Fitness for non-sporty teens

Teen fitness

The benefits of being physically active during the teen years extend far beyond just health and body weight management yet unfortunately most teens are missing out on the good stuff.

I spent 5 years working in the fitness department at a busy community centre where I constantly had the parents of 12-17 year olds at loss for programs for their ‘non-sporty’ or ‘non-dancey’ youth.

Here’s why your teen needs to get moving and a few ideas and subtle ways for parents to encourage an active lifestyle.

Teens are sedentary

A staggeringly low number of teens meet the daily physical activity requirements. The Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP) suggests that young people 12-17 years old should accumulate at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity every day. Less than 7% of youth obtain this level. 62% of their waking hours are sedentary with teens surpassing 9 hours of inactivity per day.

Social reasons teens must get moving

New research shows a wealth of information supporting physical activity as a powerful intervention enhancing both health and positive psychosocial development in youth.  The research shows teens that are physically active:


  1. Earn higher grades and exhibit better academic behaviors than their inactive counterparts.
  2. Have higher self-esteem.
  3. Experience less anxiety and depression.
  4. Have better energy and attentiveness (which supports academic achievement)

Where do teens go if they don’t play a sport or dance?

Playing on a sports team, martial arts or participating in a dance group is the most common way youth are physically active outside of school based PE programs, but not all youth are sporty or enjoy dance.

Sadly physical activity programming for 12-17 year olds has been almost non-existent and even pro-active parents are at a loss for programs to enroll their teens. A review of community programs serving 12-17 year olds at municipal community centers reveals that unless they play sports, martial arts or dance this age group minimally served if at all.

The good news is that Teen fitness programs are now emerging at private and community centers everywhere. Teen boot camps, Teen Yoga and other Teen fitness classes, small group and private fitness training programs allow teens to be active on their terms, at their own pace and regardless of their athletic or dance ability.

Where programming is scarce, parents may have to request custom programming for their teens. Talk to the Fitness programmer at your local community centre or private gym to see if they can help you tailor a program for your teen.

Here are some of the custom programs we created to meet the needs of inactive teens who just were not made for team sports, martial arts or dance.

1. Fitness & Yoga for Girls (12-15)

A once weekly small  group workout lead by a personal trainer just for girls 12-15.

2. Moms & Daughters fitness class

A once weekly class lead by a personal trainer/nutritionist welcomes moms of teen and preteen daughters to enjoy a smart, safe, small group workout combined with healthy nutrition tips and discussion.

3. Fitstart for Teens

This one-one-one training and education program features 8 X 60 minute sessions with a specially trained personal trainer, who delivers a unique curriculum designed to empower inactive, non-sporty youth with all the tools they need to continue a fitness program on their own. (Learn more about FitStart)

4. Teen Fitness Kickboxing for girls

A small group fitness circuit just for teen girls that features entry-level kickboxing moves like punching and kicking heavy bags. Lead by a martial arts instructor/ Personal trainer.

5. Teen only circuit class

Held in the weight room, this drop-in class features 12 stations designed for the ‘new to fitness’ teen. Every week the circuit featured slightly different exercises taught by a personal trainer and is designed to make teens feel safe and supported in the weight room.

Subtle motivation

There are several small yet powerful ways that parents can aid their teen in enjoying the many benefits of moving more. Here are 5 subtle ways parents can support active lifestyles:

  1. Recognize that everyone has a unique ‘fitness personality’. One teen may be drawn to high energy team activities while the next may prefer the solitude of a run or weight training workout. Encourage exploration to find the right match and accept when an activity just doesn’t click with them.
  2. Involve your teen in ‘fueling’ for life.  Ensure they have snacks that maintain energy for physical activity and communicate about which foods they enjoy. Involve them in making grocery shopping lists.
  3. Little reminders that reinforce that daily activity is a part of everyday life, such as: “Did you pack your workout clothes today?” or “Do you have a snack for after your workout today”
  4. Provide non body-image related feedback about the immediate and observable results of being active. Examples “ you always have such great energy after your fitness class” or “You have such a healthy glow since you’ve been running regularly”
  5. Workout. Yes, parents who fit regular workouts into their own schedule set an excellent example for their children demonstrating that planning, preparing for and being active is just ‘what we do’.

A new approach to enabling and empowering teens to take charge of their fitness is still needed. Parents need to be the movers and shakers for their teens and especially in communities where programming is weak for non sporty kids.

Happy Training,




Risk factors for youth violence include poor social integration and low social capital (

Vancouver Jewish Federation 2013 Youth Survey

Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology Physical Activity Guidelines
Patterns and Correlates of Physical Activity and Nutrition Behaviors in Adolescents

CDC: Physical Activity Facts
The association between school-based physical activity, including physical education, and academic performance: a systematic review of the literature.

J Phys Act Health. 2010 Nov;7(6):776-83.
Division of Adolescent and School Health, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA.

Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2007 Dec;39(12):2248-57.
Physical activity and depressive symptoms in adolescents: a prospective study.

J Sport Exerc Psychol. 2007 Apr;29(2):239-52.

Author: Shari Zisk

Shari Zisk B.A., has been a fitness professional for over 20 years. She was born, raised and spent most of her fitness career in British Columbia, Canada. She now lives in the United States splitting time between Los Angeles and Atlanta. Shari writes full time about how to sweat, nourish and glow!

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