4 Exercises to Help Baby Get Stronger

These simple exercises will help your little one grow up big and strong.

Four Baby Exercises Smiling Baby Laying On Back
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It may seem like your baby spends a lot of time lying around, but they actually get in a vigorous workout every day. Whether batting at an object, kicking their legs, or squirming during a diaper change, your baby exercises their little muscles. And all that strength-building is essential to motor development: They'll need strong muscles to hold up their head, roll over, sit up, crawl, and eventually walk.

In addition, physical activity pays off in the form of more restful sleep, less fussiness, and a happy infant who is eager to play and learn, says Meena Chintapalli, M.D., a pediatrician in San Antonio. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that babies get at least 30 minutes of physical activity throughout the day. And by the time your baby is mobile and toddling around, that number increases to 15 minutes for every hour awake.

Here are a few easy exercises will help you become your baby's own personal trainer.

Tummy Time

Your infant spends the majority of their time on theri back. Turning your baby over onto their stomach helps build the muscles in the neck, arms, shoulders, back, and stomach, says Robert Pantell, M.D., author of Taking Care of Your Child. Daily, supervised tummy time can begin as early as the first day home from the hospital, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Start with a couple of three to five-minute sessions. After you place your baby tummy-down on a blanket or playmat on the floor, get down on your own stomach to keep him company. Engaging your baby makes them want to look around, reach, and kick, which is what helps build the muscles they'll need to roll over, sit up, and eventually crawl, says Dr. Pantell. At first, your baby may fuss during tummy time, but with practice and stronger muscles, they should begin to enjoy it. As strength and tolerance increase, gradually work up to at least 20 minutes of tummy play each day. Continue even after your baby can roll over on their own. Here are a few ideas for tummy time play:

  • Smile, talk, sing and make funny faces together.
  • Jiggle a soft toy or set of baby keys to help encourage reaching.
  • Place a fun object slightly out of reach to encourage stretching and grasping.
  • Play music and "dance" by kicking and wiggling around.

Sit-Ups

Pulling your baby up into a sitting position is another good way to strengthen the muscles in their shoulders, core, arms, and back, says Steve Sanders, Ed.D., author of Encouraging Physical Activity in Infants. Even though you're doing the pulling, your baby will naturally flex their abdominal muscles and work to keep their head in alignment with their body, which helps strengthen the muscles and build balance.

While your baby is on their back, grasp their forearms and gently pull them toward you. You can start doing sit-up exercises around 6 weeks; if your baby is too young to support their head, instead of pulling by the forearms, place your arms behind their shoulders with your hands behind their head to keep it from flopping back. You may only be able to pull your baby up an inch or two at first, Dr. Sanders says, but as they get older, they'll go farther, eventually advancing into a full sitting position. This exercise is fun for your baby since they're getting closer to your face, but you can make it even more entertaining by being extra animated and kissing them at the top of each sit-up.

Bicycling

Did your mom ever tell you to cycle your baby's legs to help relieve gas? Well, it's not only a natural method for pushing air out of their system—it's also a good way to work the legs, hips, knees, and abs. This move helps increase flexibility as well as range of motion. "Put your baby on his back and gently move his legs up and around as if he were pedaling a bicycle," says Dr. Chintapalli. Coo, smile, sing, or make choo-choo or vroom noises while you make the motion. Repeat the movement three to five times, take a break, and then repeat. Keep going as long as your baby shows interest by smiling, making eye contact, and kicking.

Weight Lifting

Picking up objects is a great way to build your baby's grasping ability, improve hand-eye coordination, and help develop the muscles in the shoulders, arms, and hands, says Angela Thacker, regional director of The Little Gym, a national chain of children's gyms. As soon as your baby starts grasping at items, usually around 3 or 4 months, use what you have around the house—rattles, small toys, and other objects of varying sizes and shapes—as their personal weights. Sit your baby in their high chair or bouncy seat and place a small assortment of these items in front of them.

Encourage your little one to lift an object, check it out, put it down, and then lift it again or move on to a different one. You may have to demonstrate how it's done the first few times, but they'll get the idea quickly, especially if the "weights" make a sound, light up, or offer some other reward for a job well done.

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