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5 Core Exercises for Kids to Improve Strength & Stability

May 16th, 2020 | by Larissa Perry, PT, DPT

Larissa Perry, PT, DPT

May 16th, 2020

Pediatric Core Strengthening Exercises

The six-pack…the holy grail for many of us adults! Now I’m not looking for our kids to have a so-called “six-pack”, but research and professional observation have shown me that increasing our kids trunk and core stability can be helpful for so many areas of gross motor development. Many parents and caretakers wonder how to strengthen child’s core muscles. In this blog, NAPA pediatric physical therapist shares core exercises for kids and also touches on pediatric trunk support. These core exercises for kids are beneficial for children with cerebral palsy among other diagnoses.

Whether our kids are working on sitting, crawling, standing, walking, or jumping, a strong and stable core is vital to complete these tasks. 

5 Core Exercises for Kids by NAPA Physical Therapists

1. Supine (lying on back) to sitting  – a functional activity that’s so good for strengthening! 

  • Easy: Child lying with upper body on wedge or pillows to increase head and trunk height. Assist child to come up to sitting by:  
    1. Put both hands on trunk – under armpits, thumb towards you  
    2. Help child roll to partial sidelying (approximately half way between facing upwards and lying on side) 
    3. Help child come up to sitting facing you by providing small lift at trunk. Wait for child to tuck head to assist with transition prior to bringing all the way to sitting. 

  • Medium: Child is lying flat on floor. Parents provide same handling as before.  
  • Hard: Child is lying on floor. Parents place hands at low trunk or upper thighs and provide stability and minimal assistance during transition to sit. Child can utilize 1 hand on floor to help, if needed.  

  • BONUS Video: NAPA PT shares how to incorporate supine to sit transitions during diaper changes

2. Sitting balance reactions on therapy ball or dynamic surface

A great way to work on core strengthening and righting reactions, both needed for safety with all gross motor activities. If no therapy ball or dynamic surface is available, exercise can be completed sitting on parent’s legs. 

  • Easy: Child sits on dynamic surface or ball with parent supporting at mid trunk.  Parent provides small and slow movements to each side and forward and back, waiting for child to engage trunk and bring self back up to sitting. 
  • Harder: Hold child lower on trunk or at pelvis. Complete a quick or unexpected movement to each direction, again waiting for child to bring self back up to sitting prior to completing next repetition. 

3. Crawling

Not only is crawling a great exercise for core strengthening, but it also helps with strengthening shoulder stabilizers which in turn assists with improving ability to complete fine motor activities.  Your OT’s will love this! 

  • Easy: Crawl across flat surface. 
  • Medium: Crawl across soft and squishy surface such as couch cushions.  
  • Hard: Construct obstacle course, crawling over and under couch cushions, up and down ramps, up and down stairs (with parent supervision of course). 
Bonus round: Add a tunnel, your child will love it!

(Thrifty shopper alert…compactible tunnels can be found for very reasonable prices online!)


4. Tall kneeling

Tall kneeling is such a great way to engage trunk stabilizers, especially when tightness in the legs or feet get in the way of standing. It’s also a great way to work on balance reactions in a modified upright position. 

  • Easy: Play in tall kneeling at a surface. Parent can assist if needed by providing support at pelvis/bottom and at high anterior trunk (breastbone area), helping hips and trunk to extend to neutral 
    • Medium: Play in tall kneeling without arms on a surface. Child may need assistance at low trunk or pelvis to maintain position and balance. Child can transition from heel sitting to tall kneeling to grab a toy and return to heel sitting to place on ground. 
  • Hard: Tall kneeling independently with parent providing stand by assistance. You can make it even more fun by incorporating catch and throw with parent to not only work on balance reactions, but also work on hand-eye coordination for ball skills! 

5. Other Ideas 

  • Lying on back with a cross-body reach towards foot- Place a toy on child’s shoe or lower leg and encourage them to reach across their body with hand to grab item from leg/foot. 

  • Sitting on pillow and reach for toy at 45 degrees behind them- complete on a padded surface, parent assisting by holding legs to ensure safety.  Child rotates trunk to reach for item behind them and returns to sit.   

  • Tall kneel walking: Encourage your child to push a cart, a weighted laundry basket, or other moveable surface while on their knees. Not only is this a great activity for core strengthening, but it also works on weight shifting, pediatric trunk support and strengthening, and coordination for walking. 

Additional Resources:

About the Author 

Larissa Perry, PT, DPT, grew up in the Pacific Northwest but moved to Southern California to complete her Doctor of Physical Therapy Degree from Loma Linda University. She has been a Physical Therapist for almost 8 years but has specialized in Pediatrics for the last 5 years. Larissa loves working within the pediatric population as she can incorporate play and silly songs into her sessions to make therapy fun. 

About NAPA Center

At NAPA Center, we take an individualized approach to therapy because we understand that each child is unique with very specific needs. We embrace differences with an understanding that individualized programs work better. For this reason, no two therapeutic programs are alike. If your child needs our services, we will work closely with you to select the best therapies for them, creating a customized program specific to your child’s needs and your family’s goals. Let your child’s journey begin today by contacting us to learn more.

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