fitness for teens

You just finished your workout. You stumble over to the sofa, where you plop down, sweating and exhausted. You're startled by a shout as something moves beneath you. It's the kid with a controller in his hand that you usually don't see until dinner.

You spend your time half despairing of seeing him work up a sweat and half worrying he'll be a couch potato with all the accompanying health problems. It doesn't matter if the medical journals say teens need fifteen hours of sleep per day. He spends the rest of the day on his back staring at screens.

He doesn't play a sport at school, nor do his friends bounce basketballs in the driveway or pass a football around in the yard. The only time you see him run is when the school bus is pulling away from the door and he isn't on it. How can you get him to become fit?

How Can I Inspire My Teenager To Get Fit?

Before we get to the how of teenage fitness, we should explore the why. Be sure your teen will ask a thousand questions, all of them relating to why he should move. While he's asking, mentally he's plotting to remain comfortably on the sofa playing his video games. Answer him with these compelling reasons why he should move. 

What Being Active Does For The Body

He may be six feet tall and look like a man, but medical experts say that his body is still that of a child. His body is still growing. Being active is good for:

  • Healthy lungs and heart
  • A strong immune system
  • Good posture, strong muscles and bones
  • Avoid obesity and being overweight by maintaining a healthy weight
  • Not being in line for diabetes Type II, anxiety, and high blood pressure

Physical activity is also good for the mind:

  • Studying for too long at a time makes the brain numb. 
  • Activity makes a good change
  • Memory and concentration are better
  • Less stress and better quality sleep
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Acquire new skills

Things Teens Do Anyway

In order to bring about this good mental and physical health, the teen will concentrate on four areas:

  • Food
  • Activity
  • Rest
  • Mood


No one knows like a mother does how hard it is to get any kid to eat healthy. You try to hide it in main dishes, desserts, and dips. They see through it every time. When you point out an overweight person, explaining to the kid that's what he'll look like if he doesn't eat right, all he says is “gross.” What he needs to see is kids his age eating fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lots of fowl and fish. Explain to him the physical and mental benefits of these good foods.


All it takes is one hour of physical activity to stave off diseases both mental and physical. All he has to do is walk fast, bounce a basketball around the drive, walk the dog ( or a neighbor's dog if you don't have one,) or jump on a trampoline. Whatever gets his heart racing and sweat pouring is good for his mind and body.


Here's where that 15 hours of sleep enters the picture. It's said that babies need close to 18 hours of sleep per day. Small children up to age 12 need about 12, and teens need about 15. At each stage of growth, certain amounts of sleep are needed for their bodies to heal themselves and reset for the next day's information to be processed. The body stores up energy for the kid to use the next day at the same time it's wiping the mental slate clean of today's information and filing it away.


The body makes endorphins when people exercise. These are feel-good hormones that give you that “high” when you exercise. It's hard to be depressed and anxious when you've got feel-good hormones raging through your body.

In short, when your teen eats right, his body will be a lean, green exercising machine. When he exercises, he'll feel happier. When he gets enough sleep, his mind and body will be ready for whatever the day brings on. His mood, therefore, will be happy instead of “yeah, yeah, Mom.”

How Many Days Should A Teenager Work Out?

Medical experts tell us that kids should exercise at the minimum three days per week for one hour. In reality, the child should be exercising for one hour every day, taking one 24-hour period off for the body to recover. So if your teen moves vigorously Monday and Tuesday, he'll take Wednesday off for recovery. Then he will exercise Thursday and Friday, taking Saturday off for recovery. Sunday is a bonus day, so to speak.

The body is good with aerobic exercise, which is biking, swimming, walking fast, jogging, jumping around, dancing, and so forth.

Aerobic exercise, according to the Mayo Clinic, should be done regularly at least 30 minutes five days a week with two days for rest and recovery. If the teen wants to lose weight, then one hour each day is recommended with two days for rest and recovery.

While aerobic exercise gets the heart pumping and the sweat flowing, cardio does the same thing but on overdrive.

Running at break-neck pace on the treadmill, biking as fast as you can, and “extreme” workouts count as cardio. It gets the oxygen into your lungs and pumping through the blood at a more accelerated rate than simple aerobics.

If vigorous physical activity is recommended five days per week, then two of those days should be dedicated to very vigorous or cardio exercises.

An image of girls doing aerobics in gym

Next, your teen needs strength training. This is when targeted muscle groups throughout the body are worked with to increase endurance, flexibility, and mobility.

Your teen can work out legs one day, arms and chest one day, the back one day, and abs and hips one day. He can combine muscle groups as he sees fit, or he can do it all in one day. It is recommended that strength training be done at least three days per week. Always, after a workout, let the body rest and recover for one 24 hour period.

Can A 13, 14, Or 15 Year Old Go To The Gym?

Gyms are quickly opening their doors and programs to teens, knowing the teen overweight and obesity statistics. Additionally, families that work out together remain healthy together.

Anyway, it's way more fun to jump on the mini-tramp or use the elliptical with Mom or Dad than to do it by yourself, or worse, with your sister.

An image of a girl doing workout with dumbbells

Gyms are finding ways to get around the insurance strictures of allowing underage folks to use the gym equipment. Waivers are signed, and 13, 14, and 15 year old teens are allowed only with parental supervision and only in specific parts of the gym.

By the time the kid reaches 16, he can use any gym he chooses.

Many gyms have programs like aerobics or cardio tempered to the teenage body. Their staff are specially trained to work with the teenage body.

The staff will also teach the teen how to use certain fitness machines properly, keeping them separated from heavier machinery that might hurt the teen. These are a few gyms that allow teens to work out:

  • Planet Fitness
  • 24 Hour Fitness
  • Gold's Gym
  • Anytime Fitness

All these and more must be accompanied by an adult. Admittance begins at age 13.

Does Lifting Weights As A Teenager Stunt Growth?

No. No study or medical trials have been conducted to prove that growth is stunted from exercising. The danger in a teen pumping iron is to himself and in various forms. The teen will see ripped men in videos lifting weights and think they can do it, too. They want to look like the men in the videos and magazines, but don't know to start small and work up to it.

Another danger in teen weight lifting is instruction. A professional trainer will walk the teen through lifting weights safely and slowly, so the teen can work up to more challenging lifting. Once he reaches this stage, the teenager might think he doesn't need his trainer anymore.

Okay, that's human nature; we all do it at some point. However, he's setting himself up for serious physical damage. He won't understand when he gets tendon and ligament damage, torn muscles, or dislocated disks in his spine.

The third danger of teenage weight lifting is feeling forced into weight training. If the teen is in athletic programs at school, then training is crucial to his performance.

That knowledge alone is enough to put pressure on the kid. Add to that a somewhat overzealous parent or coach pushing the child to perform, and you have a recipe for a physically and mentally damaged teen.

An image of a girl doing weightlifting with trainer

A teen working with a good trainer and supportive family members will do well. A teen working out for the right reasons will remain healthy. Motivation is important, so the teen needs to understand why he's working out to begin with.

Working with free weights or resistance bands against body weight is a better idea for teens than pumping heavy iron. Using heavy weights has damaging consequences that can last a lifetime. Nobody, especially a teen, should see a disability highway stretching before him.

When Can A Teenager Start Lifting Weights?

When puberty hits a teen, his hormones begin changing the body. Hormones work with the major body systems to direct many things pertaining to the system, such as how much to sweat, when to get hungry, when to get sleepy, and the “fight or flight” instinct. This means that the hormones alert the teens' muscles that it's time to get their rip on.

This stage of growth usually happens about age 13 or 14. Also beginning at this age is sporting events at school. Weight training prepares the teenage body for the endurance, the sudden movements, and the fast pace of most sports types such as football, running track, and baseball.

An important point for a teen to realize is that weight training and weight lifting are two totally different things. Weight training streamlines muscles, benefiting the entire musculoskeletal system. Weight lifting and bodybuilding are for men (and women) whose muscles are already as healthy as they can be. This is not recommended for teens.

Let's put it in perspective: a teen shouldn't be trying his best to look like the top bodybuilder of all time. He should be working on keeping his body healthy and at peak performance. Endurance, flexibility, and mobility are his prime objectives. Doing this responsibly is of the utmost importance.

How Do I Convince A Teen That Fitness Is Cool?

Nothing is more important to a human being of any age than being cool in the eyes of his peers. In teenagers, the need is more compelling, which is why depression and anxiety are a huge part of teenage life. Today, more than ever, fitness is a way of life. Making it fun is up to Mom and Dad.

An image of a girl running

An elephant most parents see in the room is electronic entertainment. It's so much easier to have fun lying on the couch with a controller in your hand than to bike a couple miles, run the same, or swim for a couple hours.

Although, now that you mention it, swimming does sound like fun. Parents should keep the hope strictly off their faces, or the kid will catch on and not do it.

Also running through the teen mind is the belief that his body:

  • 1
    Does not now, nor will it ever, look like a movie star body.
  • 2
    Image is perfectly fine, thank you.
  • 3
    Works hard all day in school, why would it work at exercising afterwards?

With all this, it's a sensitive job convincing a teen with a delicate emotional and/or mental state that fitness is cool. He needs to see that his actions are making his peeps look up to him, that they recommend his actions and words to other people. To that end:

  • Show him you understand by giving him a chance. In school, jocks are the coolest. If your teen works out, he could join a sports group and be a jock, too
  • Social media is bigger than sliced bread. If your teen were to actively watch you listen to advice and try workout routines recommended from any of millions of videos and social media sites, he would do the same and report it all on his own social media sites
  • At an age when teachers rule the roost at school, parents rule at home, and their friends influence them one way or another, most teens would love, just once, to be able to control something. Anything. He needs to see that he can control what happens to his own body for good or for disease
  • Ask the teen to join you in your fitness routine like walking, for example. Along the way, explain what is happening to your body (muscles stretching, breathing pumping oxygenated blood throughout your body.) Ask him what he feels happening to his own body. Explain how it benefits him.
  • If the teen decides to give it a try, ask him to have his friends on social media join him to keep him motivated. Together, they can work out for fifteen minutes a day for perhaps three days the first week. If he likes it and wants to keep at it, ask him to have his friends work up to 25 minutes the next week. He will have motivation, support, and fun, three things vital to a teen's psyche.
  • That's got the physical part of teen fitness covered. He already has the rest covered. Work with him in the kitchen to find ways he can eat fresh fruits and vegetables that won't turn him off. If you have to buy ranch or onion dip, do it. Peanut butter goes well with celery and apples. Quartered tomatoes, julienne carrots, and green-red-yellow sweet pepper slices taste good dipped in ranch or onion dip. Salsa goes very well with hardy veggies like squash, cauliflower, asparagus, and cherry tomatoes.

Help your teen discover that smoothies aren't just a girl thing. Most fitness trainers, including guys, have their own recipes for rockin' smoothies. Buy a few ingredients of his choice, and help him make his first smoothie. Include his favorite flavor yogurt, applesauce, or introduce him to almond milk for the liquid in the smoothie.

Add his favorite fruits and suggest a variety of veggies, then let him push the button to mix. Encourage him to find different flavors, textures, and colors in his fresh fruits and vegetables for his smoothies.

Whole grains don't have to be boring old bread for a sandwich or -gasp- oatmeal. He can choose between dozens of types of crackers to dip and fresh breads from the deli to spread with things like humus and pesto.

Teens Need A Map Or A Plan

Since teens are so into electronica like their peers, get him to watch DVDs of respected and/or well known personal trainers like Jake Steinfeld of the Body by Jake series, Bob Greene, or, if he doesn't mind girls, Jillian Michaels of weight loss boot camp fame. Your teen needs to see a specifically delineated beginning, middle, and end.

If he'd rather share a video from YouTube or Vimeo on his social media site in order to impress his friends or advise the ones with whom he works out, then look with him for certified personal trainers. He can follow the videos as well as share, and he can do it in the privacy of his own room.

Final Thoughts

The body is a remarkable thing. Something as simple as a vigorous walk does so much good for it. A teen's body is just beginning to stretch toward maturity. It needs the same things adult bodies need, good quality fresh foods, exercise, rest, and fresh air to thrive.

Food is cooked in dozens of totally cool ways, and sometimes plated to look like a professional did it. Kids need fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and lean meats in order to enjoy the utmost health. How the food is cooked and served should benefit from the imaginations of both the cook and the kid. When a teen sees his own ideas and efforts in reality on his plate, he'll be more in tune with the idea of fitness.

Everyone needs exercise. Even if it's just walking around the block or biking to the store, getting physical gets the body to pass oxygenated blood throughout it. Movement can be fun. Get a group of like-minded people together and bike around the park or across town and back. Making exercise a social endeavor helps not only the teen, but his peers as well.

There is a right way and a wrong way to do most things. Things done the wrong way generally hurt the person doing them in one or more ways.

When exercise, such as lifting weights, is done wrong, damage is done to muscles, tendons, ligaments, and other things. This can lead to knees, hips, shoulders, and the lower back not working without pain of some type. These kinds of things last a lifetime, although pain medications are available for the sufferer. Do it the right way, and your teen will move properly throughout his life.

Getting a teenager to become and remain physically fit requires some understanding of the youngster's psyche. Working with it will not only get the kid moving and staying fit, but he will be confident in his abilities and with your understanding of him. That, parents, is worth all you have to do to see him physically fit.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 0 comments