Have you ever been told that you or your child has a “weak core”? As there is no muscle in the body with that specific name, do you ever wonder what the phrase really means? The central part of your body is the core meaning that when your kiddo’s core is weak it could be related to any of the group of muscles that support your center. These muscle groups are found around your hips and pelvis, throughout your back, along your stomach, and in your upper chest. These muscles are primarily responsible for the posture and alignment of your body. Developing a strong and cohesive core group of muscles is essential for all movement as kiddos continue to grow and progress.

Think of the core muscles as the roots of a tree. With a strong root system stabilizing the tree into the ground, it can grow tall and withstand seasons and weather that might otherwise knock it over. When any one or multiple of these muscle groups are weak, the body is not able to hold itself securely in position (posture and alignment); thus, a child’s balance, coordination, stability, and motor control can all be negatively affected. If a child can’t hold their center stable it becomes much harder for them to hold their head up while they are on their tummy, or sit by themselves and play with toys without falling over. A weak core can also cause difficulty eating, speaking, or potty training. This central group of muscles is essential for the control and efficiency of all movement.

Just like motor development happens in stages as kiddos grow from newborns into toddlers; the development of the muscles of the core also happens in stages. Below we have included some play and positioning ideas for your kiddo that encourages strengthening of these essential muscles as they grow.

0-4 months:

  • Tummy time is very important for strengthening the extensor muscles of the back and hips while also providing opportunities to stretch the tight muscles of the hips and trunk on the front of a kiddo’s body in order to prepare them for strengthening at the length needed for continued development. If your child hates tummy time and/or is having a difficult time picking their head up while flat on their belly:
    • Prop them up slightly on your chest while facing you. The more reclined you are the harder this will be and the closer you will get to simulating tummy time on the floor.
    • Use your legs, a pillow, or a rolled up towel to create an incline while still allowing them to strengthening the muscles of their back and stretch the muscles in front.
    • Try putting a mirror propped in front of their face or placing black and white pictures (high contrast images) up in front of them to encourage them to pick up their head and arch their back to look.
  • As your baby starts to develop more head control and strength you should try holding them facing outwards. This will allow them to lean a little forward or to the left and right when they are looking around, encouraging strengthening of their abdominals and postural muscles of their back to hold their chest upright.

5-8 months:

  • Help them grab their feet while laying on their back. Tummy time is all about strengthening the extensor/postural muscles of the back but kiddos also have to strengthening the now stretched-out muscles on the front of their body. Encouraging your kiddo to reach for their knees and toes while on their back strengthens their abdominals, hip flexors, and pectoral muscles of their upper chest. To encourage this play you can dangle toys off their feet to encourage them to grab their feet/toes. You can also bring their feet up in front of them and kiss and tickle their feet so they are more likely to engage their muscles and be interested in playing with either feet.
    • If your kiddo has trouble with this, roll up a small kitchen/bathroom towel and place it under their pelvis/hips while on their back and help them lift their legs.
  • Encourage reaching up during tummy time. Now that your baby is good at holding their head up while on their tummy, try to put toys higher up. You can hang them from an over-turned laundry basket, put suction toys up on a mirror in front of them, hang toys a little higher up on their crib, or place them up on a pillow in front or to the side of your child. Putting toys higher up will encourage your child to push up higher on their arms and shift their weight side to side while they each for a toy. This will help strengthen their obliques, the glutes on either side of their body, and their lats and shoulder muscles while trying to gain stability and control.
  • Play in kneeling with hands and toys on an elevated surface. This could be a diaper box, couch, or something similar. Playing like this will help strengthening the muscles around your child’s hips and abdominals while also allowing them to spend more time on their knees to help encourage crawling!

9-12 months:

  • Walking on their knees while pushing a laundry basket/diaper box/ottoman helps strengthen all muscles of the core. If the child can hold their chest off the surface of the box/toy by pushing with their arms it will also improving balance for walking.
  • Crawling over objects. If your kiddo is crawling all over the place, try to put small pillows, your leg, or a rolled up towel etc.. in their way. For your child to crawl over the object they have to hold their chest up off the surface and switch their balance between either leg and hand while engaging their abdominals, hip musculature, and upper chest muscles.

If you have been told your kiddo has a weak core, you are concerned about your kiddo meeting their milestones, or if you have any other questions about how to support your kiddo’s growth and development reach out for an evaluation. Our therapists at Kid Physical have over 34 combined years experience offering specialized, holistic healthcare for children of all ages. Our top priority is providing support for both caregivers and children so that they can reach their highest potential.

Written by Meghan Patton PT, DPT