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How to get kids to work their core

I often get asked in my line of work, how to get kids to turn on their core. Whether its growing pains, sinking in the pool, instability during walking, running or slouching it’s a tricky issue to overcome, especially when most adult don’t fully understand how to ‘recruit’ the core (more on what that means later).

I have always found after teaching kids Pilates for 6 years that the best way to approach it is by not approaching it at all. At the end of the day the Pilates philosophy is to master muscle recruitment patters in a movement that isn’t the same so that it becomes subconscious. So really what we are aiming is for our body to work effectively without thinking about it by repeating movements that aid healthy recruitment patterns. Here are my tips…

  1. The core is not the abs!

First thing to note is, the core muscles are not just the abs. The core muscles are the stabilisers of the trunk with major muscles including the pelvic floor muscles, transversus abdominis, multifidus, internal and external obliques, rectus abdominis, erector spinae (sacrospinalis) especially the longissimus thoracis, and the diaphragm. Minor core muscles include the latissimus dorsi, gluteus maximus, and trapezius.

  1. Don’t focus on the core 

The body is smart, it does a lot for us subconsciously so the best thing to do for kids is getting them to move in exercises that will incorporate the muscles you want and let the body do the work for you. The trick to this is ensuring that their technique is adequate to get the right muscles recruiting. ie. balance exercises – you cannot master balance if you are not recruiting the core muscles.

  1. Just breathe 

Notably, breathing, including the action of the diaphragm, can significantly influence the posture and movement of the core; this is especially apparent in regard to extreme ranges of inhalation and exhalation. On this basis, how a person is breathing may influence their ability to control their core. This can be tricky with kids but I find the best way to do this is to do a few fun exercises then stop get them to slow their breathing tune into their breathing and move with their breath. Then do some fun ones, disregard and then come back to the breath. Do this three times over 10mins.

4. Make it fun and they will come 

The most important part of engaging the core is repeating it, over and over and over again. This is tricky for most of us let alone kids who’s attention span wavers after 5 mins.  Getting kids to use their imagination, making it fast paced and fun will help get the job done.


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