So you've decided to start working out have you? There's no better time than youth to really get the ball rolling. Or maybe you're a parent that wants to get your kid off to the right start, by introducing fitness at a young age.
No matter the reason, it is an excellent idea. By starting young, you take full advantage of a functional body and gain experience that would make many adults jealous.
But where do you start? Not everyone has a support network of athletes or has ever worked out for that manner. It's ok- don't panic. Even if you make mistakes along the way, you will learn and grow from them.
The rest of it? We're here for that. Now, how about we start at the very beginning, shall we?
The Age You Begin Matters
While on paper it is justifiable to say that the earlier you start, the better; but it isn't necessarily the case. Why is this? Probably because puberty may or may not have set in.
And let's face it- puberty is the great equalizer. Starting puberty does not equate to finishing it, as there are actually several "stages" of this important growth phase.
Stage 1- usually pre-pubertal. Around the age of 9-11
Stage 2- the onset of puberty. Usually around age 11, but might be slightly earlier or later. Pubic and facial hair may start becoming apparent along with physical sexual changes.
Stage 3- for males, growth of body hair, deepening of the voice, and increased rate of linear bone growth starting at around age 13.
Stage 4- rapid height and weight gain, essentially completing the transition to adulthood (physically). This is the longest phase and may last up to 3 years or so starting from around age 14-15.
Stage 5- most sexual changes have been completed, but physical growth may continue for a few years up to the early twenties.
Owing to this, the time when you start working out will make a difference in the progress you see. Starting before the age of 13 is hardly going to make a dent in the long process of muscle growth, as your body has not started going through the phase of the rapid increase in androgens. So don't be discouraged if you don't see huge progress right away- it'll come in time.
On the other hand, starting too late could result in lost time, but that's not to say that you can't make up for it. If we had to narrow it down, however, we should say 14-16 is a great time to get started with a regular weight lifting program.
Light to moderate cardiovascular exercise can be started sooner in life and should be to allow for better long-term adherence to physical activity.
Ok, so now you know when to start. But what do you do? There are so many choices these days it's hard to know where to begin! And how can you be sure that the workout is good for you and won't cause any long-term damage?
Relax, don't get so worked up! In fact, many schools have gyms that are almost at an elite level, especially in high school. You do not need to have access to every piece of exercise equipment to build a balanced body.
A good pair of adjustable dumbbells and a versatile workout bench can help you build strength and muscle to match, but there's one key difference-maker- consistency and progressive overload.
That is to say, you must continually challenge the body to get stronger or it wont. So, save the monthly gym membership fee in the beginning, since we know that $50 or more cost won't be easy to come by as a teenager.
But school gyms aren't always accessible, so does that mean that your workouts will take a hit? Not necessarily. There are a few small pieces of equipment that would be worth the time investing into, with the approval of your parents of course.
-An adjustable bench
-A pair of adjustable dumbbell bars
-Weight plates that go up to about 100 pounds per side
-A door-mounted pull up bar
With those few pieces of equipment, you can get a complete workout done any day of the week, in the comfort of your own home.
You don't need to perform all the exercises under the sun. While it is a good idea to mix things up every once in a while, making certain exercises staples will go a long way in helping you reach your goals. Focus on the following movements:
-Incline Bench Press
-Decline Bench Press
-Lat Pulldowns/ pullups
-One Arm Dumbbell Row
-Seated Cable Rows
-Stiff leg deadlifts
-Military press/ dumbbell presses
-Side lateral raises
-Bent over reverse flyes
-Standing Barbell Curl/dumbbell curls
-Incline dumbbell curls
-Close grip bench presses
-Overhead dumbbell triceps presses
-Cable triceps pressdowns
It is said that muscle building is 30% what you do in the gym, and 70% what you do while you are out. Nowhere is this statement truer than when it comes to your diet, AKA the kitchen.
Given, there is the major misconception that youth is the most forgiving time in terms of what you eat, but this mentality will only lead to years of unhealthy eating habits.
The fact is, you need to fuel your body with the right foods in order to see gains. And no, this doesn't mean eating anything but chicken and broccoli (although that's a great start).
In order to get the most out of your workouts, you need to consume enough protein. This can come from a variety of animal and plant sources but aim to get at least 0.8 grams per pound of bodyweight.
In addition to protein, you need to make sure you are getting enough carbohydrates and healthy fats as well. These three macros should make up the majority of your diet, with vegetables making up the remainder.
Sample Meal Plan:
-2 eggs cooked in 1 tablespoon butter
-1 cup oatmeal with 1 teaspoon honey, 1 tablespoon raisins, and 2 tablespoons slivered almonds
-4 ounces grilled chicken breast
-1 cup cooked brown rice
-1 sliced cucumber
-1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 cup mixed berries
-6 ounces grilled salmon
-1 roasted sweet potato
-1 serving sautéed green beans
-1 small handful of almonds
As you can see, getting the right nutrients in your diet isnt as hard as it seems. And with a little bit of creativity, you can make meals that are both delicious and nutritious.
Plus, if you feel like hunger is set to derail your plans, simply increase the consumption of veggies. They are very low-calorie and filling, making them perfect for bulking up your plate without a lot of added calories.
Increase Meal Frequency
Still hungry? There's yet another way around this. Instead of condensing your meals into fewer ones, split them into smaller meals more often throughout the day.
This tends to have a better impact on satiety, without causing you to feel stuffed beyond compare and overeating at any one sitting.
Plus, we know the challenges of being in high school or college; somedays it might be nearly impossible to have a complete breakfast, so powering up with a healthy protein shake or smoothie is surely acceptable. Just try to emphasize whole food or liquid sources whenever possible.
While we outlined a sample day menu above, we know that you can't eat the same thing every single day. Variety is important for that reason and knowing good choices to make plays a large part in your longevity in the gym.
-Whey/Casein Protein powder
-Nuts and seeds
-Bananas/ fruit (in moderation)
-Whole wheat/ multi-grain breads
-Natural peanut butter
-Flaxseed oil/ olive oil
-Whole milk dairy products
-Butter (in moderation)
As you can see, there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to bulking up your diet. With a variety of protein, carbohydrate, and fat sources, you can mix and match to create a number of different meals that will support your fitness goals.
In order to be successful at this, it is important to understand what is realistic and what is not. Sure, it's easy to be drawn in by the allure of fitness and bodybuilding magazines, but as a teenager, this should not be your number one motivator- at least not at this time.
Here are some realistic expectations to help guide you:
Muscle Gain Won't Come About Very Fast, And Usually, Diminish Each Subsequent Year
Regardless of where you start, it's easy to think that you will gain 20+ pounds of muscle every year. This is simply not the case. In fact, your first year is likely to be your best, seeing gains in the vicinity of 10-15 pounds.
This number is not sustainable, however, as the body actively tries to remove this added bulk from your frame.
During your second year, you may be able to add 6-10 pounds more muscle, and every year after that the total is reduced by 2-4 pounds.
This is actually good, however, since assuming you start training at the age of 15 years, by the time you turn 20 you would have been able to add about 20-25 pounds of muscle to your frame, and not to mention massive strength increases.
Adaptation Takes Time
There's such a thing as neuromuscular adaptation. What this means is that the body will have to get used to the new stresses you are placing upon it. This takes time, and should not be rushed if you want to stay injury-free.
Generally speaking, it takes about 4-6 weeks for muscles to adapt to a new routine. So don't get discouraged if you don't see results for a while after starting.
In the same way that a baby takes time to get acclimated to walking, by virtue of strengthening neuromuscular connections, so too is the requirement for weight lifting.
Your form will initially be all over the place- and that's ok. The bench press is the best example of this is action. On the way down, the bar is subject to swaying in all sorts of directions when you are unaccustomed.
However, give it a few weeks and it almost becomes second nature. Plus, this is also why you fatigue much easier in the beginning. The innervated muscle fibers gradually build up endurance as well, allowing them to fire longer before becoming spent.
Learn To Manage Pain
We get it-you're excited to work out. However, don't be too eager- as, in the beginning, you will need much more time to recover than you will to work out.
DOMS, otherwise known as delayed onset muscle soreness, will be intense during the first few weeks of training. So intense that sometimes you might question if you can continue doing this.
But it gets better. Recovery improves, and you'll need only 48 hours on average between workouts for ample recovery. Keep this in mind during your first year and you will do much better.
Do you need supplements? The answer to this is no, and yes. If you are on a strained budget, don't pressure yourself with the need to purchase supplements. Good food trumps many supplements in the beginning, and you are bound to respond to improvements in your diet.
As you progress, their use can help you get where you need to go at a faster rate. A good protein supplement consisting of whey, casein, and collagen is an excellent investment, along with some good old caffeine (or even coffee) for that killer instinct when taken prior to your workout.
Putting It Together
Summing it up, you need to train 3x weekly on average, consume enough calories, get sufficient sleep, and when the time is right, add on well-timed supplements to accelerate your progress.
You have time. Don't be discouraged if you feel things are moving too slow- sometimes all it takes is that extra rep to really get the snowball effect rolling towards your success.