Tips and Tricks Tuesdays- Increasing arm strength in infants

Arm strength is important in infants for safety and for achieving crawling.

One of the milestones that makes me realize that my baby patients are slowly growing up right before my eyes, is when they are able to stay sitting up all by themselves.  Infants begin to stay sitting up by themselves around 6 months, and usually sit in the “ring-sit” position.

In order to hold this position, babies need a certain amount of arm strength to be able to hold their elbows straight.  They also need good arm strength in sitting so they can protect themselves from falling if they lose their balance in sitting.

Arm strength continues to improve as an infant progresses from sitting independently to transitioning from sitting to lying on their tummy, and then eventually to crawling.  Arm strength becomes more important when it comes to crawling because an infant must have enough strength to hold their tummy off the floor while lifting an arm and leg to crawl.

Once your child begins to crawl, then they’ll start crawling places and the next task they’ll start doing is pulling to stand at anything and everything they find.  This is usually when parents start clearing every table they have so nothing gets tossed to the floor.

Click this pic to the left to see that amazing baby doing full on pull-ups at a table haha.  Now I’m sure that baby has great strength to start crawling.

So here are some tips to help increase that important upper body strength in infants:

1- Have them play with heavier/ larger toys in sitting so they have to use both arms to hold the toy and have to work harder to play with it.  Some examples of heavier toys are bigger balls, wooden toys, and any other larger object that requires using 2 hands.   Having your baby start practicing holding their bottle is also great to help increase arm strength.  Plus, infants should start holding their own bottles around 10 months old.

2- Have your infant lie on their tummy over a pillow or boppy while playing with a toy.  This strategy is a spin-off of my tummy time strategy discussed in my tummy time tips post.  This time, I make it harder by having them farther off the pillow so they have to use more of their tummy and arms to hold themselves up while playing with a toy.

3- If your infant is already pulling to stand and trying to stand more and still not crawling, then you can work on increasing their arm strength by making them repeatedly pull to stand at a table to increase their arm strength.  You can do this by placing toys / play pieces on the floor and the remaining part of the toy on the table, and encourage them to place all the pieces on the table.

Categories: Child Development, Tips and Tricks Tuesdays

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7 replies

  1. Hi Natalie-
    My daughter is 14 months old and has been scooting hands-free since 10 months. I am embarrassed to say I never even considered it would be a problem or cause a delay to walking so we never worked to push crawling. She has been evaluated by our state’s Early Childhood Development program and they recommended PT, but there is an 18 month waiting list (unbelievable, I know) and our health insurance will not cover anything for developmental delay. We are trying tricks ad home like blocking the path with pillows, using a tunnel (which she hates), and trying to kind of guide her legs in the crawl position but nothing seems to work. She gets up on her knees and plants one foot but can’t seem to stand and resists us trying to help her stand. At this point I’m really concerned and truly frustrated. Do you have any other suggestions or resources that we could use to help us?
    Thanks in advance.


    • Hi Lorie, I’m sorry there is such a long waiting list for PT! I would say to start focusing on kneeling and standing activities and not to focus so much on crawling. Crawling is a stepping stone that increases hip and trunk strength. Kneeling to play and standing in place are great activities that work on hip and trunk strength. For kneeling activities, I would try to find a surface that is a good height to play in kneeling. 1 strategy I use is taking couch cushions off the couch and padding the couch frame with a blanket for safety. FOr standing, I would use a couch or coffee table. Try to use super exciting toys like bubbles or new toys or your child’s favorite toys. For these activities, the goal is to increase tolerance and endurance for maintaining kneeling or standing at least >5 minutes. In kneeling, you can start off with your daughter’s bottom resting on her heels, with the goal of her bottom being off her heels. You can support her at her hips in both kneeling and standing. I would focus on kneeling before standing, but if she starts to like standing then practice both activities. Hope this helps, please let me know if you have any other questions!


  2. Hello there im sad to say my baby is weak from his left arm and he has been getting PT for the last 4 months its been great the increase of his strength and now he gets in crawling position but he gets weak n slumps down to his belly i get frustrated and cry because i wish he wouldnt have to struggle all lf my friends children are up and crawling n walking and he still struggling for crawling thank god hes small so he doesnt know whats going on with him but i would like some times on how i can help him i love him so much and wish to do anything to see him reach his crawling milestone❤ thank you


    • Hi Mari, I’m sorry that you’re frustrated about how your son is progressing in his milestones. Have you asked your son’s PT for some strategies to help him crawl better? There are 2 things you can try to increase his strength. 1 is to have your son on his hands and knees with a pillow under his tummy to give him some support as he tries to hold the position. I would have him do a fun activity in this position where he has to play with a toy with his right arm so he is forced to put more weight on his left arm to make it stronger. The other strategy you can try is to hold him around his tummy and trunk as he is trying to crawl to take some of the weight off so that he feels lighter as he crawls. I usually walk in a squatting position supporting kids under their trunk to help them crawl. hope that makes sense and helps a little, but I would definitely ask your son’s PT for some other tips as they have been working with your son for some time now. let me know if you have any questions, and thanks for stopping by my page!


  3. My son is a preemie and he is almost 6months adjusted age and should be rolling, but he’s making no attempt to roll and really doesn’t know what to do with his hands when they get in his way. Also he doesn’t open his palms when on Tummy time position and has very little upper body strength. He sits up but he can’t really hold his upper body straight up and ends up lambast ally touching his toes with his head because he can’t support himself. He gets PT but I’m frustrated not sure how to help him much. When I put him on tummy time he cries and Hates it especially since he’s teething so bad. Any suggestions?


    • Hi CB, sorry for the delay in replying! What activities is your son doing in PT? I would suggest that since he’s having trouble pushing himself up in tummy time, that you try to put him on his tummy against an exercise ball in a more upright position instead of in a face down position. You can also try placing him on his tummy against your chest as you are in a slightly reclined position. These positions are better because they require less effort for the head and neck and arms, and also don’t place his head in a face down position which may be more irritating if he is teething. Let me know if that helps and if you have any questions!


  4. hi there, glad i came across this site.
    my daughter is 12 months old and not crawling. i started getting worried around 11 months and her pead suggested we see a childrens physio. she said that my daughter has weak core and weak arms. she’s also stopped playing with toys, holding her bottle and grabbing things, which i also worried about. could it be that because she is weak in her arms she doesn’t want to use them for play?

    for a month now we’ve been doing crawling exercises (getting her in crawling position, sitting with hands to the side to put weight on them) and lots of tummy time. initially, she would cry with her hands up off floor in tummy time but now she pushes her chest off floor and holds crawling position for long periods of time (5 min or more) she has good leg strength so standing up assisted is fine for her.

    recently ive been making her hold the bottle herself and persistence over and over now she’s holding it, but not for long.
    should i see this as progress and expect her to keep improving, i.e holding more things, even playing with toys and eventually crawling? initially i was worried that maybe it was a neurological issue.
    anything else i can do to assist her? someone suggested monkey bars, letting her hold on, assisted. is that a good idea for arm strngth and core strength?
    thank you so much!


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