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Tigers, Pizzas And Windmills – Arm Movements Explained With At Home Swimming-Related Exercises

Swimming with a noodle or a learning device is the first step to a child moving comfortably and independently around in the water. As their strength and confidence develops with flutter kicking (check out our latest Blog on developing a strong and continuous flutter kick), arms are introduced, which means it is time for tigers, pizzas and windmills!

Arm movement will evolve as a child becomes a more advanced swimmer. Starting your platypus with bilateral front crawl breathing will certainly end with one confused child and one exhausted parent. Thus, in this blog, we present at-home exercises to develop the correct arm form for dog paddle, front crawl, back crawl and breaststroke, including the adaptations for different levels. Let’s dive in!


Seahorses, Frogs, Goldfish, Turtles, Platypuses, Sea otters and Crocodiles: whether your child has already started putting their head in the water and using their flutter kick to propel them or not, we can introduce the predecessor of front crawl arms – the tiger arms! To perform the movement, a child gets their ‘claws’ ready, extends their arms long and brings them back to the belly. Another metaphor that illustrates the movement well is scooping ice-cream and putting it in a pocket. In order to scoop more ice cream, kids will then need to keep their fingers tightly together. To practice at home, here is a demonstration by Mike.

Crocodiles, Penguins and Seals: Once your child has scooped all the ice-cream there is, they will move on to catch-up arms. This movement is much wider. It starts with both arms extended forward, one arm then travels through the water to touch the thigh and through the air to finish the movement at the ear. Once the arm ‘catches up’, the other arm performs the same movement. If your child tends to bend their elbows and shorten the movement thinking they are gaining speed, encourage them to slow down and straighten their elbows. In the video below, Adrien and Dan show us at-home exercises for catch-up arms using a wall, an elastic and a ball.

Seals and up: Once the arms are coming out of the water nicely, we will gradually introduce bilateral breathing. Breathing on the side is the most efficient way of swimming front crawl as it only requires a rotation of the head which conserves energy. However, 3 stroke breathing can be tricky as it requires a good sense of rhythm! In the following video Dan demonstrates three exercises that can help to develop good form and a sense of continuous movement.


Crocodiles and up: The back-crawl arm movement consists of making the same circle as for the front crawl, except that the arms are turning in the opposite direction. Arms start on the thighs, one lifts up and travels through air to touch the ear and through the water to come back to the thigh. To practice the movement at home, follow along with Mike’s exercise next to a wall.

Once the motion is in place, it is time to make sure the arms are moving fluidly one after the other. Meaning, one arm should start by the ear and the other by the thigh, and then they switch. Since they change continuously, this gives the impression of a windmill. This movement can be performed in front of a mirror so that a child sees if their arm is touching their ear and if their arms are moving with good rhythm.


Platypuses, Sea otters, Crocodiles, and Penguins: The great grandpas of breaststroke arms are the pizza arms! It consists of creating a large pizza shape starting at the top with both arms extended, making a large circle and ‘cutting it in half’ by bringing the palms together at the chest and extending the arms once again. To practice at home, you can use a mat and perform pizza arms while doing flutter kicks on the tummy.

Seals and up: Once children start swimming breaststroke as a full style, it is very important to coordinate the correct arm movement with breathing. The Olympic breaststroke consists of a narrow arm movement that stops at around shoulder-level with the elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. The head comes up as the arms are bending and goes back in as the arms are extending. The wave that the body creates to perform this movement is just as important in propelling the swimmer as the arm technique. Thus, to build arm and back strength and ingrain the upper body movement, Dan and Adrien demonstrate a series of exercises swimmers can do with a ball and a partner.

We hope this overview gave you a better idea of when arms are introduced in swimming class, through what progression, and why. The at-home exercises suggested here can be performed as a circuit. A child can take between 30 seconds to a minute per exercise; do all the exercises that fit their level one after another to form a set; repeating the set 3 to 4 times with a one-minute pause in between constitutes an excellent practice session. If you end up trying any of these out, feel free to send us a video via email!


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