We’ve all heard the scare stories –
“You shouldn’t lift weights too young, it will stunt your growth.”
“Kids can’t weight train properly – they don’t know what they’re doing.”
“As a teen, you’re better off running or playing sports than pumping iron – that can wreck you for life.”
All of these, while stated over and over again by those supposedly “in the know” are, however – myths.
Weight training as a teenager is a contentious issue – and trying to bodybuild even more so.
As with anything though, there are a number of misconceptions, and false information displayed as fact.
In this article, I’ll delve into what you need to know, who you should believe, and the difference between training as a teenager and training as an adult.
Busting Some Myths
We love a bit of myth busting, so let’s start there.
The idea that lifting weights will stunt your growth is nonsense – no research has ever been done that supports this idea.
Additionally, even if it were true, most of us don’t stop developing until later than our teens, as bone growth plates don’t fuse in most folk until between the ages of 21 and 30, so if weight training did impact growth, no one should really train until their 30s!
As for kids not knowing what they’re doing – there may be some truth in this, but I know plenty of adults who are clueless in the weight room too, but that doesn’t stop them from half-repping 100 kilos on the bench press, or busting out partner-assisted biceps curls until they’re blue in the face.
When it comes to playing sports – consider this –
In the weight room, you’re entirely in control of what you do. On the sports field however, you can be as careful as you like, but if someone tackles you high in rugby you can break a collarbone. Or a rough tackle in soccer could ruin your knees for life. That’s not to mention the impact forces that come from running and jumping.
All in all, weight training and bodybuilding – when done properly – should enhance any teenager’s life, health and sporting performance.
Beginning the Journey
The key to bodybuilding successfully as a teenager is getting the right start.
The number one thing I’d advise doing is avoiding reading too much.
Knowledge is power, but it becomes way too easy to become over-involved in all the bro-science and dogma, and try to follow the routines of the pros.
Remember, these guys may be 300 lbs of pure muscle mass and strong as hell, but what they’re doing now is vastly different from what they did to build their physique 10, 20 or 30 years ago.
The best thing to do is start with a basic routine.
As for what you opt for – that’s up to you, but here’s a checklist. Whatever you pick should at least get a mark for –
- Being based mainly around free-weight and bodyweight moves
- Including mostly compound exercises like squats, deadlifts, bench and overhead presses, lunges, rows, pull-ups and dips.
- Not having you work to failure or exhaustion every single workout.
- Promoting working hard, but not using poor form for the sake of extra reps.
- Having you train no more than 4 times per week.
- Encouraging proper nutrition, as well as including other activities like sports and cardio.
A Basic Template
You can’t go wrong with a simple full body workout as a teen looking to get bodybuilding –
Workout A –
- Stiff-Legged Deadlifts
- Bench Presses
- Dumbbell Rows
Workout B –
- Dumbbell Lunges
- Dumbbell Presses
- Overhead Presses
- Cable Rows
Train 3 times per week, hitting workout A, then workout B, then workout A again in the first week, then switching to B-A-B in week 2.
First time you do each workout, perform 4 sets of 5-6 reps on each move.
The second time, go a little lighter, but shoot for 3 sets of 8-10.
The third time you hit each session, go lighter still, but drop the sets to just 2, and complete sets of 10 to 15.
Always work at about an effort level 8 or 9 out of 10, meaning your sets are tough, but you’ve got a rep or two left in the tank.
Moving On Up
So you’ve spent some time with the full-body routine and made some impressive gains.
Perhaps you feel like your progress is slowing, and you’re no longer gaining size or adding weight to the bar as often as you were.
Now it’s time to take things up a gear.
We’d still advise waiting until you’ve had a good solid 12 months of lifting under your belt, but here’s where teenage bodybuilding and adult bodybuilding differs –
Once you’re past the teen stage you can –
- Specialise a little more by increasing your weight training and decreasing your other forms of activity.
- Look at including lower-rep, heavier weight blocks in your program, where you try for 1-5 rep maximums.
- Add intensity techniques such as drop sets, forced reps and tempo training.
- Include supplements IF you feel you need them. Supplements aren’t vital, but they’re not bad either. If you’ve got your diet sorted, there shouldn’t be much need for them, but creatine, fish oils, protein powder and amino acids may be beneficial.
The Wrap Up
Can teens partake in bodybuilding?
But we wouldn’t talk of it as “bodybuilding.”
Rather than trying to emulate the behemoths in the muscle mags, think of lifting weights as something you’re doing to get fitter, stronger and improve your physique.
If, down the line, you want to step on stage, so be it, but for now, work on building that base, and the rest will come.