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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