How do I know if my child is weak or has tight muscles?

By the age of 5-6 years a young child should have the strength and flexibility to perform all the basic functional movement sequences that are used in everyday activities at home, in the classroom and in the playground.

Flexibility is important 

Children with joint hypermobility/low muscle tone often have tight muscles that affect posture and coordination.  More information: Does my child have tight muscles? 

A child with good flexibility can:

Long sitting reach to ankles_0.jpgCan sit on the floor with the legs straight out and touch the ankles with little or no discomfort. 

benni sitting cross legged_0.jpg Sit cross legged with trunk erect  with comfort for several minutes.

Children with hip and leg muscle tightness find this position uncomfortable and will often complain of pain in the knees or lower legs.

stand_1.jpgStand with the feet 10 cm apart and parallel for 20 seconds easily and without discomfort,

Children with tightness in the iliotibial band find standing with the feet close together and parallel uncomfortable. 

shoulder elevation cross leg sitting_1.jpgSit cross legged on the floor with the back flat against the wall and lift both arms to touch the wall without arching the back.

Posture and balance 

A child with good postural control and stability can:

Tgabo sitting good posture_0.jpgSit erect and still on a stool with the feet flat on the floor for one minute with ease and comfort.

More about sitting: My child can't sit up straight and fidgets a lot at school. What is the reason?

Stand reach.jpgStand erect with the arms stretched out forwards for 30 seconds keeping the trunk erect and arms steady. 

Difficulties with this task indicate poor control of head and trunk posture and shoulder strength.  

Leg strength, balance and agility

A child with good leg strength and coordination can:

stand one leg.jpgStand on one leg keeping the trunk steady for 10 seconds. 

Poor control of standing on one leg is often liked to tightness and weakness in the hip muscles and poor balance responses in the ankle muscles. 


Sit down low step_0.jpgStand up from a 20 cm high step without helping with the hands.

A child with good strength can stand up and sit down again 10 times in succession fast and easily.

Poor performance on this task is an indication of weakness in the hip and knee muscles.

step-up-2.jpgStep up onto a 30cm high step smoothly and easily.

A child with good leg muscle strength and coordination can step up and down 10-20 times with minimal effort. 


hop-6-years-1_1_0.jpgHop on the spot 10 times keeping the trunk upright and coordinating the arm and leg actions. 


stand jump between cushions.jpgJump across a 30 cm gap taking off from two feet and landing on two feet 10 times in succession. 

Arm strength and ball skills

A child with good neck and arm coordination and strength can:

lifting-bid-bottle-2_2.jpgLift a 2 liter bottle of water from waist height to on top of the head five times in a smooth manner.

sit-arm-lift-sideways_1.jpgBalance a 500 gm bag of beans on the head and move the arms

Can lift and lower the arms up and sideways and  down again 10 times in succession. 

baton and beanbag.jpgBalance a 500 gm bag of beans on a stick for 10s.
ball catch.jpgBounce and catch a soccer or basket ball 10 times in front of the body.
upright catching ball.jpgCatch a soccer ball in front of the body 10 times in succession. 

Catch a tennis ball in front of the body at least 5-10 times in succession.

4-5 year old children still find this task difficult, but a 6-year-old should be able to catch a carefully thrown ball at least 8 out of 10 attempts.

What next? 

Poor flexibility,muscle weakness and poor coordination have a major impact on a child's ability to cope with the physical demands of a day at school, both in the classroom and in the playground. 

Being unfit, tiring quickly, finding a day at school exhausting and not keeping up with peers in the playground all have a negative impact on a child's self confidence, self worth and willingness to participate with peers in active games. Poor fitness also has an impact on classroom learning. 

SfA Training Guide Fitness Coordination (2).jpg
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