Neck, back and core muscle exercises

Exercises for improving the strength of the neck, back and "core" muscles for improved sitting and standing posture and fitness for playground and sporting activities. 

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Adapted plank exercise for children

Even 6-year-old children  can learn to do the plank which has become a favorite exercise for strengthening the back and abdominal muscles to improve trunk stability for walking, running, jumping and other agility tasks. 

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In this exercise the child practices lifting up the head when lying on the floor to strengthen the neck stabiliser  muscles which are often weak. 

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Sitting up from lying: what you can expect a child to do

From the age of 7-8 years young children are expected to be able to do sit-ups in PE classes and sport training sessions.  Children, especially boys, value the ability to do this exercise as well as their peers and are usually willing to expend time and energy getting it right. 

Being able to sit up from lying flat on the back easily and several times in succession reflects good abdominal and neck muscle strength as well as trunk flexibility and coordination. 

In this exercise the child lies back on a pile of cushions so the head and torso are lifted up.  This makes it easier to lift up into the sitting position. He/she then practices sitting up first pushing up on one arm, and then progressing to sitting up without pushing on the arms. 

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In this exercise you lean the trunk back as far as possible without falling over. This gets the abdominal muscles working hard and teaches the child to flex the trunk as he/she goes backwards. 

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In this exercise the child sits up from lying flat on the floor with the legs straight. 


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Sitting up from lying with the legs bent and feet flat on the floor is more difficult to do than when the legs are straight. There are two reasons for this: firstly because the hip are bent the hip flexor muscles cannot help to lift the trunk and secondly the movement requires more coordination. 

Lying on the back and kicking a large ball with one or two feet lifted up off the mat is a great way to get the abdominal muscles working to stabilize the trunk. The muscle that bend the hip (hip flexors) also work to lift the leg and hold the thigh steady in the middle so that the foot can be positioned for kicking the ball. 

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Back extension exercises lying on the tummy.

A young child should be able to lift the head, chest and legs up off the mat when lying on the the tummy.  These exercises strengthen the back and hip muscles and are particularly important for getting fit for swimming. 

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In these exercises the child lies, sits or kneels on a pillow and propels herself  across the floor by pushing or pulling with your hands or feet.  The arms, leg and trunk muscles work together to stabilize the trunk and move the pillow across the floor. 

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In these exercises the child sits on stool and catches and throws a large ball. 

Lifting the arms to catch and throw a ball also encourages the child to keep the back relatively straight.Catching and throwing a ball repeatedly in quick succession increases neck, trunk and arm muscle endurance.

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Catching and bouncing or throwing a  large ball requires strong neck, back and abdominal work to keep the head and trunk steady. The muscles contract in anticipation of the reactive forces that are created when a ball is thrown or caught – this requires motor planning that is specific for each particular task, and requires repeated practice to get it just right.  (Read more about head and trunk stabilization)

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This is a tricky exercise for a young child to do but good for children aged 8-9 + who need to work on extension for swimming or bowling. 

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This is a great exercise for training arms strength and endurance. The neck,back and tummy muscles also have to work really hard to hold the head and trunk steady. The ankle muscles have to work to maintain balance.

In these exercises the child lies prone on an exercise ball supporting on the arms. Moving forwards and bouncing on the ball are good ways to strengthen the trunk and arm muscles. 

These exercises are suitable for children from about the age of 6 years. You will have to help the child to maintain balance when first practicing the exercises. 

You will need:  

a 45-55cm diameter gym ball.  

In these exercises the child stands on the hands and knees and lifts one or more limbs level with the back while keeping the back flat. keeping the back flat requires activation of the abdominal muscles to stabilize the position of the pelvis.  

It is also important to keep the elbows slightly bent to prevent locking of the elbows into hyperextension. Keeping the elbows slightly bent also activates the shoulder muscles to stabilize the shoulder blade. 

In this exercise the child holds a stick with two hands at chest height and uses it to intercept and push away a 45 cm gym ball. Children really love this exercise and get very enthusiastic about increasing the number of times they can push the ball away.

This exercise trains the child to keep the head and trunk steady when moving the arms. It is also good for strengthening the neck muscles. 

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Playing games sitting at a table is a good way to reinforce sitting erect as a matter of habit. Games to involve lifting and shifting objects are particularly good for encouraging sitting erect. 

Bridging exercises are good for strengthening the hip and back extensor muscles.  They are particularly helpful for training the back and hip muscles to work together in swimming crawl and backstroke.

Bridging can also be used to actively stretch tightness the iliotibial band often seen in children with joint hypermobility.