What is a safe, beginning core exercise to do with kids?

Diana K. Blythe, MD
Core exercises are great idea for kids. A simple way to exercise the core starts by laying on the abdomen, or belly. Do it with your kids and have everyone keep the arms outstretched in front and the legs outstretched behind. Try lifting the arms and legs from the ground at the same time and holding that position for 10-20 seconds. Start with just a few repetitions and then increase. It is very easy exercise to start with and kids will feel success from the beginning. 

Core exercises for kids should be simple, progressive, and fun. A favorite core exercise that can be easily implemented is the plank. It is a simple exercise for kids to learn, you can add variations and progressions over time, and you can use time as a measure of improvement to give kids a performance goal. Start with a couple of sets -holding each for 30 seconds. Progress the exercise from there by adding more time or more difficult positions.

One of my favorite core exercises to do with children is the plank. As a gymnastics coach I even had my little three year olds doing this exercise! The plank is performed on the forearms and toes with the body making a straight line from the head to the heels. Elbows should be directly underneath the shoulders. Have the children start just holding this position for 10 seconds. As they develop strength, work toward increasing the length of time to one minute.

Advanced variations of the plank can include lifting one leg a few inches of the floor, lifting an arm up and extended off the floor, and also combining the two movements by lifting the opposite arm and leg off the floor and holding the position.

The plank is a very safe and fun core exercise to use, and challenge children with.
Planks are a safe, effective option. I suggest making it a competition of sorts to keep it interesting. For instance, during a commercial break from favorite cartoons, I will hit the ground with my boys, Price (10) and Parker (4) and have a plank challenge. Don't be surprised if the kid's can hold it longer than you after a few sessions. Make sure to emphasize form and participate in the drill.
Lead by example and everyone benefits.

David Hogarth
Physical Therapy

Great question! It’s never too young to work the core. Many good core exercises for adults are based upon developmental postures and movements which kids typically automatically spend time in. Recognizing these movements and creating games and challenges to utilize them allows for integration of nervous system development as well as local strengthening to the “core”.

For instance, movement in a “bear walk” is a developmental progression from crawling. We exercise adults in quadruped (all fours like crawling); kids do well with walking on hands and feet (just pick up your knees from an all fours position). Set up a course around the yard or living room and see who is the fastest “bear walker”. Weight bearing on the arms encourages development of scapular control, and the reciprocal pattern of the walking movement is great to activate the diagonal muscle systems of the front and back of the core.

Also, kids love to hang on things, their innate body weight to strength ratio is quite impressive when compared to a typical adult. When supervised appropriately, one can sometimes trick them into doing core strength on the monkey bars or rings at the playground. Challenge them to see how long they can hang with their knees tucked up towards their chest (as if they were sitting in a chair). This posture mimics the most initial stage of core stabilization we ever achieve as humans, the typical position of a 3-4 month old infant lying on his back playing with his toes. At this time, the infant has activated a perfect breathing and core stabilization pattern. This great early core exercise then utilizes the same muscle pattern against gravity when hanging from a bar or rings. For kids as young as two, set up a low set of rings (Ikea sells a safe but inexpensive set) over a soft surface and count how long they can hold a tuck hang.

Keep your kid’s core strong from the start and, hopefully, you can ward off some of the weakness we all develop as we are overtaken by our chair dwelling society. The Dynamic Neuromuscular Stabilization (DNS) program at provides a much deeper look into developmental postures and exercise.

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