Baby Exercise

Ever thought about taking your child to a group exercise class, but didn’t know what to expect? Lucky for you, Student Parents went to visit a baby yoga class in Islington to find out. We also spoke to Kenzie, a child physio who has given loads of advice on exercise to do with your baby at home.


Kenzie Revington is a paediatric physiotherapist, and has over 30 years worth of experience in exercise for children. She works for the NHS, and in particular helps children with neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, and developmental co-ordination disorders. While not a student parent, she is a parent of two students, and so understands issues students face, particularly concerning money! She has kindly written a guest post for us, with loads of exercises you can do with children of all ages, and at no cost.

What baby classes offer…

Baby exercise classes often benefit both mother and baby, providing social interaction with peer groups and supporting mums who may feel lonely or isolated. I would also recommend gym tots and tumble tots classes, which are great for this as well. However, babies and young children, when given enough space, objects to stimulate and freedom to roam do tend to self-exercise through play. Often, children need this space to develop the ability to play by themselves.

Why baby exercise is important…

With the ever-increasing development of high tech buggies, high chairs and car seats, children nowadays are very supported and do not need to work their muscles to balance and support themselves. Gone are the days when children were sat in large prams and pushed over cobbled streets, which constantly worked their core muscles for balance and stability. This is why it is vital to incorporate floor time to allow children to play on their backs and tummies, to crawl, cruise and later walk.

Here are some examples of exercise, through play, which parents can do with their babies and pre school children:

  • Initially when supine (on back), once a child can visualise, it is beneficial to track a toy from side to side to develop neck muscles and prevent flattening of the head from too much one sided positioning.
  •  In supine babies knees can be placed on their tummies and circled in a clockwise motion to aid the release of wind. Later on at about five months little bells can be sown on to ankle bands to encourage babies to reach and play with their feet and this will build up tummy muscles. (picture on right)
  • With increased awareness of cot deaths, which may be caused by babies sleeping on their tummies, parents often shy away from the prone (on tummy) position. However, under supervision this is one of the most important positions for your young baby to play in. It helps develop the muscles of the spine, neck and also shoulders through weight bearing. Babies can initially be placed over a rolled up towel to encourage them to lift their heads to look and then reach for toys. (picture on left). Tummy time can be started by peeping over your shoulder, being held in a flying position or being placed on your chest when lying on the floor. The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists have produced a leaflet to encourage tummy time.
  • Babies can be encouraged to roll to reach for a toy and later on to do log rolls, which will helps trunk rotation.
  • In the early days, when they have good head control, you can pull from supine to sit with shoulder support, singing their name, which will help develop tummy muscles.
  • Later when a child can sit independently parents sit with their legs outstretched (in long sitting) with the child sitting over their knees, and rock back and forth singing row, row, row the boat. This will encourage the development of trunk muscles and also be a good stretch for your hamstrings. (picture on right.)
  • When a child is sitting on the floor, you can encourage core stability by getting him or her to reach for objects out of their base side to side and forwards and back.
  • Later you can progress this to sitting on a low stool or your lap.
  • To help develop balance, hip and back muscles you could wear a toy chain around your neck, sit baby on your knee facing you, and encourage baby to reach and play with the toy chain.
  • Once baby can stand, a very useful exercise for their quads muscles is for them to sit crouched on your knee, and then make them stand. You can do this by singing nursery rhymes like ‘ring o ring o roses’, we all stand up, sit down etc.
  • Children can also play in a squat position placing objects in buckets, which is good for trunk and quads muscles.
  • Crawling is a very important activity as it strengthens the shoulders neck and trunk, however do not get despondent if your child does not crawl; 10% of babies do not, preferring to bottom shuffle instead.
  • Crawling also helps to develop co ordination. Chasing games plus hide and seek in crawling are fun for you as well! Later on, children can to progress to bear walks, crab walks or wheelbarrows to encourage shoulder strength. (pictures above)
  • A useful activity to promote core stability is often as simple as sitting your child in a washing basket and gently pulling the basket around the room and from side to side working all their muscles to stabilise   their trunk (back to the old fashioned pram effect)
  • Once confident in standing, general play on uneven surfaces, up and down slopes, on soft sand and paddling in gentle waves will all help muscles in the legs and feet. Often standing on a cushion reaching to pop bubbles or to pat a balloon will help balance and core control.
  • To stimulate one legged balance and muscles around the hips get your child to lift one leg and gently squash a toy. (picture to left)
  • Cruising up and down the settee and later holding hands and walking in a circle will develop sideways movement.
  • Marching to the Grand Old Duke of York, stepping stones and walking along chalk lines and balance beams will all aid balance and co ordination. Also running around obstacles and parents constructing obstacle courses to incorporate under, over, through etc. all help spatial awareness and co ordination.
  • The park is fun and excellent for tummies. Going on the swings and chain bridges all help develop balance and strong legs.
  • Push along toys encourage early stepping and later cycling develops muscle tone and co ordination.
  • Throwing and catching and kicking a ball will develop hand/eye and foot/eye co ordination and balance.

Parent and baby swimming groups are invaluable for fun and gross motor development.

More specific exercises to encourage core stability are:

  • Bridging. Get your child to make a bridge with his or her bottom and run a toy under the bridge. (picture to right)
  • Superman. When on hands and knees, go into a superman position with alternate arm and leg outstretched. Or when on their tummy, get them to lift their head and shoulders off the mat and fly like a plane. When in kneeling position, fly like a plane, dipping wings from side to side and twisting to rotate wings. (pictures to left and below)These are all general activities, which can be done by parents at home.

However, one activity to discourage is the use of the baby walker, as this does not promote walking and may cause accidents if not closely supervised.

The Association of Paediatric Chartered Physiotherapists have produced leaflets to encourage and develop motor development through play. An excellent book for reference is Play in Early Childhood by Mary D Sheridan.

If you’ve found Kenzie’s advice useful, and want to learn more, click here to buy Mary D. Sheridan’s book from Amazon.

Lillie and Kenzie

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