics (pullups, pushups, dips, abs, core workouts) as well as weights. I would start off however for the next few years with only dumbbells and keeping the weight light enough that the kids can do 8-15 reps per set. If you use the term "weight lifting / power lifting", it is easy for kids to start finding information about lifting 1 rep maxes, more than bodyweight lifts, and for a 12-14 year old, I do not recommend lifting heavy until later in their teens. It is not just me who recommend this - many doctors and physiologists recommend the above as well. You may find opinions that weights will stunt children's growth. See more evidence to support weights / calisthenics resistance training in kids at LiveStrong Link.

Stunting Growth - What stunts a highly active child's growth is not eating enough calories at the end of the day in order for the body to grow. One way to fix that is to have an after school snack full of carbs, protein, fats because a growing body needs more calories. I give my kids some cereal or a milk shake after school (ice cream and milk - nothing else) and not only watch their energy levels increase but their attitudes about going to practice change as well. Here are some tips on food / hydration Before / During / After a workout / practice - ABDs of Nutrition.

About P90x - I think the p90x is a great tool for introducing teens to fitness - keep it up if you do not get bored with the same videos. Eventually, you will want to create some new programs from what you have learned from the p90x exercise program. However, the primary audience for the p90x is the over weight adult crowd, so the nutrition planning is designed to build leaner bodies for adults not kids. Restricting calories for a teenager should not be done unless that person is overweight and I do not recommend attempting fewer calories as a teen unless parents are involved and a registered dietician can observe as well. Too many vital nutrients are lost when someone restricts calories per day to a weight loss level. I have seen many kids take it too far to see their abs in a six pack and become unhealthy with reduced ability to fight off colds, illnesses, etc.

Playing team sports and running are great skills for kids to learn to do well. Resistance workouts can enhance their abilities as well as prevent injury if done properly and with your supervision (or coach). Some great ideas for kids to add a calisthenics workout to their week can be seen in the links below:

Pt Pyramid - Pullups, pushups, crunches in a circuit workout pyramiding with a max effort set.

8 Count Pushups / Pullup Pyramid - The is a full body workout mixed with short burst of running for complete workout pyramid.
Circuit Training - Here is a great calisthenics / weight room mix to get started with resistance training program.

TRX - I think one of the best tools for kids in their teens to transition from calisthenics to weights with is the TRX. I wish I had this when I was a teenager as my back is stronger now at 40 than it was at 20 and it is due to this device.

Full-body movements - Multiple joint workouts help create power relays and build a stronger core.

Core strength and Agility - See how to work both with these great ideas

Lower Back Plan - This is a great plan to build necessary hip, ab, back, shoulder (core) strength / flexibility.
( all pictures to abs / lower back exercises in the below workout can be found in this link)

I would create a teen exercise program so that it focuses on full-body movements every other day. So work the legs / abs / upper-body all in one quick workout to spread the workout versus focus on just one muscle group. No athletics will require you do use just your chest and triceps without the rest of your body so practice the way you play.

Here is one of my favorite workouts that is a challenging calisthenics / running workout great for preparing for any team sport:

Jog ½ mile easy Running Tips - Focus on Breathing

Stretch legs / arms

Repeat 5 times
Jumping Jacks - 10
Toe touch / down dog into pushups position - hold 10 seconds
Pushups - 10
Reverse squat thrust to standing






Run ¼ mile easy pace Running with leg workouts
Lunges - 10/leg while walking
Run ¼ mile fast pace (near sprint pace)

Do PT Cycle #2:

Run ¼ mile fast pace
Lunges - 10/leg
Run 1/4 mile fast pace

Do PT cycle #3

Run ¼ mile fast pace and continue up 6 flights of stairs
Cooldown jog ¼ mile easy pace and stretch…

DO NOT WORKOUT EVERY DAY - Too many people ask me this question about working out everyday. It is fine to workout daily BUT not the same muscle groups. This means do not do pushups or bench press day after day. Give yourself 48 hours in between workouts in order to recover properly. One thing a young teen should know is that you ONLY grow when you rest, eat right, and sleep well. See more info with recovery article.
Some back yard ideas: Set up an obstacle course / cone track, etc...

The agility zig / zag run

You can also make an obstacle course using a slide, swing set, and an area to jump into a sand box. All of these are fun and when set to a timer, kids will want to beat their own time or their siblings, friends. The next thing you know kids are practicing to get better. Make the challenge and kids will rise to it. But it has to be fun!

For more info about the children's fitness program as well as your own, please feel free to email me at . Also, see my articles in the Article Archive for more tips on nutrition, weight loss, running, strength building, etc.

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