Maintain and even improve your child’s swimming abilities while the pools are closed with these practice tips and exercises.
Swim lessons may be canceled, but your child can still practice his or her swimming skills with these expert recommendations and exercises from Life Time Swim — no pool is required. Simply try them in the bathtub or on the floor to keep advancing your child’s water safety and swimming techniques until lessons can resume.
If your child is enrolled in swim lessons at Life Time, this includes levels 101 and 201.
The first ability level is for children who are not comfortable with fully submerging their heads and bodies underwater to swim and play. They also don’t yet have the foundational skills of floating by themselves or lying on their backs in the water, and cannot do basic paddling on their own for approximately four yards.
What to do at home:
Help your child become more comfortable with going underwater and floating with these supervised bathtub exercises:
- Using a cup or the shower head, gently run water over your child, starting with his or her feet, arms, belly, and back, then moving on to their neck, face, and head.
- Don’t be afraid to have “big splashy movements” together. Splash water onto your own face and show your child how you blink and wipe it away. Then, gently splash water onto your child’s face and encourage them to mimic your behavior.
- Have your child practice gently dipping their face in the water. Start with putting one cheek in the water, then turn his or her face under the water to the other side.
- Once your child is comfortable, encourage him or her to try blowing bubbles out the nose underneath the water.
- Sink toys beneath the water and have your child practice picking them up.
Instruct your child to lie face up in the bathtub and to look up, raising their chin slightly. If this is uncomfortable, assist your child by putting your hand behind his or her head or lightly pressing up on the back. Make sure your child keeps his or her hips elevated to keep them on the surface of the water. Encourage making a “big belly,” as if they just ate a large meal. Once your child is ready, gently release your support.
Practice kicking on both their front and backs while in the bathtub or laying on the couch or bed. Look for pointed toes and correct form if needed.
In the bathtub: Have your child cup their hands slightly with their fingers together. Have them reach out, and pull the water toward them using the palms of their hands like they are scooping their favorite ice cream toward their belly.
On the bed: Have your swimmer lie on the bed with their head and arms hanging off the side while you hold their feet to keep them from falling. Make sure they keep their face down while paddling their arms in front of them.
Help your child become comfortable paddling on his or her back by practicing this swim stroke on a flat surface. We like to call this one “chicken, airplane, soldier” to help kids remember the shapes they make.
- Start lying on their back with their hands by their sides.
- Slowly trace their hands up their sides to their shoulders in the shape of chicken wings, then extend their arms straight out from their sides like an airplane.
- Keeping arms straight, your child should push their hands back down toward their sides like a soldier standing at attention.
This basic skill teaches children how to breath with their face in the water. It’s the introduction to rotary breathing for freestyle swimming.
- Have your swimmer lie on their back on a flat surface.
- Instruct them to roll from their back onto their stomach while facing the same direction they roll.
- Ensure they don’t use their hands to push on the flat surface for assistance.
- Try this exercise three to five times in a row.
If your child is enrolled in swim lessons at Life Time, this includes levels 301 and 401.
The second ability level is for children who have achieved paddling and floating on their own in the water. The goals at this level are to help them learn the basic swim strokes and for kids to be able to swim the length of our pool by themselves.
What to do at home:
This exercise helps make sure children are kicking correctly from the hips with straight legs and pointed toes. It also ensures the body is in proper alignment to help strengthen their swim strokes.
Direct your child to lie on the floor on their stomach, extend both arms over their head, then raise one arm above the ground while lifting the opposite leg. Switch arms and legs and continue repetitions while aiming for controlled movements. Then, have your child try this same exercise while lying on their back.
For this swim stroke, the focus is on getting your child’s arms out of the water and helping them become comfortable with rotary breathing.
Russian Twists are great for establishing the foundational rotation movements. Grab a toy or unopened canned item from your pantry to use as a weight, and follow these instructions to help your child complete this exercise:
- Sit on the ground and have them lift their feet a few inches into the air, keeping knees bent, and leaning back a little until they’re balancing on their sit bones.
- With feet lifted and item in hand, they should twist from side to side for 10 to 45 seconds, touching their left and right sides.
To increase difficulty, add a side-to-side head turn to help your child improve their balance.
Hey To help them advance to rotary breathing motions of the freestyle swim stroke, have your child lie down on the floor or a bed on their stomach.
- Keeping their forehead down, left arm at their side, and right arm overhead, switch the placement of their arms by scooping their right arm down while lifting their left arm overhead. Continue in a fluid motion.
- To add the rotary breathing motions, have your child start turning their head onto their left ear as the right arm comes down to their side. Their head should be rotated to the side but not lifted.
- Mimic taking a quick breath in, then return head to face-down position and blow out as if blowing bubbles underwater.
- Cadence should be similar to: Left arm, right arm, left arm, right arm with head turning to breathe.
- To increase the difficulty, add flutter kick while practicing the rotary breathing and stroke technique.
This straight-arm drill helps your child with the mechanics of the backstroke arm positions. First, have your child lay flat on their back with their arms and hands down at their side. Raise one arm overhead with their thumb leading straight up. Be sure the arm remains straight and passes close to your child’s ear. Try it with the other arm, then work on alternating arm positions for 10 to 12 repetitions.
Help your child learn this stroke by starting with the whip kick technique and following these instructions.
- Have your swimmer lie stomach-down on the bed with hands pulled into their chest, elbows bent, palms flat to the mattress, and legs hanging slightly off the edge of the bed.
- Starting with legs straight together and toes pointing toward the floor, have them bend their knees and draw their heels up toward their bottom.
- Keep knees in place while they open and push their ankles out as if drawing a circle with their feet. Complete the kick by bringing their heels back together as legs come back into straight position.
Once your child is comfortable with the whip kick technique, it’s time to add the arm movements.
- Have your swimmer lie with their stomach slightly off the bed and practice their “pizza arms”: Move arms from straight together overhead, pushing out to the sides and down in a large circle, then bring them back together at their belly button. Don’t let their hands go down past their hips.
- Lie them on their stomach on the floor or bed and practice saying “kick, glide, pull” in succession while performing the movements of the arms and kick together.
- When practicing the motion, have them add the whip kick as their arms reach forward, then pause with their body straight and stretched from hands to feet (as if in a glide).
- Practice the arm pull while their legs bend to begin the whip kick.
Have your child pretend to be a dolphin or a mermaid while lying on any flat surface. Have them kick their legs while keeping feet together as if they have one fin instead of two legs — this is the dolphin kick.
Once your child has a handle on the dolphin kicks, have them start practicing the arm technique. Your child can lie on the floor or a bench for this exercise.
- Reach arms out straight in front while making a triangle shape with their hands — pointer fingers and thumbs touching.
- Keeping hands relatively together, pull arms down and underneath the body, bending the elbows, and making a diamond shape. The four points of the shape should be the hands, left elbow, chest, and right elbow.
- When the child’s hands reach the waist, separate the hands and swing them out to the sides while keeping them at the same level as their body.
- Swing forward until their arms reach straight overhead, then make a triangle with their hands again.
If your child is enrolled in swim lessons at Life Time, this includes levels 501 and 601.
The advanced level is for children who have learned how to put the strokes together and can swim backstroke and freestyle about the length of a pool. At this level, the purpose is to help children swim greater distances, increase their endurance, and be able to swim all four strokes — freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly — the entire length of the pool.
What to do at home:
Practice the movements of bilateral, rhythmic breathing by repeatedly performing these movements to gain muscle memory for improved practice once the pool reopens.
- Have your child practice while lying down, as if in the water, and performing the freestyle stroke arm movements as if they were swimming.
- Simulate the arm movements while kicking and repeating the count sequence of “one, two, three, breath.” Every number is a stroke, and every third count is when they turn their head to the side and take a breath.
Perform arm rotations in the air
Many of the basic swimming strokes can be practiced outside of the water. Have your child practice the arm motions of each stroke — freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly — while they are sitting or standing at home. Make sure to encourage them to fully complete each arm rotation as if they are actually swimming. This practice helps improve their coordination on the more difficult swim strokes.
Practice kicking on the floor
Young children often struggle with keeping their legs straight during flutter kicks. Your child can practice this skill while lying on the floor. Spend time helping them practice making small, swift movements with their legs during the kicking sessions. If they are small enough, you can also take these lessons into the bathtub so that your child learns how to move with water resistance.
Watch swimming videos
Observation is an essential part of learning how to improve your child’s swimming skills. During your free time, watch videos of professional swimmers with your child. Make sure to use the appropriate names for each stroke and discuss together what you see the swimmers doing well.
Over time, you’ll notice your child picking up the vocabulary used in competitive swimming, which increases their ability to understand what their swimming coach may tell them to do during their lessons.
Endurance is key to swimming at the advanced level. We recommend exercises such as pushups, jumping jacks, sprints, squats, and crunches. Stretching helps loosen joints and makes the body more flexible as well. If you need a lot of stretching, we recommend the yoga classes on demand.
Lindsey Frey Palmquist is a senior copywriter at Life Time.