The Fitness Zone

Let’s bust 10 myths about training teens

Dec 10, 2021 | by Network

With only 1 in 10 young people getting adequate physical activity, we need to do what we can to help them move more. For starters, writes AIF Coach Christine Kusznir, let’s do away with the incorrect assumptions that many people have about training teens.

Teenagers are busy people, their days often filled with study, exams, part-time jobs, attempting to please their parents and learning to drive, while also finding some time to chill with friends and keep on top of their Instagram feed. This can make it seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day to fit in exercise. When you combine this with some common misconceptions about exercise for adolescents, it becomes clear why rates of obesity, injury and mental health issues are climbing in our teens. While we can’t add more hours to their days, we can at least bust some of the common myths about young people and exercise.

MYTH 1. Teenagers don’t need to exercise

Wrong! The Australian Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Young People aged 13-17 years (2019)1 recommend that children and young people should aim for at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity per day involving mainly aerobic activities. The 60 minutes can be made up of shorter bursts of activity throughout the day.

Statistics show that 9 in 10 young Australians are not moving their bodies enough2. It’s not just a problem here though: according to the World Health Organization more than 80% of adolescents worldwide aren’t getting enough physical activity2 and as they age they tend to engage in less physical activity and more sedentary screen-based behaviour.

Active children and adolescents will:
• Have stronger muscles and bones
• Have a leaner body because exercise helps control body fat
• Be less likely to become overweight
• Have less risk of developing diseases like coronary heart disease, type II diabetes, colon and breast cancer
• Exhibit lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels
• Sleep better
• Stay mentally healthy
• Have a stronger immune system.

MYTH 2. Playing sport is enough exercise

Probably not! Teenagers should be doing at least 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous physical activity every day and often sports practice is not enough to accumulate this total activity.

Children and adolescents should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities on a daily basis to develop all three components of fitness: stamina, strength and suppleness.

Stamina can be developed through regular and continuous aerobic activity. For adolescents, aerobic activity will strengthen their heart and lungs, and improve their body’s ability to deliver oxygen to all of its cells.

Writing programs that incorporate strength and suppleness elements may come as second nature, but what does programming for stamina look like for teen clients? It should follow the FITT approach:
• Frequency: most days of the week if possible
• Intensity: moderate to vigorous, should be intermittent
• Time: 60 mins per day, which can be broken up into bouts of 15 mins
• Type: aerobic continuous, aerobic interval, anaerobic interval (HIIT).

“Working with teenagers can certainly have its unique challenges, but it can also be a lot of fun!”

MYTH 3. Teenagers don’t need to stretch

Incorrect – everyone needs to stretch! Suppleness can be developed through regular stretching activity. For adolescents stretching activities will make them more flexible, allowing their muscles and joints to move easily through their full range of motion. However, because children are more lax prior to puberty, it is important that they do not overstretch, as doing so may impair correct alignment and have negative effects later in life.

MYTH 4. Exercise is only for the sporty kids

Definitely not! Exercise is important for everyone, regardless of whether or not you’re seeking performance improvements for organised sport – and it’s not just for the physical benefits. Other great ‘side effects’ of exercise include:
• development of positive lifelong behaviours
• learning about the body
• development of motor coordination
• development of social skills such as teamwork
• improved interpersonal communication
• enhanced self-esteem and confidence
• gaining positive psychological boost
• enjoyment of the activity itself (in addition to the endorphin release)!

MYTH 5. Teenagers are tricky to work with

Not necessarily! Working with teenagers can certainly have its unique challenges, but it can also be a lot of fun! Teenagers can have a lot going on in their physical, emotional and social lives that can affect how they interact, and they may come across as either overly friendly or hostile.

Here are some helpful tips for dealing with individuals or groups of adolescents.
• A good exercise session could incorporate both individual and team activities, as well as a game.
• Program activities and games that combine all elements of fitness (stamina, strength, suppleness, skill, balance and coordination).
• While some competitive games can be incorporated, it is important to appreciate that not all kids like competition, so ensure teens can ‘win’ in other ways, such as having a game that focuses on problem-solving or teamwork.
• Have alternate exercises and activities planned to cater for a large range of fitness and skill abilities, and use progressions and regressions as required.
• Build relationships by asking about interests and activities outside of training, and show a genuine interest and care in them and their lives.
• Be genuine in the way you interact with them and talk to them at their level, not how you might do with younger children.
• Be fair and be fun: humour is a great way to diffuse problems and respond to negative comments or behaviour.
• Have empathy. If someone is not participating, or is acting out or behaving negatively, show care and ask them privately if everything is OK. They may well have lots of other issues going on, and will usually respond well to care and empathy rather than consequences and correction.

MYTH 6. Teenagers shouldn’t start strength training until they reach maturity

Wrong! Strength training is important for all children and adolescents. The Australian Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Young People aged 13-17 years (2019)1 recommend that activities that strengthen muscle and bone should be incorporated (in the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity) at least three days per week.

Evidence has found that participation in a supervised resistance training program can be a safe, effective and worthwhile method of conditioning for children and adolescents. Muscular strength is also the driving force toward performance enhancement and injury prevention3.

“Adolescents should be encouraged to participate in a variety of activities on a daily basis to develop stamina, strength and suppleness”

MYTH 7. Strength training is unsafe for teens and will stunt their growth

Not true: in fact, strength training actually assists teenagers with healthy development. Resistance training is a potent stimulus for strengthening muscle and bone3.

Strength training is completely safe when following these guidelines:

  • The teen should be able to perform 3 sets of 8-15 reps with good technique before the weight is increased
  • The focus should be on quality of movement, not quantity
  • Large compound movements, such as bodyweight squats, lunges and light weight training are performed
  • Maximal lifts should be avoided
  • Fewer reps (under 8) of higher loads should only be performed when the adolescent has finished growing
  • This should be performed at least 3 times a week to ensure sufficient muscular and bone development
  • Adolescents should be proficient in bodyweight and dumbbell-resisted variations of a movement before moving on to a barbell.

Strength training actually assists teenagers with healthy development”

MYTH 8. Teens should only do bodyweight exercises

No: weights can be used – with care. We can overload adolescents through resistance and bodyweight training, but there are a number of things we need to keep in mind as we train them: their bodies are still developing and growing, their bones are not fully formed, their joints will not be as stable or as strong as adults, and their proprioception and balance may not be great as they learn to adjust to new limb lengths while experiencing growth spurts.

This means that when performing lifts with heavier loads, we need to be aware of their technique. If their movement execution starts to become sloppy, we need to increase the rest time and get them to focus back on their technique. We want quality over quantity.

As adolescents age toward full maturation, we can look to increase the overload techniques applied.

MYTH 9. Training teenagers is totally different to training adults

False. Teenagers, although it may not always seem like it, are still human! There are some physical considerations and a few other things to factor in, such as consent from a parent or guardian, but the guidelines for training teens are almost identical to those for training a beginner adult.

Challenges may arise, such as difficulties with learning, vision, hearing, speech, motor skills and balance, which may require you to refer to a medical or allied health professional for guidance. Teenagers may also present with specific pathological conditions that require medical clearance, such as osgood schlatter disease (pain and swelling below the knee experienced during growth spurts).

However, for the most part, any other conditions you may come across will be the same as you find in adults. Common medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and obesity, require careful observation and exercise modifications on the part of the PT, regardless of the client’s age.

The key is to focus on technique and slow progression, which will help the adolescent build a strong foundation and ease the transition to a strong and healthy adulthood.

MYTH 10. There are too many legal things to consider

Well, yes there are a few – but not too many to make it worth your while. This list outlines some of the major legal things to consider and will help you gain the confidence to start training teens.

Access to gyms

Check your local facilities for details about conditions of entry and minimum age for access.

Insurance

Ensure your insurance policy specifically covers training teenagers and young people.

Risks and safety elements

Consider the instructor-to-teenager ratio to ensure full supervision of all activities. For school groups, a teacher must be present at all times, in addition to the instructor.

Reporting

Any assessments or reports you make based on the adolescent must be collected and stored securely until the individual reaches the age of 25. It is your responsibility to report any risk of harm, abuse or neglect to the necessary authorities.

Clearances

Ensure you have the relevant clearance for your state in order to work with children, such as a Working with Children Check. Teenagers should be participating in regular strength, stamina and suppleness activities for healthy mental and physical development. This is vital to creating lifelong positive health habits. It is up to us to help guide them.

You might hate the way that teenagers talk, the way they cut their hair, or the way they drive their cars. What I hate, however, is that they don’t exercise enough. So, fitness professionals, let’s not drop the ball on this one, because what you won’t hate is training teens to become happier, healthier and stronger young people.

Christine Kusznir
Christine is a Fitness Coach at the Australian Institute of Fitness in Adelaide. She is also a Les Mills Group Fitness Instructor, as well as a current secondary school science, maths and VET teacher. Christine is the creator of the CEC-accredited online Network course Training Teens.

REFERENCES
1. The Australian Physical Activity & Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines for Young People aged 13-17 years (2019)
2. Teens and sport: What the research shows. (2019, October 29). VicHealth. Retrieved 06 28, 2021, from (Teens and Sport: What the Research Shows, 2019)
3. “RESISTANCE TRAINING FOR KIDS Right from the Start.” Faigenbaum et al, 2016; ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, vol. 20, no. 5, 2016, pp. 16-22
4. 5 ways to make sure you’re getting enough physical activity in your teens. (2018, July 25). Queensland Health. Retrieved 06 28, 2021

Network
Network is an education subscription service that offers a broad range of upskilling courses for fitness and wellness professionals. Established in 1987, Network has played a pivotal role in the continual evolution of the fitness industry.

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