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Junior Athletic Conditioning

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports reports that 25% of U.S. Children spend 4 or more hours per day watching TV.1

The number of overweight children in this country has risen 50% in the last 10 years.2

This statistic can be directly related to the prevalence of obesity and inactivity within our younger population. Conversely, we are seeing a wave of youngsters who are motivated to play sports at a greater intensity and frequency than ever before. Tremendous amounts of stress are being placed upon adolescent athletes to get to the next level, to earn a scholarship or to improve their overall performance to win. There are also sociological demands placed upon kids to “look” a certain way. No longer can we sit back and watch kids as young as 6 years old performing their chosen sport at an extremely high level with no consideration being paid to the growth and maturation of their young developing body. We also cannot sit back and watch the future of our society outgrow us.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine has created a program for today’s adolescents to help fight the aforementioned problems. Junior Athletic Conditioning (JAC) was developed primarily as a training method to prevent injuries in adolescents who are currently active, and subsequently improve their performance. Second, the goal is to provide a fun and educational method for sedentary kids to get into better condition. By teaching children proper movement skills and exercise techniques, JAC is accomplishing all of its goals. JAC™ is getting kids excited about a new way to train their bodies safely, effectively, and most importantly, allowing them to have fun while doing so. NASM hopes that by getting children involved in a training and conditioning program at an early age each individual will learn and receive the benefits of a professionally designed, safe and progressive training program, while peaking a keen interest in physical activity for the rest of their adult life.

Youth training is quickly becoming the newest craze in the fitness and performance world. With “Performance Centers” popping up throughout the country and fitness clubs offering deals to local students it is easy to see a new profit center ready to erupt. High schools and club sports are beginning to implement strength and conditioning coaches. With all this being said what types of training programs are being implemented in these facilities or with specific teams? It is shocking to see some of the programs being implemented. Should a freshman football player be doing cleans during the first week of practice? Does a 6 year-old figure skater need core strength and flexibility to maintain optimal ranges of motion within her growing body? NASM has put together a program that will have a positive influence on children as they begin an exercise and training trend that will hopefully last their entire life.

The Junior Athletic Conditioning program was designed upon the premise of the Optimum Performance Training method, keeping in mind the NSCA’s position statement on Youth Resistance Training.3

A properly designed and supervised resistance-training program can:

NASM designed the JAC program within the variables of an Integrated Stabilization Training (IST) Phase. Utilizing the IST phase of training it gives trainers the best tools to prevent injury, condition, and improve overall total body performance within both the athletic and sedentary child. This is a movement, not skill, based program which encompasses the OPTä model (See Mike Clark’s article series titled Essentials of Integrated Training). With that being said it can be used for any sport and even the child who is not active. The program is systematic and progressive and with the proper training the JAC Coach can make the program easier or harder depending on the level of the kids in the class. It is designed to be run as a group based program for kids between the ages of 8 and 16. Each class lasts for 1 hour and is performed 2 times per week for 4 weeks. Each class can accommodate up to 10 students. It is recommended having 1 trained professional per 5 children for every JAC group.

The format for each Junior Athletic Conditioning class remains the same with the exception of sessions 1 and 8 which include a performance assessment and re-assessment. The JAC program follows the Integrated Stabilization Training phase with sessions progressing through increased intensity, volume, and exercise difficulty from session 1 through session 8. Each session is composed of a Dynamic Functional Warm-Up, Core Strength Training, Neuromuscular Stabilization Training, Reactive Neuromuscular Training, Speed and Agility, Integrated Strength Training, and Flexibility.

The Program

Integrated Stabilization Training is designed to create optimum levels of stabilization strength and postural control.4 Before developing strength and power, like most strength training programs, each child must first have a stable base to build upon. By improving neuromuscular efficiency, functional strength, core strength, dynamic reflex stabilization, and functional flexibility, the IST phase 4 of JAC gives the child a chance to develop their motor skills, improve joint stabilization and develop strength relative to their body weight.

1. Dynamic Functional Warm-up

Each session begins with a Dynamic Functional Warm-up lasting 10 minutes. The warm-up consists of functional stretches in which the force production of a muscle and the body’s momentum are used to take a joint through a full range of motion.4 This functional warm-up, which includes dynamic exercises and transitional exercises, is multiplanar and done at a variety of tempos with optimum neuromuscular control being enforced.

2. Core and Neuromuscular Stabilization Training

Following the warm-up the group will move into Core Stabilization Training (core) and Neuromuscular Stabilization Training (balance). Core exercises are selected using stabilization and strength exercise progressions that are designed to improve intrinsic stabilization of the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex. This helps to safely progress the youth to activities that are dynamic eccentric and concentric multiplanar exercises through a full range of motion.4 Balance exercises also follow the stabilization and strength paradigm, focusing on very little joint motion - designed to establish reflex joint stability and progress to dynamic concentric and eccentric activities through full functional ranges of motion.4

3. Reactive Neuromuscular Training

Reactive Neuromuscular Training is the next component with an incorporation of stabilization and strength exercises. These power exercises are designed to teach proper landing mechanics, postural alignment, and neuromuscular efficiency.4 Progressions make the power exercises more difficult by increasing intensity, range of motion and speeding up the tempo.

4. Speed and Agility

The Speed and Agility component, which is often the most fun for the participant, is designed to teach each child the proper concentric mechanics for a transitional activity. This also teaches the ability to eccentrically control deceleration, isometrically stabilize, and then change direction quickly and efficiently. The speed and agility drills focus on straight ahead speed, lateral speed and agility, and quickness. The drills occur at a variety of speeds and include multiplanar activities. To develop a child’s quickness, we focuses on utilizing speed ladder drills to enhance neuromuscular coordination and foot mechanics.

5. Integrated Strength Training

Resistance training can be accomplished with minimal risk of injury in pubescent and pubertal children and can in fact be used to minimize sports injuries when appropriate adult supervision is available.5 Junior Athletic Conditioning resistance training, the Integrated Strength Training component, utilizes safe, inexpensive, and convenient equipment to achieve great results. Exercise tubing and bodyweight are the only tools necessary to perform total body, progressive, systematic resistance training with this population. Optimal functional strength development requires a program that is multi-dimensional, multiplanar, proprioceptively enriched, activity specific, and progressive.4 The resistance training component of JAC addresses these rules by providing the upper and lower extremities with progressive exercises, performed in all three planes of motion, with a progressively changing base of support and many upper body variations.

6. Flexibility

Every session ends with what NASM deems the most underrated component of any strength and conditioning program, Flexibility. After having numerous kids go through the JAC program, very few athletes, if any, understand the importance of a proper flexibility program, nor do they know how to stretch properly. The purpose of flexibility is to correct muscle imbalances, increase joint range of motion, decrease muscle soreness, decrease muscle hypertonicity, relieve joint stress, improve the extensibility of the musculotendinous junction, and maintain normal functional length of all muscles.4 Flexibility should be included in a resistance training program5 and the JACä program includes 2 forms of the flexibility continuum. Self-myofascial release is taught to the children using bio-foam rollers to decrease muscle spindle hyperactivity and improve extensibility of the soft tissue.6 (See Alan Russell’s Self Myofascial Release Techniques article) Static stretching and the proper techniques associated with static stretches are also explained at the end of each session. The participants passively take a muscle to the point of tension and hold the stretch for 20 seconds.6

The Assessment

Within each Junior Athletic Conditioning program is a Performance Assessment. The performance assessment takes place on session 1 and a reassessment takes place on session 8. There are a variety of reasons for an assessment. First and foremost we want to make sure that our programs are safe and effective. The only way to do this is to have assessments and reassessments to validate a program’s goals. The best method in a group setting is to use performance assessments. Also, each assessment provides an objective number for the child to see how the JAC program has helped them improve in a variety of areas and to keep them interested in improving their performance. Finally, positive, objective results are a sure way to get a parent to want to continue to keep their child in a program that is also helping them to condition and reduce their risk of injury.

To save time and add validity to the assessments, Session 1 includes the Initial performance assessment and session 8 includes the reassessment. The assessment process is placed into the program template where it directly correlates to the Optimum Performance Training method. The children are assessed on their ability to perform a unilateral Shark Skill Test, Vertical Test (bilateral and unilateral), the LEFT test, a Box Step-Up test, and a Push-Up test to fatigue.7 The assessments are placed within Session 1 and Session 8 in the appropriate portion of the program in relation to power, strength, and speed and agility.

The Results

The average results of each 4 week JAC program as tested so far by NASM:

Overall Improvement
Overall % Improvement
Shark Skill Test The ability to start, stop, and change direction on one leg. (measured in seconds)
  • R: 2.46 sec
  • L: 2.86 sec
  • R: 27.61%
  • L: 24.89%
Vertical Test Measures explosive power off 2 legs and 1-leg. (measured in inches)
  • B: 1.25”
  • R: 1.16”
  • L: 1.0”
  • B: 9.08%
  • R: 10.45%
  • L: 12.16%
LEFT Test Measures speed, agility, and quickness. Looks at the ability to start, stop, and change direction during a variety of functional movements. (measured in seconds) 1.05 sec 4.95%
Push-Up Test Measures upper body strength as well as postural control and core strength. (measured in repetitions to fatigue) 8.37 reps 61.45%
Box Step-up Test Measures speed and strength of the upper body. (measured in repetitions performed in 10 seconds) 1.63 reps 78.29%

Because JAC is a movement based program founded on the OPT model, every child will get improved results relative to their abilities. Every child that has gone through the program thus far has shown great improvements in the areas of strength, power, balance, and flexibility. More importantly they all walk away with a greater knowledge of exercise/movement technique and the importance of utilizing Optimum Performance Training.

The National Academy of Sports Medicine’s Junior Athletic Conditioning program is not only successful because of the exercises it includes but more importantly because of the systematic, progressive, safe and fun approach it takes with children of a variety of ages and abilities. This can all be attributed to Optimum Performance Training method. The program is designed to get kids moving and to progress to an Optimum Performance Training program individually designed to meet each child’s needs and goals.

Junior Athletic Conditioning is the beginning of getting inactive kids moving and young athletes to perform better, while promoting exercise technique, program parameters, and injury prevention. By participating in a JAC program, children learn that there is a fun and effective way to get in shape or progress to a higher level. By implementing a JAC program, health clubs, performance centers, and strength and conditioning coaches can quickly form a new profit center and give young people a place to begin a healthy, active life.

For more information on getting involved with the NASM Junior Athletic Conditioning program contact the National Academy of Sports Medicine.


  1. President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports: Citation: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Fact Sheet; Physical Activity and Health.
  2. Boyles S: Supersized Kids, Diminishing Health. JAMA. 286: 2845-2848, 2001.
  3. Faigenbaum AD, Kraemer WJ, Cahill B: Youth Resistance Training: Position Statement Paper and Literature Review. Journal of Strength and Conditioning 18(12):62-67, 1996
  4. Clark MA: Integrated Training for the New Millennium. National Academy of Sports Medicine (Publishers). Thousand Oaks, CA, 2001.
  5. Roitman JL: ACSM’s Resource Manual for Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, 4th ed. American College of Sports Medicine. Baltimore, MD 2001
  6. Clark MA: Integrated Flexibility Training. National Academy of Sports Medicine (Publishers). Thousand Oaks, CA 2000.
  7. Clark MA, Russell AM: Optimum Performance Training for the Performance Enhancement Specialist Course Manual. National Academy of Sports Medicine (Publishers). Thousand Oaks, CA 2002.