Fast Teen Workouts

Short bursts of exercise can improve teens' heart health.

Teen workouts can include treadmill intervals.
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Like adults, teens are busy. So like adult workouts, teen workouts often need to be quick. If your teen is dealing with school, homework, extracurriculars and maybe even a part-time job, the thought of fitting in 60 minutes of daily fitness can easily become overwhelming.

But what if your teen could work out for just 30 minutes (including rest time!), three times a week, and still reap health rewards?

Researchers in the U.K. are checking into this possibility, and it's promising. A team at the University of Exeter showed that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) improves cardiovascular disease risk factors in adolescents. The study was very small, just 13 kids tracked over a two-week period. But since some risk factors, like blood vessel function, were affected, the results indicate that bursts of vigorous activity might be effective in reducing the risk of heart disease. (Another note: the effects didn't last long, which shows that this kind of workout has to be done regularly in order to improve heart health.)

Types of Intense Teen Workouts

Cycling: Subjects in the British research rode bicycles, alternating high-speed bursts (90% of their maximum power capability) of one minute each with 75-second rest periods, in which they pedaled slowly. They performed eight to 10 sets of these intervals, starting with eight sets and working up to 10.

Running: Teens could do similar HIIT intervals while running outside or on a treadmill: one to two minutes, max, of sprinting, alternating with 30 to 90 seconds of walking or easy jogging.

Swimming: Swim all-out for a minute, then float or swim slowly for a short break; repeat.

Walking: Since effort is what matters, teens can interval-ize a walking workout too.

It's a matter of pushing themselves as hard as they can during the activity bursts, plus adding in rest periods.

Circuit: If your teen is in pretty good physical shape, she can do 40 seconds of muscle-strengthening cardio moves (such as jumping lunges, burpees, or squat jumps) followed by 20 seconds of rest. Eight moves in eight minutes equals one intense workout!

Sports like basketball, hockey, and soccer, and even playground games like tag, can approximate HIIT workouts because they require erratic bursts of movement. But since they aren't as controlled, they might not offer the same benefits as true interval training.

Why Teen Workouts Matter

Short bursts of intense exercise seem to offer heart-health benefits for teens, which is a big plus. But they may also help burn fat and improve muscle strength. And since many teens live a pretty unhealthful lifestyle, making this one change could spark an important turnaround.

Many teens who are obese or overweight don't even realize that they are, perhaps because so many of their peers are also overweight.

So it's important to talk with your teen about weight and health, even though it can be an uncomfortable topic. Committing to working out together can help motivate him, plus it benefits you too. 


Bond B, Cockcroft EJ et al. Two weeks of high-intensity interval training improves novel but not traditional cardiovascular disease risk factors in adolescents. American Journal of Physiology - Heart and Circulatory Physiology, Vol 309 No 9, September 2015.

Lu H, Tarasenko YN et al. More Overweight Adolescents Think They Are Just Fine: Generational Shift in Body Weight Perceptions Among Adolescents in the U.S. American Journal of Preventive Medicine Vol 49 No 5, November 2015.

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