I was recently on a hike with a friend and she asked why are people always saying the kids in her class need more core strength. To her, they seemed to be plenty strong, and then she listed all the activities they could do. When I asked what they had trouble with that led people to make this comment she said that they liked to lean on things and had trouble with fine motor skills.
So we started to talk about core stability. Now, I realize that you need strength to have stability. But sometimes it is how the strength is being used. So I explained that for the tasks she was describing, the kids needed to be able to keep their core muscles at a certain level of activity so that they could move their arms, legs, and/or head without their whole trunk losing it’s upright posture. This means that by keeping the muscles active, they are able to create a foundation for the rest of their body to move off of.
Back to her original point that they have strength in their core. This is not always the case, but for the kids that have strength but still seem to struggle with stability, here is a potential reason why. They are able to turn their muscles on to do an activity. For example they can do a sit up or they can do a superman pose (straight arms, straight legs, and head/chest lifted off the floor). These activities are asking their muscles to get shorter and to do one activity (i.e. do a sit up). When the muscles work to create stability they all have to work together. This tends to be more of an isometric action where they all hold the same length so that the trunk stays stable. (Have you ever played the game – punch me in the stomach as hard as you can – and you brace yourself so that you are squeezing all your muscles at the same time? This is what I am talking about).
Once a child can hold their core stable to do an activity such as a plank or just sitting up tall for a certain amount of time you then want to expand on that. Because we don’t go through life standing or sitting as stiff as a board. We need to be able to keep just the trunk/core area ‘stiff’ while we move and do things. And yes this requires coordination amongst all the muscle groups so it doesn’t mean go get crazy. Start small. If they can sit up tall without struggle, maybe have them then lift their hand up to give you a high five, or lift their foot to kick a ball. If they can still hold everything stable then you can add more complex, or larger, or faster activities for the arms and legs that challenge them. Another way to challenge them is to add a dynamic surface such as a pillow to stand on, or a ball to sit on. Start from the beginning again and make the arm and leg movements more complex.
There are move places to go from here but this was just a start to look at the difference between having strength in your core and being able to maintain stability in your core.
After I explained this, my friend asked about why activities took longer or the kids were more tired when they didn’t have a stable core. I used an analogy based off of another conversation we were having. She had started wearing glasses because her eyes got tired if she didn’t wear them but she didn’t like to wear them because she felt like when she wasn’t wearing them her eye sight was getting worse. Now I’m not an ophthalmologist but my thoughts were that the glasses were making her eyes not have to work as hard and strain as much so when she took away that support it was harder for them and they needed to start working hard again. By keeping a stable trunk/core her kids don’t have to work as hard (just like when she is wearing her glasses) but take that away and they are having to work extra hard which is more fatiguing. Think about if your trunk/core was like a piece of cooked pasta – could you imagine how hard it would be to use your arms and legs efficiently?