Treading Water Tips

How to Tread Water

Treading water is a vital skill in water safety, and is one of the first things students taking swimming lessons should master. Effective treading of water means you can move your limbs to stay afloat and upright, with your head above water. This could save your life if you’re ever stuck in water out of your depth. Unfortunately, many people learn the wrong technique and it ends up consuming more energy than it needs to. There are a few ways of treading water, and, if done correctly, can be maintained for long periods of time. Here is your guide on how to tread water, in a way that works for you.

Water safety is extremely important, and treading water has a number of other benefits:

  • You can cover short distances in the water.
  • You can stop in the middle of a swim and orient yourself while swimming in open water.
  • You can recover your breath after swallowing water.
  • You can rinse your swim goggles when they fog up.
  • Treading water increases confidence while swimming.

Body Position

When treading water, your body should be vertical. If it’s not, you’re swimming rather than treading! Your body should be barely bobbing up and down, with your torso motionless as your arms and legs work to keep you afloat. You can tread temporarily with just arms or just legs. The first thing to remember when treading water is to stay calm. Your body needs to be relaxed enough to move fluidly, and your breath needs to be gentle in order to conserve energy.

Arm Movements

There are two popular methods for treading water, both involving “sculling”. To scull is to move the arms in a horizontal plane, pushing the water out of the way. Your palms should always face the same way your arms are moving. While it takes a bit of muscle and practice, there are two ways it can be done:
Version One: from a vertical position, stretch your arms outwards at a 45-degree angle to your body. Use stiff hands but loose arms to sweep the water, repeatedly pushing it forward and backwards.
Version Two: circle your arms in big movements, bringing them in front of your body until they practically touch each other, almost like the breaststroke arm movement.

Leg Movements

There are lots of ways you could kick your legs while treading water. While all of these methods will work to propel your body upwards, the wrong technique can waste energy unnecessarily. There are two leg movements that work with the arm movements above:
Version One: use the flutter-kick technique, quickly moving your straight legs in small, scissor-like motions. Kick alternatively with each leg forward and backwards, pointing your feet in the direction of the ground. This is like a vertical version of the freestyle kick.
Version Two: use an eggbeater kick (also known as a rotary kick). This involves a similar leg movement to breaststroke, but the swimmer is in a sitting position with the legs bent at approximately 90 degrees. Alternate the legs, moving in a circular motion in opposite directions with the feet flexed. When one leg kicks out, the other should come in.

Practice Exercises

For these practice exercises, you will need a swimming noodle. They are designed to get you treading water confidently and should be completed under the supervision of an experienced swimmer or lifeguard.
Place the swimming noodle around your back and under your armpits. Ensure that the swimming noodle can support you in the water on its own.
Simultaneously scull the water with your arms and kick with your legs.
Practice these movements until they provide enough lift to keep you afloat in the water, even without a swimming noodle.
Once you feel comfortable, remove the swimming noodle and try to tread water without it.


Treading water can come naturally once you get the hang of it: practice makes perfect. It’s important to remember that your body needs to be as relaxed as possible and both your arms and legs need to be moving all the time. Good luck!

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