Lower extremity strength and coordination are areas of development needed for so many functional tasks that children complete throughout the day. Here we have a fun and creative way to develop gross motor coordination by building strength in the legs and core of the body so that lower extremity coordination and mobility are used in daily tasks such as self-care, mobility, and play. Motor planning in the lower extremities drives play, and play drives lower extremity strength!
These are great activities and ideas to add to an obstacle course.
Lower Extremity Strength
When it comes to building strong core, legs, hips, and ankles, there are many lower body strengthening exercises that can be done:
- Animal walks
- Wall sits
- Side-lying Leg Lifts
- Prone Leg Lifts
While these exercises develop strength and stability in the core and lower body, they are just that…exercises. There is no function to completing them. However, as occupational therapists, our practice is driven by function.
If a client wishes to develop the strength and stamina to complete exercises such as the ones listed above, that is the functional task, and working on these exercises in a graded manner is a no brainer. It’s the functional task which is being addressed.
There is another side to the coin as well. Using lower extremity strengthening exercises to support development, stamina, add resistive feedback, and develop motor planning skills can drive functional performance by building on underlying areas.
When therapists use lower extremity strengthening exercises in therapy sessions, several underlying areas are addressed all at once:
- Muscle strengthening
- Eye hand coordination
- Vestibular input
- Proprioceptive input
- Body awareness
- Personal space
Lower extremity strength is needed for functional tasks such as:
- kicking a ball
- riding a bike
- playing on playground equipment
- tying shoes
- getting dressed
- so much more!
Lower Extremity Exercise Activity
One way to make this skill into a game is to use the skill-building as a game, an obstacle course, or a challenge.
This lower extremity exercise challenges motor planning, balance, and vestibular input, while encouraging the child to pull weight back over their heels in dynamic stance.
- Something to use as a target (cone, bucket, bowl)
To do the lower extremity and motor planning exercise:
- Set up a basket, cone, or bucket, or other target behind the child.
- Ask the child to stand with feet shoulder width apart, in front of the basket/bucket.
- The child can reach through the legs to place a ball or small toy through their legs and into the target.
- Challenge them to return to standing and pull the toy or ball up to shoulder height and repeat.
You can see this exercise in action here.
More lower extremity coordination exercises
Make this exercise easier or more difficult by these extra challenges:
- Can you move at super slow speed?
- Can you move at super fast speed and still keep your body right in the middle?
- Can you try with a smaller ball?
- Can you sit and place the object behind you or pass it to a friend like we did in this friendship gross motor activity?
You can also add some of these lower body activities to the fun: