We have all been inundated with the different types of exercises and classes and gimics for us as adults to maintain our core strength (i.e. abdominals and backs) so that in our ever advancing age, we can protect our backs! Well having strong core muscles is essential for our children also. By core muscles I mean their abdominals, back extensors, the muscles that stabilize their shoulder blades, and their hip muscles. The key is for all of these muscles to work in harmony with each other. It is our core muscles that allow us to have good posture in both sitting and standing, as well as that help us maintain our balance and give us the ability to use our arms and legs in a more precise and coordinated manner. In fact in terms of development our children should begin developing their strength from their core and then progressing out to their extremities (arms and legs).
I have noticed more and more children who have a weak set of core muscles. This can present in a few ways. The child may have poor endurance and is unable to keep their core muscles turned on unless continuously stimulated. These are the kids that you see who look like they are ‘melting’ when they are sitting still. They slump forward and have to lift their head to see what is right in front of them. This is the beginnings the forward head and rounded shoulder posture that so many adults have from sitting in front of a computer screen! Some kids may not have the strength to do a sit up. Often times when they are lying on the floor they will need to roll onto their stomach to get into a sitting position because they don’t have the strength to come up into sitting from their back. Another aspect of weak core muscles may be the inability to coordinate the muscles together. Your child may be able to activate their abdominals to bend forward, or their back muscles to straighten their back but they aren’t able to coordinate the timing between the two of them to correct for sudden changes in movement effectively. This affects their balance reactions and their ability to perform higher level gross motor skills.
Often when I am working with a child on a ball to develop their core muscles, a parent will ask why we are still working on that since they seem to be doing well with it. Or they’ll say that their child’s abdominals seem to be really strong so they shouldn’t have to work on them anymore. I usually tell them that as adults we are supposed to be doing abdominal and core work daily (Pilates is one type of exercise that focuses on core strength development) to maintain our strength, so it makes sense that it would be just as important for a child, especially one who is growing and changing at a rapid rate. In addition, it is important to be working on all of the factors that I mentioned above, not just the strength of one muscle group in isolation.
Think of core muscles as being the foundation for your body (similar to the foundation of a house). When the core muscles are strong and well coordinated it is easy to build and develop skills, just like when the foundatino of the house is strong and sturdy the house will develop according to plan!