Personal trainers for teens

May 18, 2011

Exercise physiologist Fabio Comana will answer your questions about hiring personal trainers for children, an option some parents have chosen to help get their kids in shape.

What is the best way to motivate a 14 yr old boy to want to get into better shape?

That is a difficult age. Ideally, we should try recognize and work their stregnths and interests (i., what they like to do and do well).  Rather than try fix broken things, explore possible interests in activities and start there, even if it is not the ideal activity.  The whole idea is to try build self-efficacy (belief that they can do something) and what is crucial is to make it a positive experience. IF the child is not competitive in nature, then remove that from the activity to start - let them have fun, make sure the intensity, duration, etc., are appropriate (i.e., give them a small challenge to push themselves, but we want to make sure they are successfull about 80 % of the time and no less.  Hope this may give you some ideas to start.

How early can a child safely start to use weights. My six-year-old is very interested and would like to use the machines. Can he safely do this with supervision?

Interestingly, the National Strength and Conditioning Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics both suggest that children as young as 5 years old have demonstrated benefits from strenght training. They do stipulate key guidelines however - basically, proper instruction and supervision, utilize 1 -3 sets x 6 - 15 reps (start with 10 - 15 reps) with weights or body weight, target all major muscle groups (especially the trunk and low back), and avoid  powerlifting, body-building type exercises.

I am no longer a teen but non-team-related exercise was a big part of my life then -- and generally continues to be now. I worked with a personal trainer a few times and was very happy to have the individualized support. I truly believe that, were more teens to make such self-focused fitness part of their lives, the healthier -- and more self-confident -- they will be throughout their lives. That's pretty obvious, of course, but it seems the confidence that comes from good physical fitness as a teen is too often overlooked! I now have two questions: 1. Do you recommend any specific websites for tracking calories consumption? I'm looking for something that feels reliable and "safe" for me to share such personal data on. (I know the Post has a great resource for counting calories from fast food but I eat very little of it so I'm looking for something more general!) 2. If you are familiar with it, what do you think of the newer MTV show "I Used to Be Fat"? Thanks so much!

Thanks for your input and I agree wholeheartedly with your comments. I think there are tremendous benefits with children following a structured program, whether it be with a traienr or not. To your questions - there are numerous sites - is a free resource with a tracker tool for food intake.  I would suggest this to start - it does contain some errors as do most databases, but it is decent. 


I am sorry, I have not seen the MTV show, but thanks for the information - I may have to watch it - sure it must be insightful and relevant

How do I know if my 15 year old son is exercising too much? What should I look out for..what guidance can i provide so exercise does not become addictive for him. I know this is a good problem to have, but I'm still concern about long term growth and that too much of his sense of self is around his body. Thanks for you insight!!

While some would agree it may be  nice probelm to have over the alternative (no exercise), we do need to monitor it for overtaining and perhaps some behavioral addiction. Let's start with overtraining and the classic symptoms. First tell-tale signs are decreases in performance (i.e., unable to maintain normal intensities or duraions of his workouts over a period of a few weeks). I also recommend monitoring your resting heart rate (RHR) first thing in the morning (lying in bed). as we become more fit, our RHR should start to drop (by 5 - 20 beats). However, if we are overtraining, much in the same way when we are getting sick, our RHR starts to climb.  This is a sure sign of overtainign and the need to take time off. Additionally, look for fatigue, general muscle weakness, irritability, restless sleep, loss of appetite (many of the same symptoms we experience when we become sick).  These all indicate that our immune system is not recovering from the stress of over-exercising and that possible overtaining is taking place - in this case, the body needs to take 7- 10 days off to recover. It is imprtant to share this informatio nwith him, so he recognizes the importance of monitoring this. If not,  this may leead to worse events - potential injury, etc., which will set him back even further - probably prove to be frustrating. I'd start there - hope this helps.

Is there an association of trainers who are certified and provide information on the background or expertise of the trainers?

Great question - While there is no central governing body, there is an accreditation organization that sets a standard for our industry.  It is called the NCCA and to date only 12 of the 40 + certification agencies in the US have acheived this accreditation.  If you have it, it is a badge of honor -so it will be very visible on the certification agency's website. ACE, ACSM, NSCA are examples of NCCA-accredited agencies. Once you identify a valid agency, you can then check on whether the individual is actually current with his or her certification with that specific organization - hope this helps

Our Grandson is excellent Basketball Player in the 11th Grade Point Guard. What is good exercise/training for him to develop to compete to the next level of his game?

That is a loaded question as basketball (BB) requires a variety of diferent skills (power, reactivity, speed, balance, etc.). Typically a good strength and conditioning coach will conduct a thorough needs assessment to identify strength and weakenss of the individual and their sport, as well identify the prevalent injuries i ntheir sport to ensure we train appropriately to avoid them. Given he is a point guard, I would focus on some agiliity drills. There are many good drills and I would want to demonstrate and progress him through a series of them to identify where to start to help him improve.  I would suggest looking to your local college / university strength and conditioning coach and see if you can hold a conversation with that person who can discuss / demonstrate some drills.

What is the best source for finding a trainer for a teen in the Washington D.C. suburbs of MD? One with teen-specific expertise. Is there small group training for teens in our area?

Many of your mainstream health clubs will offer youth programmin (from YMCA's to Mllenium Clubs). Additionally, places like Parisi Sports and Velocity Sports also offer youth-specific programming. Your choice should ultimately be based upon what you identify as your child's needs (general fitness, sports-specific), but most of those a reputable.

My husband and I, while not at our fighting weight, are active and trying to stay healthy. One of our teen aged children is at least fifty pounds overweight. While we encourage activity and provide healthy food, it has not helped. Said teen has mentioned weight loss is a goal, but I am not sure how to help. The upcoming summer seems to be the best time to tackle this, but since I exercise and eat healthfully most of the time and find weight loss hard, what can I offer?

The family environment is critical and it appears you are taking every step to create that healthy environment.. I mentioend this briefly in an earlier post, but let me add it here to assist.  Ideally, try recognize and work with your teens strengths and interests (i.e., what they like to do and do well).  Rather than try fix broken things, explore possible interests in activities and start there, even if it is not the ideal activity (this could include play wiifitt as a family to start).  The whole idea is to try build self-efficacy (belief that they can do something) and it is crucial to make this a positive experience.  If your teen is not competitive in nature, remove that from the activity to start - let them have fun, make sure the intensity, duration, etc., are appropriate (i.e., give them a small challenge to push themselves, again, perhaps completing a wiifit program, but we want to make sure they are successfull about 80 % of the time and no less.  Sumer is a difficult time with school off, warmer weather, etc. - teens are often subject to riducle, embarrassment, etc., so a supportive envrionment is critical in performing these activities.  What intrigues me is that although a healthy envionrment is provided, your teen still shies away from following in your footsteps.  I would suggest asking your teen to identify his / her core values (i.e., what is important in their life today - friends, school, socalizing, socailizing, etc.). then ask your teen to score each on a score of 1-10 (10 being very important).  Next ask them to score each on a level of current satisfaction (using same 1-10) scale and it may expose some triggers to undesireable behavior (e.g., opting not to be active). With this information, these areas can be addressed positively, which may impact other parameters of their lives including activity. I hope this helps


At what age do you recommend a teenager begin weight resistance training? I've heard that starting too early can stunt their growth and interfere with natural muscle development.

Good question and more recent research has demonstrated that with proper instruction and  supervision, weight trainign does not stunt natural growth and development. FYI - it was reseach conducted in the 1980's that demonstrated this effect and scared us all away. However , we now know that not to be true if appropriate weight training guidelines are followed.  Children as young as 5 can now participate in weight training as long as it is safe and appropriate. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Strength and  Conditioning Association have both published position statements in favor of youth resistance training with guildines to follow.

I have recently begun a kettlebell fitness program in Columbia ( and I love it. Kettlebells have helped me gain definition and lose weight. Is kettlebell weight lifting safe for teens - both boys and girls? I have a 14 year old son and a 16 year old daughter and I think it would be great for both of them but I am not sure about the stress on their developing bone structure and muscles. Thanks

If you plan to introduce them to kettle bells, be sure to keep the loads and explosive nature of the exercises low for now, especially with your son as he is biologically less developed than your daughter. However, with proper instruction to good form and what I just mentioned, you could safely introduce them to KB training

What are your thoughts on training towards excelling as a specific sport, how young could one start training a child towards that sports, how does one avoid overdoing it, and then, at what point does the child get to pick the sport or sports that the child wishes to play?

We see young children begin competitive sports at very young ages (4-5 years of age). Ideally, you should expose the child to a vareity of different activites for the primary purpose of developing their motor skills. They tend to gravitate to the ones they enjoy and probably do well - this may initiate their path within that sport. Parents and coaches often put too much pressure on young children to train, perform and excel, whereas to them, it is really all about having fun.  70% of children drop out of sports by age 13, in part due to this pressure and the lack of fun. While you can certainly enroll them in a sports-specific training program, always make sure they are enjoying it and having fun.

When my daughter was finally ready to start a fitness program, I hired a fitness trainer, which worked great. She lost pounds and inches, and become more aware of what she was eating. However, one of the downsides of this decision is that now that she only works out with the trainer. She doesn't work out on her own, which is not helpful now that she is away in college. What do you suggest to do to influence her to work out while she attends college. Overall, for any parents who are on the fence about this, I do recommend the trainer. Once she got fit, she has maintained better eating habits, which is a big part of weight control.

I have to blame the trainer for part of this outcome. A goal of a good trainer is to fulfil his/her ehhical responsibility of empowering an individual to become more self-reliant with their success, so thy have the skills sets (with knowledge and education) to maintain their success.  Now I can understand that your daughter may have been young and not interested/capable of understanding all this informaiton, but that is still not an excuse for the trainer. Reagrdless, my suggestions are to try tap into her intrinsic motivators - how she felt aboutherself when she looked i nthe mirror or when other complemented her on her shape, etc. Those can become effective drivers to get her back on track.. Naturally, she may be ambivalent given that she feels unsure of what to do. She could start with finding a trainer, but this time find one who will empower her, another option is to enroll in various exercise or health classes as electives at the university where she will get both academic credit and also learn how to do things for herself.

Not so much a question as a request to advise parents if they are going down that road to please ensure that the trainer is certified through a nationally recognized and certified body such as the NSCA, NSPA, NASM etc and that the PT has actual experience with working with athletes in the sports that they are engaged. Not every PT understands how to train an athlete for football or lacrosse but they know and understand how to train the general public. Athletes are not the general public. The other down side is the potential conflict between a paid PT by the parent and a High School team strength coach. Who rules when they don't agree in exercise prescription? Mom and dad have created a conflict where the kid is in the middle and confused about who they shoulc listen too. As a certified NSCA, CSCS personally I'll try to advise the parents that during the summer if they wish to pay a PT that's their decision however once school is in the athlete has to follow my protocal for the team at our facility or risk being dismissed from the team.

Absolutely, agree with you 100%.  First, let's assume that both the high school strength coach and the PT both hold valid NCCA-accredited credentials. And to your point, I think it is important for both the coach and trainer to have open minds and educate their atheltes / clients that there are many ways to peel an onion, so rather than see training philosphies as conflicting, it can be viewed as different processes to achieve the same / similar outcomes.   I think parents need to be diligent to ensure the trainer and coach are qualified, programming is safe, then  recognize and have the confidence that during the school term, the coach is who they rely upon and the PT outside of the school year.  Sure, they may make the argument that they find great results with the PT who is working one-on-one, whereas the coach has a entrie team to address at once, but that does not mean the coach is less qualified nor should it create conflict. I think both the PT and coach need to sit down with the parents and athlete to establish some common goals and identify accpetable training philosophies.

Is there a sport or activity you recommend for general fitness for teen girls?

There are a variety of good sports for general fitness - the key is one that they enjoy and probably feel they do quite well. If they experience some degree of success with the sport, it will build their self-efficacy and drive adherence. The sport could vary between swimming, running, soccer, etc., but each does have some unique conerns that should always be addressed in the early phase of participation (e.g., knee stress with landing and turning in soccer, shoulders in swimming, etc.). As long as they are moving about, elevating their heart rate, burning more calories, targeting a variety of their major muscles and the experience is both safe and enjoyable, it is hard to make an argument against it

Mr Comana: My son is an excellent basketball player who can really jump, almost 6 foot and 127 pounds. We would like to design a workout program for him incorporating weights, cardio and flexibility training (and anything else recomended by experts). We live in a small town in central IL, so rather limited but will drive to St. Louis or Indianapolis to get the proper program. Any advice would be most appreciated and thank you.

St. Louis and Indianapolis are both large cities with youth programs - look for Parisi Sports School location in St. Louis - They would have programs to help

Our son, Sean, will be 13 on 6/1. He is an exceptional athlete--his skills and instincts are superb. Up until he turned 11 or so, his fear of experiencing an asthma attack was valid. Worse was that his asthma typically manifested itself in vomiting. Now we are seeing a fear of running full on. He has one excuse or another to slow down. We remind him that it has been a long time since he has had an attack brought on by mere exertion. It seems that he equates the "burning" of extending himself with the onset of an asthma attack; he seems afraid. We were thinking that working with a trainer on aerobic exercise--primarily running, and working to beat his own times, not someone else's--might be the answer. It seems that once he proves to himself that he is in control, and not his asthma, that he will be willing to put it all out there. Does that make sense?

Yes, it makes sense - he appears to have a psychological barrier that limits his ability to allow him to increase his intensity. We need to identify the true reasons / rationale behind this irrational fear. One may be to talk to his doctor / pediatrician about using an inhaler before his workouts as a sort of safety net, perhaps building his confidecne that this is OK - then gradually introduce a placebo in its place and see how that works.  It may take some creative thinking, strategies and even little challenges or concessions to help them overcome this fear.  Most logical (which I am certian you have tried) is the use of gradual progressions in intensity over time and even within a particular exercise bout.

My 13 year old son developed Osgood Schlatter's in December and is still experiencing symptoms - not as significant as when it first started, but they increase in intensity when his physical activity intesifies. He plays basketball and football and is getting ready to enter high school next year. His pediatrician attributed the condition to a growth spurt (he grew 2 inches and 3 shoe sizes in 3 months!) and said it would subside once the growth spurt was over, but it hasn't yet. We are concerned that since he is still having problems that he will not get through this in time to participate in high school sports. What can we do to help him through it? He just finished basketball and is working out with his football team. Are there any specific stretching or strengthening exercises he can do to reduce the effects of this condition? Thank you!

Ouch, I am sure that must be quite uncomfortable for him. The doctor is correct in mentioning that it usually does subside after his growth spurt when the muscle growth catches up with his bone growth (usually 2 years), however, repeated stress on the joint folloing this growth spurt is a concern, especially with the upcoming intense exercise sessions he will need to participate in.

I am certain  his doctor has recommended anti-inflammatories and RICE to manage the condition, but the Strickland Protocol is showing good promise in just 2-3 weeks. It is an inhme programs and I would suggest looking into this - they even sell  a book you can buy for home use.  This appears to be offering the most immeidate success and relief

In This Chat
Fabio Comana
Fabio Comana is an exercise physiologist, research scientist and educational curriculum developer for the American Council on Exercise (ACE). Prior to joining ACE, he worked with Division I athletes in a variety of positions during his tenure, including head coach and strength and conditioning coach for San Diego State University, where he currently remains a member of the faculty.
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