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How to Tread Water- Techniques, Benefits & Exercises

Staying upright, afloat and still without moving in deep water can be quite tricky if you have zero water experience. The next thing you can think of is drowning and this why water treading is not only an important but also a life-saving water skill.

There are various treading water techniques that involve only arms/kicks or both including the eggbeater, bicycle, flutter and so forth. Following is are details on water treading mean and how to do it correctly plus drills.

Water Treading Meaning

Water treading, is a way of balancing upright in water without necessarily moving in either direction. It’s a great technique to know as it provides the opportunity to save energy or save a life since being still sinks the swimmer. The aim is to keep the head above the water while breathing easily.

Treading water in the swimming pool
Water treading in action

While there are various ways to tread water, any movements meant to help you float in an upright position without moving in any direction is considered as treading water. There are known styles to tread water with swimmers adding their own variations as they become better at swimming.

With water treading, the focus should be on relaxing and creating just enough upward force to keep you afloat. The reason for drowning is often panic and stiffness in the body followed by frantic and disorderly motions. Treading water is the exact opposite of that.

How to Tread Water

There are many ways to stay afloat in an upright position. However, a lot of the techniques are actually based on the most popular swimming strokes such as the breaststroke and the butterfly. The frog, flutter, and bicycle kick are heavily employed in this exercise.

Experienced swimmers can tread using only arms or legs. Most beginners use both legs and arms.

Let’s start with techniques that involve both leg kicks and arm strokes

The Eggbeater Kick Technique

The eggbeater kick is borrowed from the gear motions of the eggbeater hands and how similar they are to the motions of the legs when treading with this technique. It’s the most efficient water treading technique although the most complex as well.

To perform this technique, you need to be vertical in the water. Bend your legs such that the thigh region is parallel to the floor of the pool and forming a 90-degree angle to the back. The back should be perpendicular to the floor of the swimming pool as well. Basically, you’ll be in a sitting position in the water.

Open up the knees as far apart as naturally possible then start circling the lower legs while maintaining the position of the rest of the body.

The legs should move such that, as one moves in a clockwise manner, the other should move in an anti-clockwise manner.

They should also move such that they don’t meet in the middle. As one comes to the middle of the body, the other should be going outwards.

The eggbeater kick relies little on the motion of the arms. However, for a start, you can hold the hands horizontally while moving them back and forth.

While you can also move them up and down, you’ll be using a lot of energy when the aim with water treading is to save on energy.

The most efficient way, however, is to move the hands in slow circles backwards and forwards. That way, you’ll be sure to stay in the same position.

With time and practice, mastering this technique becomes a reality. The recommendation is to try it out for up to 10 minutes each day.

The Bicycle Kick Technique

The bicycle kick is basically like riding an imaginary bicycle in water. The pedaling motion where each foot goes through a complete circular motion in an alternating manner is used to provide enough upthrust to keep you afloat.

You have to perform these leg motions while in an upright position. The weakness with this position is that you’ll tend to topple to the sides. This is overcome by using the backward circular motions of the arms to steady the body.

This is among the easiest water treading techniques you can learn as it’s very natural and instinctual. It’s mostly used by scuba divers to keep an almost upright position while moving with or without equipment in the hands.

The Flutter Kick

The flutter kick entails keeping the legs straight while alternating one in front of the other as if walking. When on a horizontal axis, the flutter kick is an effective propulsion technique. As such, you’ll be propelling your body above the water.

Just like the bicycle kick, you’ll tend to topple to the side and need the input of the hands to keep straight.

The Frog Kick

The frog kick is another propulsion kick common in the mainstream swimming strokes. It may require more energy than the three previous kicks but works well in helping you tread water. It mimics the leg motions of a frog to generate upthrust and keep you afloat.

You start by pulling your legs together such that you’re in an upright position. You then draw the feet inwards and upwards such that they’re coming towards your bottom.

The knees should be pulling outwards and away from the body. As the feet come together and almost touch, you kick outwards and downwards simultaneously to generate the upthprust needed to keep you afloat.

At the same time, you should be holding your arms on a horizontal plane and circling as in the other techniques above. This way, you’ll stay afloat.

The Dog Paddle

The dog paddle is a primitive method of treading water which is seen in children when left in water. It is more instinctual than being based on any method of training. However, the fact that it works means that it can be used to save a life when there’s the risk of drowning.

This method works by waving the hands and legs in a random manner then you’re on your belly facing downwards. Of note is that it’s not waving the hands above the water but in restricted motions while keeping the head above the water.

Treading Without Hands (Legs-Only)

For the legs-techniques, you’re to simply employ the techniques above but without the use of hands. This can occur when you’re injured, tired or rescuing someone.

Also, you can use the legs-only technique when performing water sports such as water polo or synchronized swimming. In these cases, you need to have a proper leg technique to keep you upright and your head above the water.

The focus of your treading technique should always be to create moment that keeps your head above the water to breath. You’re also not supposed to move in any direction.

The arm movements which entail a motion similar to clapping (without touching the palms) is called sculling and one of the most important aspects when it comes to water treading.

Why is Treading Water an Important Skill? (Benefits)

The reasons you need to learn how to tread water include the following:

1. Survival

The primary reason to learn how to tread water is to survive by preventing drowning. This can occur when you’re not yet good at swimming and there’s no lifeguard or other person to help you out.

Also, you may have injured yourself, swallowed water or are just plain tired yet the shoreline is a bit far. It may also be uneconomical to get out of the water. You may also be stoping to clean your goggles or fix your gear in the water.

2. Adjust Your Swimming Stroke & Form

This occurs especially when you’re learning a new swimming style or a recovering from an injury.

When you’re doing a given part of a stroke poorly, you’ll need to stop and adjust it often with the input of a coach.

You’ll not need to get out of the water for this as will thus need to float about in the same position by treading water.

3. Sports

Sports such as water polo and synchronized swimming heavily employ water treading skills as they rely on balancing on the water and performing other parts of the sport.

As it is, treading water is a major skill that’s even taught in the navy to keep ready to handle difficult situations.

Drills & Exercises

Further Reading

Following is a list of articles with more swimming information and other water sports

Swimming Strokes/Styles

Swimming FAQs & Ideas

Swimming Accessories

Pool Exercises

Other Water Sports