I tend to be guilty of thinking of abs and core as being synonymous. So I often have to remind myself that there is a lot more to the core than just those abdominal muscles that I’m personally awful about exercising (I definitely hate doing ab work).
So what is the core if its not just abs?
Your core pretty much encompasses from your neck to your hips. This means it includes front, back and sides of your mid section. It includes your shoulder and shoulder blade muscles. It includes your gluts and other hip muscles. Basically your core is the foundation that the rest of your movement occurs off of. Think of it as the cornerstone of your body.
When kids work on their core aren’t trying to develop a six pack but rather improve the endurance and coordination of the muscles that fall within the core. You don’t just want your child’s core to turn on when they want to do a sit up or a side bend, you want them to turn on so that your child can sit up straight throughout the day while they try to learn in school. You want their core to work while they are trying to play or to eat. If their core is strong they have better use of their hands and arms for fine motor skills and better use of their feet and legs for gross motor skills.
So, when working on core muscles, its not just about overall strength, its about their ability to stay turned on for long periods of time (endurance) or their ability to cooperate with the other muscles around them (coordination) as well as their ability to react to what is happening in a split second (help maintain balance/upright position).
Working on the individual muscle strength is important so don’t get rid of those sit ups or trunk extensions but its important to make sure you are working the core as a whole.
How you may ask? Well here are some ideas:
- Using a ball or core work is fun for the child and can work on the muscles activating together and reacting quickly, as well as keeping them turned on for longer periods of time to build their endurance. There are a lot of resources out there for ball work ideas and here are two, ‘Having a Ball with Core Muscles Strength‘, and ‘Therapy Ball Exercise Ideas‘
- Having kids perform a plank and some variations are great ideas also – you can have them turn on their right or left side for a plank or face down.
- Animal walking is a great way to develop dynamic cores strength as well as make it fun and work on kids imaginations!
- Wheelbarrow walking
- Climbing is a great way to also work on core muscles strength. Anything from a climbing wall to a ladder to a climbing net to crawling up and stairs. The more dynamic the surface (such as a net) the more challenge your core will get. It also involves the hips and shoulders. If your child needs lots of help then start with something really stable like crawling up stairs (also a great way to develop hip and glut strength).
- The sit-n-spin is also a fun way to work on the trunk while having fun!
- Here are some other fun suggestions for core exercises
I also mentioned that your core involves shoulders and hips. This is important to remember because if your child doesn’t have muscles that can stabilize their shoulder blade it makes using their arms a lot harder. Can you imagine trying to form your letters correctly when handwriting if your shoulder area wasn’t strong? Any of the exercises that are listed above that involve weight bearing through the hands and arms will work on shoulder girdle stability such as: wheelbarrow walking, crawling, bear walking, push ups, and plank. In addition here are some other gross motor ideas that can strengthen the core and have a direct effect on handwriting and fine motor skills. Another idea is to have the kiddo use some thera-band and try to pull you up by pulling on the thera-band and pulling their arms back. They think its hysterical that you are ‘stuck’ and need help!
Lastly, a lot of times when I am working on posture with a kiddo or having them sit on a ball they tend to slouch from their shoulders all the way to their hips. There can be a few reasons for this such as weakness or tight hamstrings but the reason I want to look at is challenges with coordinating the trunk muscles so that they can tilt their pelvis forward and get that nice straight posture that helps with learning and attention. If you spend just a little bit of time working on this with kids they start to pick it up pretty quickly. If it gets overlooked, it can contribute to tight hamstrings and ongoing poor posture that is harder to correct as they get older.
What I generally do to teach coordination of the trunk muscles for an anterior pelvic tilt is I work on reaching with the kiddo. The easiest is to have the child sitting on a firm surface (or even a slightly downhill surface) on the floor or a chair. If you have two people its even easier. Find things they want to reach for whether its toys or an ipad app and hold it in front and above them. If you stabilize their hips while they are reaching (with both hands) and give them some cues at their low back they will start to tilt their pelvis forward while reaching. Its important for them to reach using both hands in the beginning while they are working on getting the coordination of their flexors and extensors so that they stay symmetrical. Also watch for if they keep their chin tucked or if they really extend their head and neck to try to stabilize. I usually remind them to put their chin down and use their eyes to look up. Once they get the coordination down you can start to challenge them by having them reach off to one side or add a dynamic surface such as a therapy ball, disc or peanut.
What are other ideas you use for core muscle control and upright posture?