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Why OTs Focus on Core Strength: Six Easy Exercises You Can Try at Home

By Dr. Amy Wheadon, OTD, OTR/L KidSHINE LLC Owner and Pediatric OT

Why do OTs target core strength in treatment sessions?

This is a great question that often comes up when I am talking to parents, educators and physicians about our KidSHINE programs and our philosophy at KidSHINE. Many people assume that occupational therapists only focus on fine motor skills, but there is so much more that OTs, ESPECIALLY PEDIATRIC OTs are targeting, and it all starts with building a strong foundation. This is one of the reasons that we focus so heavily on core strength at KidSHINE.

Think about it like this- if you are building a house, you need to make sure the foundation is solid before you add the first, second, third floor and roof. If you focus on enhancing your third floor and roof before ensuring that the foundation is strong, the other floors of the house will be on shaky ground.

Many Pediatric OTs approach development and skill acquisition from this same perspective. Before you can ask a child to learn and write, there are two major foundational skills that need to be developed first: the ability to sit (core co-contraction) and the ability to focus (sensory processing skills). Today’s blog post is all about core strength and our next blog post will focus on sensory processing.

“Proximal stability facilitates distal mobility”

“Proximal stability facilitates distal mobility” was a phrase that became a mantra for me when I was attending my OT graduate program 22 years ago- this is not a new concept. What this means is “a strong, stable core will improve fine motor skills, including grasp, dexterity and written output”. Try it out! Sit upright and write your name on a piece of paper (Strong Core). Then lean forward and put your weight on your forearms while you are writing (Weak Core). Compare the two approaches. Does your handwriting look different? Is one way easier than another?

How do we build a strong core?

At KidSHINE, we focus on core co-contraction, which means evenly building abdominal muscles and back extensor muscles so the two muscle groups can contract against each other and stabilize the child’s core.

Here are some activities that build abdominal and back muscles. When done in combination, these exercises can facilitate core co-contraction.

Prone Extension (Superman)

Lay on your belly. Extend your arms straight in front of you and your legs straight behind you. Lift arms and legs off the ground with knees and elbows straight. Hold for 10 seconds, rest and repeat

Sit Ups

Myth Debunked! Sit ups are different than crunches! Lay on your back with knees bent and arms across your chest. Sit up fully into a seated position and then slowly, with control lay back down onto your back

Combine the Two: Fly, ROLL, Sit Up and ROLL AGAIN!

This is a FUN Rolling Game! Lay next to a partner- one person is on his/ her belly and the other person on his/ her back. The person on their belly holds superman for 10 seconds. The person on their back completes 3 sit ups. Then both people roll so they switch roles. Keep going until you and your partner have rolled across the room. BONUS- Rolling is AWESOME vestibular input!

Table Pose

Sit on the floor with knees bent. Shake arms in the air and then place behind you on the floor. Engage your core and back muscles. Push belly to the sky and you are in a table pose!

Mountain Pose

Start on hands and knees. Tuck your toes under and straighten your legs. Plant your hands firmly on the floor. Engage your core and shoulder muscles.

Combine the Two: Under the Table and Mountain

One partner chooses table or mountain and assumes that position. The other partner slides UNDER the first person on their belly and then assumes one of those two positions so the partner can slide. BONUS- Sliding is AWESOME proprioceptive input!

Wall Walks- Biggest Bang for Your Buck!

Plant your hands firmly on the ground. Walk your feet up a wall to hold a supported handstand position. Count to 10. Rest and repeat. This exercise targets core, back extensors, and shoulder stability as well as providing both proprioceptive AND vestibular input. No wonder its one of our FAVORITE EXERCISES at KidSHINE!

Try these exercises out consistently for 2 weeks and you will notice a difference in your child’s (and maybe even your own!) core strength. Additionally, see if you notice a difference in your child’s grasp and hand dexterity (and possibly their focus too). I also created short videos on instagram @kidshineot on our feed in February so you can see these exercises in action! I guarantee your kiddos will build strength, skills, and confidence while having fun too!

Stay strong and shine on!

Dr. Amy Wheadon, OTD, OTR/L

Pediatric OT

Owner of KidSHINE LLC

Co-Founder of Kings Day Out LLC


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