Core Strength & Core Stability

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Why core strength and core stability are important for kids

Core strength and core stability are complex concepts, and different professionals, such as biomechanists, chiropractors and physiotherapists, may all define them slightly differently. I hope you find this page of information clear and helpful!


What is Core Stability?

Every time we move our arms and legs, force is being applied to our spine. It has been said that if we were to remove all the muscles from around the spine, so it was simply made up of the ligaments and bones (vertebrae), it would only be able to withstand about 2 Newtons of force being applied (2kg in layman terms)!

However, everyday activities such as walking and picking up toys from the floor apply much more force than that. The reason our spine does not fall apart during everyday life is because of core stability.

child walking and balancing bean bag on his head

Core stability prevents the spine from buckling under the immense pressure that our arms and legs put on it, and helps us to keep our balance during movement. It plays an important role in nearly every gross motor activity.

Our core is constantly adapting to our posture, adapting to the forces and pressure we put on our spine, and provides us with a stable base for movement of our arms and legs.

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The Relationship Between Core Stability and Core Strength

Core stability refers to the stability of the spine, which enables it to stay intact during the forces exerted on it by everyday movement. Core stability does not refer to the stability of the muscles themselves.

The core muscles are the muscles around the spine which help to stabilise and protect the spine and help provide a solid base from which movement can take place.

  • neck muscles keep the head stable and upright
  • back muscles keep the spine erect and stable
  • abdominal muscles stabilise the lower back and pelvis
  • in addition, the pelvic floor muscles and diaphragm are also considered to be part of the core

Core strength is the ability of the muscles around the spine to contract together and thus stabilise and protect the spine.

Having strong core muscles can help protect your spine from damage and pain, and also enable you to use your arms and legs more powerfully and effectively.

a child doing a core bridging activity

Imagine trying to paint a wall while dangling from a rope or working on a wobbly stepladder. The paint will go everywhere and it will be really hard to get the paint to land on the right spot.

Just as you need your stepladder to be your stable base in order to paint effectively, your body needs core strength to provide core stability in order to carry out your daily tasks with minimum effort and no strain on your body.

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The Core Muscles

The core muscles can be divided into two groups: 

  • Deep core muscles (also called the local core muscles):  these primarily work to stabilise the spine. Specific exercises that incorporate slow movements with low resistance can strengthen these muscles.
  • Superficial core muscles (called the global core muscles):  these work to move the spine – bending, straightening, twisting etc, as well as being involved in moving the limbs. These muscles tend to be activated with rapid movements and higher resistance.

There is not one specific muscle group that is primarily responsible for core stability – all the muscles of the core work together. That is why we aim to strengthen the entire core, using a range of different core exercises.

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How Does a Strong Core Help My Child With School Skills?

  • Good core strength and stability will help your child to maintain a good sitting posture at the desk, and will help develop a stable, supportive base for gross motor and fine motor movements.
  • A good sitting posture can help your child with handwriting.
child sitting posture
  • A good sitting posture also may also help your child's visual perception, as the head (and therefore the eyes) are in a better position for copying from the blackboard, following a line of text when reading, and laying work out properly on the page.
  • In the long run, strengthening your child's core muscles may help your child to avoid the lower back pain with which so many adults are plagued.
  • If your child is already a keen athlete, strengthening the trunk muscles may enable your child to use the arms and legs more strongly, in a more coordinated way.
  • Good core strength may also have a positive impact on your child’s balance and improve the ability to sit well at a desk instead of slouching all over it!
  • Your child’s endurance of gross and fine motor tasks may also be better if the core muscles are strong.

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Does My Child Have Weak Core Muscles?

These are some signs that your child may be struggling with weak core muscles:

  • Instead of sitting upright, does your child tend to lie all over the desk, supporting the body weight on the arms and propping the head in a hand?
child with poor core strength slumped at desk
  • Does your child hook his/her arms over the back of the chair, rock on the chair and generally drive you crazy with an inability to sit still in a chair?
  • Does your child prefer to lie down to watch TV instead of sitting upright, or prefer to lie down during mat work at school?
  • Does your child slouch against the nearest wall or table, instead of standing up straight?
  • Does your child struggle to balance while lifting one leg off the ground, or lose his/her balance easily during gross motor activities and sports?
  • Does your child have poor gross motor skills and general clumsiness?
  • Does your child avoid climbing on playground equipment and/or trees?

An assessment by a pediatric physical therapist or occupational therapist can help to identify and treat the underlying cause of the poor core stability, which may be low muscle tone, developmental delay, sensory processing disorder or a genetic disorder among other things.

This page is not intended to diagnose or treat any disorder!

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Improving Your Child's Core Strength

Most children nowadays need some encouragement to get away from their screens and get active. Going to the park, playing outdoors, and engaging in gross motor games and sports are great ways to improve your child's endurance, strength and core stability.

To help your child develop core stability, it is best to choose activities that will require a low level of exertion for a slightly longer period of time, rather than doing lots of high resistance exercises at a fast pace.

Activities which emphasize control and endurance are better for core stability than those that emphasize force/strength and speed.

abdominal exercises for kids

Kids sometimes struggle to know how to "activate" their core for stability during a gross motor activity. I usually say something like this: "You know how you make your tummy hard when you think you are going to get punched in the tummy - those are the muscles that need to be working while you climb the tree/keep your balance/play this game".


For children who struggle with core stability, and who need gentle, simple, yet fun activities, check out my Core Exercises for Kids e-book!

My e-book contains specific, targeted, photographed activities to encourage optimum development of the core and shoulder girdle muscles.

I have also put together a few helpful tips and free photographed activities on my website that you can easily do at home, to give you a taste of what my e-book contains.


Thank you for visiting my site! I hope you found this page helpful! Why not sign up for my free, occasional newsletter to stay in touch with new ideas and updated pages on my site?

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References

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Faries, M.D. and Greenwood, M. (2007). Core training: Stabilizing the confusion. Strength and conditioning journal. 29. 10-25. https://doi.org/10.1519/00126548-200704000-00001

K Au, M.; M Chan, W.; Lee, L.; MK Chen, T.; MW Chau, R.; and Pang, M. Core Stability Exercise Is As Effective As Task-Oriented Motor Training In Improving Motor Proficiency In Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder: A Randomized Controlled Pilot Study. Clinical Rehabilitation. 28(10) March 2014. https://doi.org/10.1177/0269215514527596 (abstract only)

Mcgill, S. (1999). Stability: From biomechanical concept to chiropractic practice. J Can Chiropr Assoc. 43.

Oliver, G.; Stone, A. and Plummer, H. (2010). Electromyographic Examination of Selected Muscle Activation During Isometric Core Exercises. Clin J Sport Med. 2010 Nov; 20(6):452-7. doi: 10.1097/JSM.0b013e3181f7b0ef. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21079441

Vera-Garcia, F.; Elvira, J.;  Brown, S. and Mcgill, S. (2007). Effects of abdominal stabilization maneuvers on the control of spine motion and stability against sudden trunk perturbations. Journal of electromyography and kinesiology : official journal of the International Society of Electrophysiological Kinesiology. 17. 556-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2006.07.004

Willson, J.; Dougherty, C.; Ireland, M. and Davis, I (2005). Core Stability and Its Relationship to Lower Extremity Function and Injury. The Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. 13. 316-25. https://doi.org/10.5435/00124635-200509000-00005

A helpful, illustrated page of Core Stability and Strength information for parents and teachers from Skills for Action


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