BONNIE PRUDDEN first launched her Fitness from the Cradle program of infant exercise in the Sports Illustrated May issue of 1960, which was also the week designated by President Eisenhower as National Youth Fitness Week. The series was designed to introduce a new program that “will help American parents to build a fit generation of children right in their own homes…from babyhood on.”
Few realize that a baby is born with three posture anomalies due to the positioning in the womb: 1) flaccid abdominals; 2) tight hamstrings; 3) tendency to round the back. These are the exact problems that, if not addressed, lead to back pain in adults.
One day in May 1962, I turned the TV on to The Art Linkletter Show. (I know that it was May 1962 is because my son was 3 months old.) There was a woman exercising a baby! She said that the baby should be exercised with every diaper change…. and to music. That woman was Bonnie Prudden — and thus began Russell’s exercise program. Neither one of us would meet Bonnie face-to-face until 1971, but by then — because of Bonnie’s decree and my consistency — Russ was on his way to becoming a fine athlete with impeccable rhythm.
“Since babies are physical long before they are mental, social, or anything else except emotional, let’s start by giving your baby a fine, strong, straight, flexible body in which to house the mind. Then, when the time comes for using that mind, she / he will get the necessary support.” “…the better the body, the less fatigue and therefore the higher quality of work. The more physical outlets your child will have, the more release there will be for emotional tension.”
“The more good rhythm a child is exposed to, the easier it will be for that child to sing, play an instrument, and dance. Everything will come easier, from walking to studying.” “The child with rhythm does not tire as quickly as the child whose muscles fight each other all day long.”
Where to Start?
Start with a few exercises — for about 30 seconds — with each diaper change. As the baby needs fewer changes, increase the number of exercises and the length of time. Use music. Your baby will come to count on your undivided attention, exercise, and music with each change
The following four exercises, done consistently, will begin to counteract the three posture anomalies mentioned above. The chest and lungs will be opened up, the back made strong, the hamstrings will become flexible and the abdominals will be worked for strength.
I. Chest Stretch
Lay your forefinger in your baby’s palms so she can grip your hand (if the grip reflex is absent, hold her hands with your fore and third fingers). Open the arms wide at the start of the exercise.
From the wide-open position, carry the baby’s arms across the chest to the closed position. Do the chest stretch four or five times to slow music.
II. Overhead Stretch
Babies breathe by expanding the lungs into the abdomen without raising the ribs. Later, when they stand erect, the breathing becomes mixed as the ribs are raised and the diaphragm lowered.
To prepare the lungs for this, and also to give more range to the shoulders, start an overhead stretch. Take the baby’s hands in yours and gently stretch his arms close to his sides. Then, just as gently, stretch his arms overhead. Do four or five such stretches and then to on to another exercise, returning later for another set.
III. Hamstring Stretch
With your thumb against the baby’s calves and fingers over the knee, carefully straighten the legs. As your bring his feet towards his head, lift his seat from the floor. After you have done this stretch once, let the baby kick free for a few seconds, then repeat. Do three or four.
(Note: it is not necessary to go very far at first. The baby, like many adults who have spent too much time sitting, will not find this exercise easy.)
Pull gently on the arms, which will bring the upper back and shoulders into an arch with the head resting on the floor. Hold for a slow count of three, and then lower gently to the resting position. Do three.
For a complete program of exercise see How to Keep Your Child Fit from Birth to Six, by Bonnie Prudden.
For more information about Bonnie Prudden®, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®, workshops, books, self-help tools, DVDs, educational videos, and blogs, visit www.bonnieprudden.com. Or call 520-529-3979 if you have questions or need help.
Enid Whittaker, Managing Director, Bonnie Prudden Myotherapy®