Core Strengthening

What is “The Core”

The core is a complex series of muscles, extending far beyond your abdominals, including everything, besides your arms and legs. The core is needed for almost every movement of the body. Your core is the foundation that the rest of your movement occurs from. When children work on their core muscles, they are not trying to develop “abs” (the outer abdominals). Core strength is critically important for everyday functional tasks, participation in gross motor and fine motor tasks, learning and playing. It is becoming more common for Occupational Therapists to recommend to parents that their child needs to improve their core strength and endurance (fitness) to assist with the demands of their school -based learning tasks.

When we recommend core muscles need to be strengthened, we are specifically referring to need greater endurance, to fatigue less, to cooperate with other muscles around them and to react what’s happening instantly to maintain upright position and balance

A child with a weak core may:

  • Slump in a chair
  • Difficulty moving from sitting to standing; lying to sitting
  • Difficulty sitting cross-legged on the floor
  • “W” sitting on the floor
  • Frequently changing posture/fidgety
  • Difficulty lifting head and arms off the ground when lying on their stomach or back
  • Prop their head up with one hand (helper hand) whilst handwriting
  • Position their helper hand/arm on the desk and lean against/ on it.
  • Difficulty manipulating small objects
  • Handwriting with control and accuracy
  • Using scissors to cut accurately
  • Struggle to keep their body stable and upright during balance activities
  • Difficulty putting on shoes and socks due to poor stabilisation of the trunk while sitting on the floor.
  • Back or neck pain
  • Frequently complain of feeling tired or stop/ refuse to perform an age appropriate physical task stating, “it’s too hard”.
  • Difficulty sitting at a desk as long as their peers.
  • Adopt unusual postures whilst seated on a desk chair.

Increasing general body strength and core strength in children is best done through fun, unstructured play and everyday activities involving the whole body. This is a developmentally appropriate way of strengthening these all-important muscles. For example; climbing, lifting, rolling, pushing, pulling, swinging, carrying.

Organised sports are of course are beneficial for all children’s physical and emotional development, but in fact do not always directly target core strength. As a result, a child who participates in regular sport may still have weak core muscles. If outdoor natural play is not always an option, there are many other ways of strengthening the core muscles.

Exercises and activities to strengthen the core:

Wheelbarrow walking
Downward dog
Commando crawling
Inchworm walks
Donkey kicks
Crab walk
Frog jump
Bear walk
Climbing up a slide, climbing a tree, or climbing stairs on hands and knees
Rolling on flat surface or down a hill
Monkey bars, climbing nets, rock climbing
Pushing and pulling weighty chairs, laundry baskets, shopping, rubbish
Tug of war
Hula hoop
Working or playing on all fours
Playing, colouring in, reading lying on tummy with arms propping you up
Activities in high kneel position (catching a ball, swiping bubbles)
Opposite elbow to knee lift repeat 15 times.
Windmills- touch left toe with right hand / right toe with left hand
Plank position
Boat pose
One legged tree pose
Cat stretch
Bridge pose
Jumping, hopping, balancing
Bike riding
Squatting for objects or wall squats

A Fit Ball (Therapy Ball) is a great way of strengthening core and children love using one. They can work their core without knowing and have fun at the same time. They can also sit on a ball watching TV, whilst doing their homework, reading a book etc. Fit balls are an excellent way to meet a child’s sensory needs.

There are plenty of other ideas on the internet.

Fit Ball tasks to strengthen core (ensure the ball is the right size for a child)

  • Seated ball balance-
    Sit on ball with back straight and looking ahead. Lift one leg off ground at a time and maintain balance. Lift other and repeat.
  • Seated jumps up and down on ball.
    To add difficulty, rotate body around the ball and jump “north, south, east, west”.
  • Kick Pass
    Sit on floor, leaning back onto hands, and kick ball with two feet to another person or a wall. Repeat 20 times.
  • Opposite arm and leg
    Lie over ball, balance and straighten opposite arm and leg. Return to start position and change arm/ leg.
  • Walk outs
    Lie over ball on tummy and walk forward till hands are both on the ground and you can’t walk any further (feet need to remain on ball), balance, then “walk back in” to starting position.
  • Two -man Soccer
    Two people stand on either side of ball facing each other. Carefully raise right foot and place on ball. Partner do the same. Work together to move the ball forward, backwards and side to side. Switch feet and repeat.
  • Spin ball
    Lie over ball on tummy. Gently push off the floor with your feet until your hands touch the floor. Elbows are straight and hands are open with palms flat on the floor. Walk your hands along the floor to turn yourself in a circle. Works best on a non-carpeted hard surface.
  • Rock and Roll
    Lie over ball on tummy. Place your hands on the floor a little wider apart than the ball. Lean to your left side and catch your weight on your left hand. Your right hand and foot should be off the floor. Now try with your right side. Lean to your right side and catch your weight on your right hand. Your left hand and foot should be off the floor.
  • Back Foot Pass
    Sit on therapy ball. Adult stands behind and rolls the ball to left side. Kick the ball back to the adult by kicking backwards with left foot. Start with a large lightweight ball and move to a heavier and/or smaller ball as the child progresses. Switch sides after five repetitions on each side.
  • Foot Pass
    Sit on the floor with a therapy ball between your legs. Pick up the ball with your feet and legs and pass it to the child on your left. Child uses their feet and legs to repeat the action and pass the ball to the child on their left. Modify depending on number of children.
  • Tug
    Light on your tummy on ball. Adult to hold your hands and pull you forward on the ball so your legs are off the ground. Keep your legs out straight behind you; don’t bend your knees. Keep your arms straight and push against the adults hands.
  • Bowling (10 pin or similar)
    Lie on your tummy on a football. Roll forward onto your hands; your feet should be off the ground. One hand picks up the ball and rolls it at the pins. The other hand is maintaining the balance.
  • Beanbag toss.
    Place eight beanbags on the floor around the ball. Suspend a hoop or a target to throw to, in front of the ball. Lie on your tummy on ball. Adult holds your feet and helps you move forward onto your hands. Pick up a bean bag. Throw the beanbag through the hoop or into target.
  • Sticky legs
    Put six stickers on your child’s right knee. Sit on ball. Raise right knee and peel off one sticker. Place your foot back on the ground. Raise your left knee and place the stick on your left knee. Continue until you have moved all of the stickers from right knee to your left knee.
  • Rebound
    Sit on ball. Hold a table tennis bat or cardboard tube or similar in both hands. Second person tosses a balloon or similar to child on ball. Hit the balloon with the cardboard tube. Remember to hold tube or bat with two hands.
  • Balloon Volleyball
    Sit on ball. Hold a balloon or light weight ball in your hands. Throw the balloon up in the air and hit it with both of your hands to your partner.