Weight bearing is exactly what it sounds like, supporting the body’s weight through the extremities. While kids are frequently standing, walking and running, putting pressure through their legs, it’s also very important not to forget to incorporate weight bearing for the arms.
By engaging in weight bearing activities through the arms, children strengthen their hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders and even neck and core muscles. Strong proximal muscles also allow for children to have better control of their distal muscles, which is necessary for fine motor coordination.
In this day and age of increased technology use, younger generations are demonstrating weaker grip strength as compared to older generations2. Yet, school aged children are expected to meet the demands of academic expectations including efficient and legible handwriting. Encouraging children to engage their arms in strengthening activities early on can help set the stage to increased success with later motor skills, including handwriting.
Weight bearing activities also provide awareness into the joints– this is known as proprioceptive input and in addition to providing information about the body’s position in space, it also has an impact on a child’s state of arousal, as in how alert or calm they are. For more information on proprioception, check out this article.
To incorporate weight bearing throughout the day, try to encourage kids to participate in some of these activities that have the above-mentioned benefits and more:
Try animal walks, such as walking on hands and feet like a bear, crab walking, etc. Find a few more examples and two free gross motor animal walk game printables here.
Stretches, push-ups, planks and yoga poses that use different positions to put weight through outstretched arms, such as downward dog.
Bring it to the floor. Puzzles, crafts, toys can all be played with on the floor. Encourage kids to weight bear on their arms to reach for toys and manipulate items. This also helps with dissociating the different sides of the body and crossing midline, and encourages bilateral coordination skills. Crawling while pushing a toy car, truck, or boat along the floor is a fun one for toddlers.
Obstacle courses that encourage crawling and climbing are a great way to exercise the entire body, including the arms, legs and core. Try to be creative with it, including obstacles to climb over or under, such as a tunnel, over couch cushions, or through a tent. My kids love crawling through our homemade car wash box.
Use a Scooter board! Use both arms to propel forward while lying on the board. You can make it more challenging by creating obstacle course or scooter board races with a friend.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that children should be getting at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day1. Of this one hour or more, activities should include aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, and bone strengthening activities. Weight bearing activities fall into the muscle strengthening category for children, and it could also lead to bone strengthening (such as when jumping or hoping is incorporated) and aerobic activity as well depending on the nature of the activity.
Get those kids moving, and have fun with it!
- “How much physical activity do children need?” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 June 2015, http://www.cdc.gov/physicalactivity/basics/children/index.htm.
- Fain, E. & Weatherford, C. (2016). Comparative study of millenials’ (aged 20-34 years) grip and lateral pinch with the norms. Journal of Hand Therapy Oct-Dec 29(4). pp.483-488.
*Disclaimer: The information presented in the blog is intended for information purposes only. Please consult your physician with any medical concerns and/or for medical advice. The information presented is not intended to be used in place of individualized therapy services, please contact your health care team for skilled therapy if you think it is necessary. Please supervise your children (or friends, spouses, etc) if you decide to try any of the activities or ideas presented as the author or this blog does not claim liability for possible injury or negative consequences related to the activities and ideas presented here.