Toggle site contrast Toggle Contract

Shoulder and core strength

Why is having a strong core important?

It helps us stay upright when we sit and write at a table for example. It’s also helpful when we play, ride a bike or climb. A strong and stable core is helpful for co-ordination and balance.

What are the basic principles for motor development in children?


  • develop the control of movement in a head-to-toe direction (cephalo-caudral)
  • learn to control the joints closest to the body first (proximal) and then develop outwards (distal)
  • must develop proximal stability (core muscles) before they can make mobility or controlled distal movements
  • achieve whole body movements before they can separate movement of one particular part of the body, for example, reaching with both arms together and then singularly
  • must pay attention to survival issues first, for example, hunger and illness.

What signs show reduced shoulder and core strength?

You may notice that your child:

  • has difficulty balancing
  • avoids climbing activities
  • struggles with co-ordination

They may also have difficulty maintaining posture during table activities for a period of time. You may see their feet hooking around the legs of the chair or the arms hooking around the back rest. They might constant shift around to get comfort or stability. You may need to find out if the seating is supportive enough and are their feet supported?

Please note that none of these signs are intended for diagnostic purposes.

Exercises to support shoulder and core muscles

Because we’re trying to build muscle, it’s really important that your child does these activities for at least 15-20 minutes at a time, at least 3 to 4 times per week.

Choosing activities

Choose one activity from each of the body areas below. Mix it up and keep it fun but try do to each of the activities. Ask your child to pick one of the activities and you choose the other 2. This can highlight which exercise your child tries to avoid.

What to do if your child finds it tiring

If your child finds it tiring or too difficult to begin with, ask them to do what they can. For example 5 to 10 minutes at a time, until they can manage more.

Once your child has built up the muscles and they are getting stronger, it’s important to keep these exercises up, or they could lose the strength they have built.

Choose your exercises


Press ups

On all fours in crawling position, ask your child to lower their nose down to touch a spot on the floor between their thumbs and back up again.

Do 2 sets of 15.

Crab walking

Find a space with approximately 2 to 3 meters in length (further if you think your child can manage it)

Step 1

Place 6-8 beanie toys/balled up socks etc at one end and a goal at the other.

Step 2

Ask your child to start at the goal end and sit on the floor with their hands and feet flat.

Step 3

Ask your child to lift their bottom off the floor and walk towards the toys (keeping their bottom off the floor).

Step 4

When they reach the toys, ask them to place one on their tummy and crab walk back to the goal. Place it in the goal and go back for the next one.

Make this game more fun by doing a race with a friend/sibling or parent.

Repeat 10 times.

Tricep dips

Ask your child to sit on a low stool, settee or bottom step of the stairs with their hands flat either side of them, fingers facing forwards.

Demonstrate to your child stretching your legs slightly in front of you.

Ask your child to slowly lower their bottom down to the floor and then push back up again to the seat.

Do 2 sets of 10 repetitions.




Take a bean bag/toy and ask your child to lie on their back with their knees bent and feet flat on the floor.

Slowly lift your bottom and show your child how to pass the bean bag or toy under their ‘bridge’ to their other hand.

Lower your bottom and repeat.

Do 2 sets of 15


Ask your child to lie on their side with their body in a straight line.

Show them how to prop their head on their hand or have it laying on the floor.

Raise their top leg to shoulder level then slowly lower it. You may need to hold your child’s pelvis to stop them wriggling.

Do 15 of these, then roll over and do 15 on the other side.

Step ups

Ask your child to stand at the bottom of the stairs or in front of a low stool.

Show them how to step up with their left leg then step back down for 1 full minute then switch legs and do that for 1 full minute.

Your child can start by holding onto something or someone if needed then try to progress to not holding on.



Sit ups

Show your child how to lie on their back with their knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Knees should be slightly apart.

Ask them to reach up with two hands to your hands which will be placed at knee level.

Explain that only their head and shoulders should come off the floor.

Do 10 repetitions of this twice


Ask your child to lie on their tummy and hold a football sized ball with two hands.

Lift the ball and ask them to throw it to you or a partner in front of them. Their elbows MUST come off the floor when they throw the ball and their head must look forward.

Increase the distance between as they progress.

Do 15 of these. If they can manage it, do two sets of 15.

Football lifts

Ask your child to lie on their back holding a football or cushion between their feet.

Tell them to keep their legs bent and slowly lift their feet into the air. Ask them to pass the ball to their partner who will stand behind them.

Slowly lower their feet back to the floor.

Repeat this 10 times. If they can manage it, do 2 sets of 10.