What are Gross Motor Skills?

what are gross motor skills?You have probably heard the terms gross motor skills or gross motor milestones. But what do those phrases actually mean? A simple way to think about gross motor skills are to think of them as BIG movements or movement of large parts of the body. More specifically, gross motor skills are skills that involve the large muscles in the arms, legs, and torso (core). Gross motor milestones are gross motor skills that typically develop at a certain age.

Most of the time we think about the gross motor milestones, such as:

  • Rolling
  • Sitting
  • Crawling
  • Walking
  • Jumping

But there is SO much more to gross motor development. Gross motor skills encompass movement, balance, and coordination. Babies and kids need to master all of these areas in order to participate in activities. Activities are more complex movements that requires multiple gross motor skills put together. Things like riding a bike and playing sports. Gross motor skills build on top of one another. If one is missing, or the quality of it is poor, it can change the quality of the next skill or even delay it from happening.


Think about jumping. What does a child need to be able to do? Stand. Squat and return to standing. Generate enough power in their knees and ankles to get off the ground. Arm swing. Have enough balance to land without falling. Vision. The child must see where they are jumping to so they don’t run into or land on an obstacle. If a child is missing any of these skills, they will not be able jump.


Now think about playing basketball. There are tons of skills a child needs to be successful. The ability to run and jump. To catch and throw a ball. To shoot a ball. Each of these requires mastery of multiple skills to be able to do them. And then the child needs to be able to put all of these skills together and do them simultaneously. However, that doesn’t take the social emotional or cognitive requirements into consideration. Movement is so incredibly complicated (an amazing) when you really think about it. Which is why, as physical therapists, we focus so much not just on can you do it? But can you do it well?

And why we constantly talk about tummy time! Above all, doing supervised tummy time with your baby from day one prepares them for successful development. If you have questions about when your child should be doing what, check out the CDC’s Milestone Moments. To learn more about how to help gross motor skill develop, check out our articles here.