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Guest Blog: Trunk Strengthening for Kids - featured December 9, 2011

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Guest Blog: Trunk Strengthening for Kids

By: Dr. Joni Redlich, DPT

Reprinted with the express permission of Joni Redlich, DPT, as originally appeared on her Kid PT Blog, October 24, 2011

Trunk or core strengthening is a need for children of various diagnoses, including coordination disorders, low tone, cerebral palsy and Down syndrome. In fact most child with developmental differences regardless of diagnosis will benefit from strengthening to the trunk muscles.

Below are some ideas to get started. I have also included some tips to get children to try the activity for longer, to help you gauge progress and also what I call “concrete tips.” These tips are ideas to turn the activity from an abstract play activity to an activity with a clear beginning and end and frequently with visual cues. Making an activity more concrete can help children with attention problems and autism spectrum disorders participate in an activity successfully.

Around the House
Look for natural opportunities during the day for your child to lift or push heavy items. For example, the child can help carry in the groceries, take the milk in and out of the fridge, or push a laundry basket across the room.


1. Rough-housing

This is an under-appreciated activity! Rough-housing requires co-contractions of the joints and core and the use of balance reactions.

2. Airplane

The parent holds the child’s hands, places their feet on the child’s tummy/hips, and lifts them up to fly. The parent can count or sing a song to see how long the child stays up.

3. Wheelbarrow walk

Hold the child’s feet and have them walk on their hands. It helps to have a visual cue of “walk to Daddy.” to encourage the child to complete the task. This activity can also be done as a handstand, walking feet up against the wall instead of being held by the parent.

4. Statue

The child holds different positions as a “statue” while the parent gently tries to “knock over” the child. Positions can include kneeling, half-kneel (start in kneeling, lift one left up and put one foot on the floor like you are standing up), standing, standing with eyes closed, standing on a pillow or cushion with eyes open or closed. Again,the parent can count or sing a song to see how long the child stays up.

5. Surf Board

Have the child stand on a pillow or sofa cushion and play catch, hit a balloon, or pop bubbles. Counting to 10 repetitions of an activity will help to keep some children engaged.

6. Obstacle courses

Create an obstacle course that includes climbing over, under, and through things. A concrete tip is to use visual cues such as getting a piece of the puzzle, go through the course, and then place it in the puzzle.

7. Scooter games

Square gym scooters can be used in a variety of ways. The child can lie on their belly and use their hands to move, they can sit on the scooter and ride with feet, or they can keep their knees on the scooter and propel with their hands on the floor.

8. “Rock and Rolls”

Have the child sit with knees curled up and arms wrapped around legs. Have them rock back and then sit right back up. The child can also do “egg rolls” in this position rocking side to side.

9. Animal walks

Some examples are crab walk, worm wiggle, bear walk on hands and feet, stand on one foot like a flamingo and move like a turtle with a pillow as a shell. Take turns choosing the animal and then do the walk together. You can also print out animal pictures or use animal toys to choose an animal if the child would benefit visual choices.

10. Build A Bridge

Have the child lie on their back with their knees bent and feet on the floor. The child will then lift their bottom up off the floor. Roll a toy car under the bridge. Remind the child to keep the bridge open!

There are a never-ending number of things that can be done outdoors to increase trunk strength. Here are just a few ideas.

1. Climbing on the playground

2. Rolling up/down a hill. You can place bowling pins or large blocks at the bottom of the hill.

3. Walking on different surfaces, such as sand or a hiking trail.

5. Riding a bike or scooter.

6. Swinging. Encourage pumping the legs.

These activities are just a few ideas to integrate trunk strengthening into your child’s play. For more assistance modifying activities for your child speak to a physical or occupational therapist for guidance.

Featured Author: Dr. Joni Redlich, DPT

Dr. Redlich is a Mom, Wife and Pediatric Physical Therapist Specializing in Children with Developmental Disabilities. She received a B.A in Psychology from Emory University and her M.S in Physical Therapy and DPT from Arcadia University (formerly Beaver College). Please visit her website at Kid PT

Tags: Article PT Gross Motor Skills Newsletter 9 December 2011