Swimming Warm-Ups for Children

Warm-up exercises and stretches prepare bodies for physical activity by increasing heart and respiratory rates and delivering more oxygen and nutrients to muscles. Warming up before any physical activity is important, but especially so before swimming, in order to reduce cramping, fatigue and other factors that can lead to accidental drowning.

Safety First

Pool, lake or ocean swimming is a source of great excitement for children, so it is important to establish swimming rules and procedures before kids run off to swim and play. Sit down together and discuss the order of events prior to arriving at the swim site. Inform kids that before they can get in the water, they must warm up and put on any flotation devices that you require them to wear, such as a life jacket, inner tube or swim sleeves. Remember to apply sunscreen 30 minutes before sun exposure.

Warm-up Exercises

Once you have arrived at the swim site, lead the kids in a few warm-up exercises for a minimum of five to 10 minutes prior to stretching 1. It is important to do warm-up exercises before stretching, because stretching cold muscles can cause pulls and tears 1. Warm-ups should include light aerobic and cardiovascular activity and lightly work the muscles kids will use for swimming. During warm-up time, encourage kids to raise their arms above their heads and then pull them down to the sides of their bodies, and to push arms out from their sides and back in again, to mimic swim strokes. Instruct kids to lay their backs on their swim towels, raise their legs up and bring them back down in a bicycle motion. Do the warm-up exercises at a slow, but steady, pace.


After the warm-up exercises, encourage kids to perform two or three stretches. Show them how to stretch their arms high above their heads and slowly bend their torsos from side to side, keeping feet shoulder-width apart and facing forward. Instruct kids to bend down and touch their toes to stretch legs and back muscles. Each stretch should be held for 10 to 30 seconds. Stretching before entering the water will increase kids’ flexibility and range of muscle motion 1.

Warm-ups for Nervous Swimmers

Sometimes, young children are afraid to enter the water, especially if they are just learning how to swim. Help a nervous child warm up for swim lessons with low-stress water activities that will acclimate the child to being in water. Sit in a shallow area and encourage the child to put his mouth to the water and blow bubbles. Or, have the child hold the edge of the pool and kick.