Help a teenager design a nutrition/exercise plan
January 8, 2012 1:09 PM   Subscribe

Please help a teenager come up with an exercise/nutritional regimen.

Fast facts:
Age: 17
Height/Weight: 6',170 lbs
Not very active at all. Aside from climbing stairs, I usually only play tennis for 2 hours, once every two weeks.

In the past, I've had very bad eating habits: Ramen noodles, cakes, fast food, candy, Chinese takeout, pizza but I am beginning to alter these habits, and committed to eating healthy.

Here is a body shot of my front: photo. I'm flabby

Gynecomastia: I think so. Self-diagnosed. Judging by my father and brother's physique, it must be genetic. I've felt loose tissue in my chest area since I was younger and skinnier.

I am trying to get in shape for my tennis season which begins at the end of March. I want to get fitter looking in general, so that taking off my shirt isn't so incredibly embarrassing.

I am opposed to gyms; they are embarrassing for me, especially seeing acquaintances

My exercise options: My family owns Power 90, P90X, and a Bowflex Power Pro.
My questions: Which of the exercise options above do you recommend? Or do you have a different suggestion?

In general, what should by nutritional goals be? ie. Low carbs, low fats, etc.

Really any guidance is appreciated; thank you.
posted by ptsampras14 to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Best answer: You're lucky. You're a 17 year old male, which means that there's a wellspring of hormones swirling through your body which will help you gain muscle more easily than basically anyone else. You're on nature's steroids right now. What that means is that if you can get over your anxiety and get to a proper gym to do a barbell strength training program like Starting Strength you'll see fucking amazing results.

My diet advice only applies if you are going to embark on a strength training program. Eat real food like meat and vegetables. Drink whole milk. Do not cut calories. You're pretty light for your height right now which means you're what is sometimes called "skinny fat" -- small but with little muscle. In order to put on muscle (which is what you want to do -- losing weight is NOT what you want to do) you'll need to eat.

Honestly, you have so much potential. I really strongly recommend swallowing your pride and getting in the gym. If you do it now, in two weeks you'll feel comfortable there, and in two months you'll look and feel amazing. If you don't start now, you'll just be in the same position a few years from now, wishing you had started today.
posted by telegraph at 1:17 PM on January 8, 2012 [5 favorites]

"get in shape" is a pretty ambiguous goal. Long distance runners, soccer players, and bodybuilders are all in shape but have very different bodies. Picking a more specific goal will be one of the most useful things you can do at this point. Progress measured against a firm goal is easier to see than progress towards a half-formed one.

I think p90x is going to have what you want in it. It has a diet regimin and the exercises are more designed to burn calories and build endurance than they are to build muscle. That can both help you loose weight and improve your tennis game.

But, telegraph has a much better answer. Doing big lifts that engage most of your body is going to get you in shape faster than messing around with the resistance bands and dumbbells of p90x. I couldn't recommend more getting into a gym and being taught perfect form more for anyone with any fitness goal. And if acquaintances snicker at you. Fuck them. In a couple of years of working out you will be big enough to snap them like twigs
posted by munchingzombie at 1:40 PM on January 8, 2012

Agreed 100% with telegraph. The thing about the gym is that everyone is there to get fitter, so it may be embarrassing, but it won't be for long. There's no reason why you have wear anything revealing while you're there, either. When I'm at the gym I see plenty of ordinary people with ordinary bodies working out in a loose t-shirt and track pants; it's really no big deal.

However, if you're serious about getting in shape and serious about not going to the gym, get a power rack and an olympic barbell (the one with the big ends) with weight plates from Craigslist, and then do Starting Strength (or a similar program like Stronglifts 5x5) at home. You can set the bars on the rack to catch the barbell if you let it drop, which will make it possible for you to squat and bench heavy without a spotter. Start light and add weight in a slow-but-steady manner (according to the program), and pay close attention to form... you'll be surprised how much progress you make by March.
posted by vorfeed at 1:42 PM on January 8, 2012

I am trying to get in shape for my tennis season which begins at the end of March. I want to get fitter looking in general, so that taking off my shirt isn't so incredibly embarrassing.

I am opposed to gyms; they are embarrassing for me, especially seeing acquaintances

I don't have any specific advice about diet or exercise but I need to say: get over this. One, you're not bad looking without a shirt on. You may think you are, but you have nothing to be embarrassed about. Two, even if you were horrid, (which, again, you're not) who cares? The point is to better yourself. Don't make it harder to get healthier just because you don't like how you are now.
posted by Weeping_angel at 2:18 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would have been mortifyingly embarrassed to go to the gym at 17, or for damn near a decade after I was 17. That was true until I realized that gyms aren't just for making your muscles strong - they're for making your spine stronger, too, by encouraging you to push past your self-consciousness. Good luck!
posted by anildash at 2:40 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

A year ago I was just as intimidated as you, if not more so, to go to the gym. Seriously, I was looking for every excuse NOT to go, posting on forums about "hey can I grow muscle doing pushups and pull ups at home???". The answer is no, no you can't.

So n-thing getting to a gym and getting on a simple barbell program like SS. Start with an empty bar and add 5 pounds every session. No one there gives a shit what you're doing. You'll be benching big-boy weights and growing muscle within 7 or 8 weeks. Take it from an ex-super scrawny flabby guy who seriously grew nauseated at the thought of having to go to a gym. Suck it up and go, it's so worth it.
posted by windbox at 2:50 PM on January 8, 2012

No one will judge you at the gym. Everybody's just doing their own thing there, and as you'll see if you start going regularly, plenty of people working out will be worse off than you in the body-fat department. It isn't a contest.

So, go.
posted by killdevil at 3:26 PM on January 8, 2012

I am opposed to gyms; they are embarrassing for me, especially seeing acquaintances

Whenever I see acquaintances at the gym, it always positively affects my impression of them as people who care about their health and fitness. Also, not everyone working out at my gym is a super-fit 20-something; there are regularly some elderly and some overweight people and if I think anything about it at all it's that I hope when I'm older or if I gain more weight that I'll still have the drive to come to the gym.

I also think we get ourselves into these feedback loops where we're scared/embarrassed to do something so we avoid it and that somehow confirms our suspicions so we double down on being scared/embarrassed. Just break the loop and it stops being so bad.

And honestly, everyone has their moments. I go to the gym three times a week and at this point probably seem like an experienced gym-goer. But my gym just changed out all the equipment, and today was the first day I was using the new stuff. I had to call over a staff member twice to explain to me how a machine worked or if there was an alternate machine available for that muscle area. I was mildly embarrassed, but he said he'd had multiple queries before me about it. If you're confused, chances are other people have been, too.
posted by vegartanipla at 3:31 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was very very skinny my whole life (still am, but you don't really see my ribs anymore!) and I joined a gym a month or two ago.

Lots of people have that initial shame/anxiety about gyms, including me. You'll get over it. The thing about the muscle guys in the gym -- they may look intimidating to your or me, but they're not going to judge you. They're really not going to judge you.

That being said, I can't recommend the Stronglifts/Starting Strength stuff people always point to on threads here. I was all gung-ho about doing Stronglifts. It's for beginners, it will build strength, etc. The fact of the matter is -- it's not for TRUE beginners. Just trying to do 5 sets of 5 squats of an empty bar (45lb) put me in true physical danger of hurting myself immediately, and the idea of going up in weight every time you go to the gym, as those programs call for, was total nonsense in its unreasonableness.

Other lifts such as bench press, overhead press, or deadlift were less likely to hurt me, but some people simply cannot lift the weights called for to begin with. For safety, you would NEED to do this with a partner or a trainer, and even then you might still simply be unable to do what is asked.


The stronglifts and Starting Strength programs *do* of course mention this following thing, but I don't think in online forums (like here) people who recommend them properly stress it:

Diet is WAY more important than what you're doing in the gym, as long as you're doing something.
posted by lewedswiver at 3:41 PM on January 8, 2012

Best answer: Something simple to start with would be to play tennis more often - if your goal is to be in shape for tennis, why not play some tennis? This would be in addition to the strength training others have mentioned.

I completely understand where you are in terms of not wanting to go to the gym due to embarrassment. I can remember being 17.

In terms of nutrition for right now and the future: have you thought about learning to cook basic meals for yourself? When you cook, you know exactly what it is you're eating and you end up having much better control over how you eat. It is also one of those skills that will come in handy in the future both as a health thing and as an economic thing.

Good luck and I hope you end up having a great tennis season.
posted by sciencegeek at 4:24 PM on January 8, 2012

The fact of the matter is -- it's not for TRUE beginners. Just trying to do 5 sets of 5 squats of an empty bar (45lb) put me in true physical danger of hurting myself immediately, and the idea of going up in weight every time you go to the gym, as those programs call for, was total nonsense in its unreasonableness.

No single program is right for everyone, and some people will need remedial strength work before they can safely begin any Olympic weightlifting program. That said, one can always do that by starting with a lighter bar (many gyms have Olympic-size training bars and even broomsticks you can use to learn the lifts) or a different exercise until one is strong enough to squat the standard bar, and then make linear progress from there. Starting Strength, at least, makes this clear:

"The increments must reflect a realistic assessment of the lifter’s ability to actually do them in a sustained progression. The pressing movements may take an initial 10 lb. jump, but then immediately drop to 5 lb. jumps, and analogous to the 10--> 5 lb. drop in the squat they drop to 2.5 lb. jumps. Some older women have to start on the leg press in order to develop the strength to squat their own bodyweight the full range of motion, extremely detrained older men likewise. If this is the case, the increments on the 45-degree leg press will be 10-20 lbs. for sets of ten until enough hip and leg strength is developed to enable the squat to be a useful exercise. I have found that when a person can do their approximate bodyweight for 10 reps, the leg press is no longer necessary, but until then it is an important tool for incrementally developing the strength to squat. So we use the tools we must use to enable small increments to accumulate into meaningful strength gains.

This means that for women almost immediately and for every lifter eventually, plates smaller than the standard 1.25 kg/2.5 lb. must be available if progress is to continue to accumulate. [...] That is why I have a pair of 1 lb. plates and a pair of 1.75 lbs. so that I can load the bench press to 40, 42, 43.5, 45, 47, 48.5, and 50, for instance, to provide a smooth upward flow of resistance for my female trainees, and so that I can load my own presses to 155, 157. 158.5, and 160 on my way up to 200 lbs."

In short: linear-progression programs like Starting Strength and Stronglifts are certainly for "TRUE beginners", as long as you apply them to your own ability. This means using small increments over most of the program. For those who can't start with proper form on the standard bar, it also means dropping to lighter bars or dumbbells/machines until their ability increases.
posted by vorfeed at 6:37 PM on January 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Gyno for a 17 year old is not uncommon at all. Will it go away? Maybe, it does for a lot of people and my unprofessional advice is that your case isn't bad. It's bad when you have definite lumps or the nipples are sore to the touch. But it's not as uncommon as you might think. My best advice on mitigating that would be to drop any soy, soy product (terriyaki, etc.) or milk from your diet. And be more active, 'natch.
Also, supplement your diet with fish oil caplets (or flax oil), protein drinks, and creatine.
As far as what your diet should consist of? More meat. But don't worry about trying to gain a bunch of weight. You're a tennis player, that's not really in the cards at his point.

Before we get into a program, I will say for a 17 year old Starting Strength is probably the best but the least thoughtful (as it always seems to be) slapdash answer. So before you spend a bunch of money and go buy some books or join a gym:
Does your school have a weight room? Do you have access to it? Do you have access to the coaches who can help you with a program?
If yes to the first two, then use it. It might be crowded, or even unwelcoming but it doesn't matter. You have a right to be there and you're doing your thing. You will make progress, that's all you should concentrate on. If yes to the last one, go talk to them. That's what they're there for and that's what they get paid for. Doing a strength program 3 times a week will do good things for you.

BUT the best way for you to get in shape for the upcoming season is to play tennis, do conditioning work and speed work. So if I was going to throw a program together for you?

- Jump rope 5xweek before working out. Work you way up from 5 minutes by adding 3 to 5 minutes a week.
- Tennis practice 5xweek. Best way to get better at tennis is to practice.
- Sprints 3xweek. 10 sets of 20 yards on Mon & Fri.. Wed. sprint uphill - rest 10 sec - jog down - walk off another rest for minute. Don't tackle a mountain,just climb something around 10 to 20 yards.
- Strength training 3xweek. It should look like an SS program. At my high school we used the Bigger Stonger Faster program.

You're probably looking at that and wondering what you can rid of or chop down to manageable size, start from the bottom up. You can get away with doing lifting twice a week or even get rid of it. You should learn how to do the Power Clean and do that twice a week though. Also, sprinting can be done twice a week before your weight training. Skipping rope can be done the other 3 times a week before your tennis practice.
If you don't have access to a gym or an Olympic weight set then get on the Bowflex and do some squats and overhead presses 3xweek.

Lifting weights and getting stronger is the least way for you to go about getting better at tennis, but it's a start.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:03 PM on January 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh, also if you do have access to a coach, even the football coach, who can show you what's what in a weight room, then use them. They should be able to show you the correct way to lift. They deal with hundreds of kids like you every year, they have way more knowledge and experience than any internet know-it-all.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:12 PM on January 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

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