6 Things Parents Should Know About Core Stability and the Development of Movement

1. Core stability is not created by muscle strength.

New research over the past 20 years has taught us that core stability is not equal to the strength of stomach or back or hip muscles. Because we now understand that core stability has as much to do with the brain as it has to do with the muscles, we no longer think of it as a strength issue.

2.  Core stability is a little more complicated than we thought.

This same research has taught us that core stability has to do with groups of muscles (that’s the muscle part) and the order in which they work (that’s the brain part). Sometimes which muscles turn on depends on the direction we are moving but sometimes it doesn’t – this is where things get a little complicated.  Fortunately, because we have a new understanding of how core stability works, we also have a new way to help children develop it.

3.  Core stability works from the inside out.

There are inner core muscles and outer core muscles. The deep, inner core team works the same way each and every time, and it creates a stable center before we move. This preparation of a stable center is a very important piece of coordinated movement. The activity of the outer core muscles depends on this stable center.

4. Many children with sensory and motor challenges have difficulty with the creation of stability before they move.

Again, research tells us that children with different sensory and motor challenges (Cerebral Palsy, Autism, Developmental Coordination Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, low tone) have difficulty creating a stable center before they move.  Old-style core strength/core exercise programs don’t work on this. Our new understanding explains why I’ve never seen activities like crunches or wheelbarrows truly help children improve their core stability and why it doesn’t carry over to functional skills like sitting in a chair, writing or running.

5. One of the most important core muscles is the breathing diaphragm.

Yep, it’s true.  The breathing (or respiratory) diaphragm is a super important core muscle. If a child is completing any movement while they are holding their breath, they are not developing active core stability. And using breath holding for stability only works for a short period. Think about a child who can walk independently only as long as they are holding their breath; when they need to breathe, they fall or have to hold something for support.

The diaphragm sits under the lungs at the bottom of the rib cage.  In order for the diaphragm to work best, we need to help children gain control of the position of their rib cage before and during movement – this is one important goal of a modern core program.

6. Core stability is powerful.

When we think about core stability we typically think about how it helps balance and gross motor skills. However, core stability also helps fine motor skills, emotional self-regulation, sensory processing, functional visual skills, coordination of movement, oral motor and motor speech skills.

Dynamic Core for Kids is an approach designed to help children with sensory and motor challenges develop better core stability.  We are creating resources for parents – subscribe to my newsletter or stay tuned  for more info!

Download a PDF of this post to share with parents and teachers here.


5 thoughts on “6 Things Parents Should Know About Core Stability and the Development of Movement

  1. Great post Shelley. Interesting about stability ‘before we move’ stability – Anticipatory postural control? And new vs old style core stability exercises where can I read more on this?

    • Hi Sue, the research literature characterizes mature postural control by the presence of anticipatory postural adjustments and reactive postural adjustments. There is a wealth of information on postural control in typical children, children with CP and some dealing with children with ASD and DCD. One of my favourite resources is by Shumway-Cook and Woollcott, “Motor Control. Translating Research into Clinical Practice”.

  2. My son has low tone and born and due to surgery has mesh for a diaphragm …he now has issues with fine motor coordination etc. is there a way to develop his diaphragm muscles even tho….it is not complete?

    • Hi Kandace, the diaphragm is a complex muscle. Although I’ve not worked with a child with a mesh repair, my philosophy is always to implement therapy and assess the results carefully. A therapist could address both the low tone through vestibular sensory input and the diaphragm through alignment and breathing techniques and assess how these impact/support your son’s motor development. Hope that’s helpful.

  3. this is exciting … i have also seen that mastery of the position the head nose and chin and the vestibular system creates more tone ..the head nose and core , the hips and toes ..and on it goes ..but the out breath and then the intention to move the whole body using the labrynthine reflex engages the core and a whole lot more..!!