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Core Strength & Stability Training Using Infant Development Exercises

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 05 July 2014
Hits: 27200

To truly develop Core Strength and Stability requires a lot more than holding a plank for a few minutes and few thousand crunches. The abdominal wall require a great deal of exercise variation, because they occupy such a large area of your body and are needed in almost every movement you do. If you have ever torn your abs like I have, trust me you will know just how often you use them. In order to get full use you must address upper abs, lower abs, and obliques, and each requires a different type of exercise. Most people think the best abdominal exercises are crunches, sits ups and pilates style training. And while these might do some good and even improve your abdominal strength, they are not what "core strength" really is. And they definitely do not improve reflex stability or how you move. The best type of abdominal training you can do, is by using exercises utilizing what is known as the slings of the body. These are completed in a standing position that integrate arms and legs together in one simultaneous action. This is where stabilizers and movement based muscles work together in a sequence to produce optimal movement. And the first time you ever learned how to do this was when you were a baby. Before you had strength in your arms and legs to get around you were able to wiggle, roll and crawl which all came from your trunk, or what most people refer to as the core.

The Power Of Infant Development Exercise

The power of infant development exercises in the rehabilitation field is immense. We use these exercises extensively in shoulder, neck and back rehabilitation programs with all types of clients. But it can also be valuable with general population lacking stability and skill. Crawling for example we take for granted, but we use exercises that mimic this in rehabilitation training for shoulder stability, hip stability and trunk stability for this is how we first learned to do this. Rotational movement is often the most difficult to learn and also where the most athletic movements are used. This is why we regard the twisting movement pattern and exercises like the woodchop as the most important skills to perfect. Functional exercises like lunges, squats, deadlifts using dumbbells, barbells and cables will require activation of both your internal stabilizers and your moving external abs. But as most people are quite weak here, they will need a regression of these exercises to target a specific weakness in their CORE to ensure that these exercises can be performed correctly later on. And this is where the power of using infant development exercises can be extremely effective for an adult to learn how to stabilize themselves correctly before trying more advanced strength movements.

The simple movement of getting up off the floor is an extremely advanced exercise known as the Turkish Get Up. This one exercise is exactly what an infant goes through in it's development stage of trying to stand up as you can see in the pictures below.

Lack of strength is not the problem, it is the lack of coordination, timing, and stability across the entire body. Many mistakes will be made when attempting this and the child must go through the struggle to work it out. The mistakes and reflex stability the child learns are great lessons in what the body needs in order to provide good stiffness. Notice I said "reflex stability" which is how stabilizers function. Their role is to fire first to align the body perfectly for movement. They only work on a reflex level, which is why you don't see kids doing planks to learn how to stand up. They don't build their core from doing planks or crunches. Also you cannot assist them in this stage, or you risk disrupting the stability process of the body. The same thing is true for adults who experience shoulder pain, back pain, hip pain and basically any joint pain. Their biggest problem is a lack of stability at many of the key joints. The big difference between the child and an adult is the child still has adequate mobility, whereas the adult has usually lost this. The stiffness in their joints will cause tremendous difficulty in even getting in position to move let alone executing efficient movement. But this is where the real beauty of these exercises are!

For the infant development exercises require both MOBILITY and STABILITY to be completed correctly. The exercise becomes a form of stretching and strengthening at the same time!

Below is the video of how to do the Turkish Get Up correctly and I suggest you go to the article "Why The Turkish Get Up Is Such A Great Exercise" to see the full explanation of just how good this exercise is.

You Must Learn How To Progress & Integrate Into Standing Movements

Now as much as these exercises provide great foundations with stability, are great fun and extremely challenging, you must ensure you can take what you learned from these exercises, and transfer this to a standing position with squats, lunges, deadlifts and various other functional movements. If you fail to do this, you fail to change anything you will need in life. This is one thing where good information can be abused, and people start doing classes or overdoing exercises like "bear crawls in crossfit" without understanding the purpose of the exercise or having an end goal in mind. Every exercise we use must have a purpose and be a step in the process for progressing to improve how we really move.

Strong abdominal muscles do not prevent injury, learning to move correctly and improving strength and stability in a standing position does. Good articles to read on this are below

How Functional Movement Can Help You Live A Better Life

Why Having A Strong Core Is Not Enough To Prevent Back Pain

Also there is a great Free report you can access about Functional Movement patterns you can download below. This has all the regressions we use of all the key movement patterns needed to be efficiently strong and bulletproof to all injury.

Now if you are reading this article in the hope to get new ideas about how to train your abs, then there is one thing I must remind you of. And that the MOST important exercise for your six-pack is reducing your stress and lowering your body fat with optimal nutrition. If you are thinking that all you need to do to get ripped abs is the exercises in this article you will be in for rude awakening. As your nutrition will account for nearly 90% of this goal. However I also know of many people with the elusive six pack who also suffered from severe back pain. It is one thing to have something good to look and another to have something that is of use to you. Your abs are a key part of your core strength. However, no one will see your six-pack if it’s covered by a thick layer of fat—no matter how strong and toned it is. By the way, everyone has a six-pack. If you can’t see yours, it’s a body fat issue. The key to muscle definition is as much about diet as exercise. Eliminating processed foods, and replacing them with whole foods, fresh vegetables, and proteins and good fats is the way to a strong, healthy core that works and looks good. You can find out how to do this by reading our article 16 Ways To Improve Your Health.

Okay so let's take a look at some of the great infant development exercises.

Step 1: Assess Your Breathing & Inner Unit Stabilizers First

Before you try any exercise you must be certain you can coordinate perfect breathing first. Again if you watch a baby breathe you will see the belly rise on a breath in. This is normal breathing and called diaphragm breathing. The diaphragm is one of the key muscles of the inner unit and is vital for creating intra-abdominal pressure needed for core strength. When the toddler starts moving and begins to get to the stage of trying to stand the breathing will change to now create pressure. This is where the child is learning how to engage the core to create good stiffness for the first time. It is amazing how many adults do not use a normal breath when we test them in the gym. Without knowing how to use a normal breath there is no chance of creating a breath to engage your core. If you have neck pain there is a good chance your breathing is faulty and this is the first thing you must change.

Make sure you read our article "Do you know how to breathe when you exercise" to see more detail on this.

This is an important step as you can help identify weaknesses and tell where to start with your workout program. If you do not pass any of the tests, the test now becomes your exercise! These are not infant development exercises yet but great ways to assess your progress.

#1: TVA test - This test involves testing your deep abdominal stabilizer. Lie face down on the floor and gently pull your belly button up off the floor and hold it for 10 seconds. You should be able to do this without cheating by using your shoulders or hips to help out. If you fail this you need to continue this as the exercise.

#2: Lower Abdominal Co-Ordination TestThis involves lying on your back with your knees bent. Place one hand under your lower back and bring your feet off the floor. Tilt your pelvis back and flatten your back on your fingers. Hold pressure on your fingers as you lower your legs to the floor. If you feel the pressure come off you fail you the test.

#3: Oblique Side PlankKneeling on the floor leaning your body weight on one forearm with the other arm reaching upward. Drawing your belly button inwards lift your hips up to form a straight line with your neck sternum belly button and between your knees all aligned. Hold for 30 seconds each side to pass.

Step 2: Develop The Twisting Movement Pattern Using Inchworm & Reptilian Crawl

The following exercises are deceptively hard. These are the first movements a baby makes before it has the strength in the arms and the legs to crawl. A newborn baby doesn't yet have the motor nerves, strength or ability to integrate the arms and legs to propel movement. The infant learns to move its body by using it’s core in a twisting and wiggling type movement which is how you first learn all movement. This is why we regard the Twisting movement pattern as the most important one to learn and perfect as it is the first one you learned and also the one the other patterns learned from!

In Gray Cook's book Movement he refers to rolling exercises frequently and uses them to reprogram faulty patterns and motor control. He makes the comment "Rolling is an activity that on first glance does not appear to be a demonstration of stability. On closer inspection, rolling is the soil where stability was planted. Rolling is a basic demonstration of motor control and segmental sequencing. This sequencing is demonstrative of the timing and coordination that work behind the scenes in both static and dynamic demonstrations of stabilizers." The message is clear that these exercises are a foundation upon which all of our programs we built.

Below are some very challenging exercises to try and we have placed them in order of how you learned them. (Don’t be surprised if you are completely exhausted within a minute.)

An interesting note for people who suffer from back pain will find these extremely hard to do. For they typically stiffen themselves to create a belt like stabilizing effect, to prevent pain. This in turn switches off their ability to rotate and they begin to move more like a robot, and not like an athlete like of grace and poise like an elite athlete who can rotate without fear of pain and with extreme precision, force and power. Using the infant development exercises can help to restore this lost ability. Okay let's take a look at a few of the exercises.

Here is a quick video where I take you through all of them.

Inchworm - (picture middle) This is pretty simple. Lie on your back with your arms folded over your chest and your feet off the ground. Now try moving the length of an exercise mat WITHOUT using your arms and legs to help! Once you have made it to the end, head back to where you came! This can be done both on your back or on your belly. Both are great to try.

Reptilian Crawl - (picture on right) Once the infant has developed enough core strength and co-ordination it naturally begins to use a reptile like movement known as cross crawling where you use your opposite leg and arm integration.

Now that you have completed these exercises you are ready to move to the crawling stage otherwise known as mammalian phase.

Step 3: Learn To Crawl & Create Stability With Shoulder & Hip

As the child progresses in it's development it moves to the crawling stage. This is when you begin to see them learn to stabilize in a contralateral position while moving their trunk around stabilized limbs. (Contralateral is when you use your left arm and right leg together and vice versa). In the gym this exercise is known as HORSESTANCE and a common exercise used in all physical therapy and rehabilitation programs. This phase is vital to the development of walking as the child learns how to sequence stability with mobility and coordination. It is in this phase that we often return to in rehabilitation with people suffering problems with shoulders, hips and back pain. Also this is very effective at improving walking impairments from spinal cord injury, stroke and various other disabilities. Remember the child does not need instruction to learn this, it is all on instinct and built into our programs at a foundation level. The child did not need to complete planks or TVA activation to do this either. As it is a foundation program it is much easier to learn than the more complex tasks like squats and lunges. This movement is the base upon which all those movements are built.

Take a good look at the foot of the toddler on the right and notice the use of the toes. This is where the ankle and feet are learning how to create better stability in preparation for standing.

How To Do The Horsestance Exercise

  1. Start with wrists directly below the shoulders, elbows turned back and knees directly below the respective hip joints. The legs are parallel and the elbows should remain turned back toward the thighs, with the fingers directed forward.
  2. Place a stick on your back and try to hold perfect spinal alignment, with the stick parallel to the floor. The space between your lower back and the stick should be about the thickness of your hand. Activate your abdominal stabilizers by gently drawing the belly button inward.
  3. Raise one arm to a point 45° off the mid line of the body, in the same horizontal plane as the back.
  4. Elevate the opposite leg to the point at which your leg is in the same horizontal plane as your torso. Keep the shoulder girdle and pelvis parallel to the floor.
  5. Hold for 10 seconds and switch sides.
  6. Aim to do about 10 reps all together.

A great video showing you how to the horse stance and also various other versions of the exercise is below.

Step 4: Transition To Standing

As we discussed earlier this is where the Turkish Get Up becomes such a great exercise and I believe everyone should learn this and be using at least once a week in their training. The benefits to your body is incredible. It is in this phase that you now learn how to combine all of the previous steps in one fluent and smooth movement that happens in a blink of an eye. And happens without conscious thought, but on an automatic instinct. To be able to do this you need to practice and you need to work on the key patterns of movements such as squats, lunges and deadlifts. The Turkish Get Up will require all of these patterns and moving across one side of the body to the other. This is where you take all the great benefits of using your core for stability and improving your ability to effectively move to enable you to stand without compensation and be able to improve your strength and skill. Just like an infant learning to stand for the first time!

You will find a ton of information about how to effectively train all these foundation patterns in the article "How Functional Training Can Help Improve Quality Of Life"

You will also find the video below extremely helpful.


I hope you have enjoyed this article and it gives you some great insights into how you can use what seem like "easy" exercises to enhance movement. Anyone with injury or chronic pain will find this type of training beneficial and a great way to transition to the more complex tasks that will effectively rehabilitate their injuries for good. And if you play sports or just a keen fitness enthusiast you will find these a great challenge and complement your current training program.

For more great ideas on training programs or if you need specific help with back pain you will find some great resources in our advanced programs below.

The Little Black Book has over 100 programs and an entire chapter on Core Training that will give you endless ideas on how to use exercises like this and much more. The Back Pain Secrets program is a 90 minute video and ebook program that takes you through our rehabilitation program for back pain in a simple step by step process. Click on the images below to find out more.

 And if you live in Melbourne and would like to know more about our programs you can request a free postural and movement assessment by filling the form below