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Zig Zag

Students learn how arm swing plays an important role in balancing the body during running

Tags: elementary school, arms & hands

Objectives Students will learn the importance of arm swing for running. They run through a twisting course in "stiff arm mode," with stiffened shoulders and no arm movement, then again with a full, relaxed arm swing, noticing the difference when they use their arms.
Standards National Standards for Physical Education (NASPE)
Standards 1,2
New York State Education Department (NYSED)
Standard 1
Time Required 20 minutes
Materials Cones to set up a twisting route


Prepare for the Activity

  • Check out the Form 101: Arm Movements video below for a guide to the key elements of arm swing.
  • Use cones to set up one or more twisting routes, full of numerous sharp turns. The routes should be at least 15 meters long.


Events Play

Demonstrates important elements of efficient arm swing.

Click here to access on Teacher Tube

Introduce the Activity

  • Tell the students they’re going to play Zig Zag and discover what it feels like to run without using their arms.
  • Demonstrate running through the course in “stiff arm mode,” with stiffened shoulders and no arm swing at all. Your elbows should be stuck to your sides, with your forearms by your sides and not swinging.
  • Explain to the students that they will first run through the course in “stiff arm mode” and then with relaxed shoulders and full arm swing.

Conduct the Activity

  1. Have the students run, one by one, through the course in “stiff arm mode,” with tight, stiffened shoulders and no arm swing. To allow more students to participate at the same time, set up two courses.
  2. Then have them run through in normal fashion, with relaxed shoulders and full arm swing.

Assess the Students

What to watch for:

  • In “stiff arm mode:” Students who are running with arms glued to their sides and not swinging.
  • In “normal mode:” Watch for relaxed shoulders and good arm swing.

Direction cues to share with students:

  • “Stiff arm mode! Arms glued to your sides.”
  • “Relax those shoulders.” (On the normal runs)
  • “Use your arms.” (On the normal runs)

Note: Only give a student one direction at a time.


When you've completed Zig Zag, talk to your students about their experience with the activity. Here are some sample questions to get you started:

  • How hard was it to zigzag through the course without your arms?
  • Why do you think it was hard? (Because our arms help us balance and to help guide forward movement—without them we are not as stable, so we feel awkward and can't run as fast especially around turns)
  • Were you surprised at how hard it was to run and make sharp turns without moving your shoulders? If you were, what surprised you?
  • Did holding your arms stiff make you feel relaxed? (No)
  • Was it easier to zigzag through the course when you used your arms?


  • Time students on the winding course, first in stiff arm mode, and then in normal mode. If the course is long and twisting enough, you should see a distinct improvement in times when they can use their arms freely.
  • If space allows and you have a large group, divide into smaller groups so more students can be participating at one time.
  • Have the students race each other on the two courses, first in stiff arm mode, then in normal mode.
  • Students may need help staying on course; put numbers on your cones in sequential order or alternate cone colors to indicate the course route.

Inclusion Strategies

Classrooms are filled with learners who demonstrate a variety of needs and abilities, including ESL students, those with disabilities, and gifted/talented students. Consider these adaptations as you work to modify the lesson for student success.

  • Consider limiting the amount of corrective feedback to one correction when working with children with autism or who may have intellectual disabilities.
  • Balance the corrections with positive reinforcement to keep all students on task through the drill.
  • Send students one at a time or with a time delay. This gives other students a model.
  • Alternate no arm swings (running stiffly) with using arm swings (big swings) to find a comfortable use of arms.
  • Tell students to be sure to not run into anyone, or if running past another runner to not hit him or her with exaggerated arm swings.
  • Demonstrate the pattern (zigzag) so children know where to run.
  • Consider having students run side by side with a buddy or partner to learn the pattern.
  • For students who use wheelchairs or who have mobility concerns, adjust arm swings to accommodate pushing the chair: Push, swing through, reach back, push again.

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