The question: A friend told me if I put my child in a Jolly Jumper-style exerciser, she will not develop her muscles properly. Is that true?
The answer: I would never presume to tell anyone how to raise their child. What I will say is, based on information I have learned from Paul Chek and the Prague School of physio therapy, if and when I have a child, I will try to minimize the time he or she spends in supportive devices like Jolly Jumpers, since they don't require the child to actively use their muscles. Notice I say "try" – I understand that what's ideal and what's realistic are two different things.
Babies spend nine months in utero, floating around. Once born, the infant's motor system has to learn to interact with the outside world, including gravity.
Navigating the external load that gravity places on the body helps the child develop his or her musculoskeletal system.
Think of a child's struggle to stand up, to crawl or to sit upright (without the help of a jumper) as their weight-training routine. These activities all load the bones and connective tissues, especially when done in non-supportive environments. The more of their own body weight the child has to support, the stronger they will become. Supportive devices are, literally, supportive; therefore they decrease the stimulus on bones and muscles.
Moving around, struggling to sit up and generally navigating their environment not only promotes bone and muscle growth, but also helps a baby develop proprioceptive abilities. Proprioception is the body's ability to know where it is in space. Heightened proprioceptive abilities will helps your child play sports, balance and be aware of their seated and standing posture. Since most of us adults tend to sit passively hunched over in our chairs, the adults of the future need all the help they can get so they don't end up slouching like most of us do!
Trainer's tip: A child's ability to both crawl and lift their head while lying on their tummy are important for neuro-muscular development. Crawling promotes cross-body patterning, which will help with gait and sports like baseball or football. Lying on their tummy and looking around is one way a child's spinal curves develop. The moral? Encourage your child, within safe parameters, to reach, rotate, lift their head and crawl.
Kathleen Trotter has been a personal trainer and Pilates equipment specialist for 10 years. Her website is www.kathleentrotter.com.