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How to Tread Water

Two Methods:Basic TechniquesTreading Techniques

Treading water is a basic survival swimming skill, as well as a useful method of staying afloat in the water. It's something you can learn even before you learn to swim. Treading water is also used frequently in aquatic sports like in water polo. Even if you're not the greatest swimmer, you can build your stamina and learn how to tread water for extended periods of time and increase strength throughout your body.

Method 1
Basic Techniques

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    Use both your arms and legs. Make use of all four of your limbs with your body upright (vertical). If you turn your body horizontal and start kicking with your legs and paddling with your feet, you'll start swimming, not treading water.
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    Keep your head up and your breathing normal. Keep your head above water and try to slowly regulate your breathing. Slowing down your breath will help you calm down, conserve energy, and tread water longer.
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    Move your arms horizontally. If you move them up and down, you'll move up, and then move down again because you have to pull them back up. Move your arms forward and back with your hands closed facing the way they are moving. This will keep your upper body up
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    Move your legs circularly or kick your legs back and forth. If you are moving your legs in a circular fashion, don't point your feet and keep them stiff. If you are kicking back and forth, point your feet downward and kick them constantly.
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    If you need to, lay down on your back and gently paddle your arms and your feet. Give your body a temporary break from paddling by laying down on your back. You'll still have to paddle with both arms and legs, but not nearly as much as you would have to with your body vertical.
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    Hold onto any flotation device if you're having trouble staying above water. A log. A paddle. A rubber boat. Whatever it is, use any type of floating material that you can to hold onto and help keep you above water. The less time you spend using energy to stay above water, the longer you'll last.

Method 2
Treading Techniques

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    Do the dog paddle. The dog paddle is where you move your arms out in front of you while kicking your legs up and down.
    • The advantage: it doesn't take a lot of "proper technique" in order to do.
    • The disadvantage: it saps you of energy, meaning you won't be able to do this technique for very long.
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    Try the flutter kick. The flutter kick is where you tread water with your legs while keeping your arms outstretched for balance. To flutter kick, point your toes downward and kick one leg forward as you kick another leg back. Maintain a consistent back and forth.
    • The advantage: you can keep your arms free by doing the flutter kick, giving you an opportunity to do something else with them.
    • The disadvantage: because you're using just your legs to keep you up, this technique can be taxing.
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    Do the frog kick. The frog kick is where you bring your feet out to the side, and then back in. The frog kick is also called the whip kick. Starting off with your legs together, move your feet out to the side and then quickly back in.
    • The advantage: this kick is less tiring than the flutter kick or the dog paddle.
    • The disadvantage: using this kick causes you to bob up and down in the water instead of staying relatively motionless.
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    Try sculling. Sculling allows you to tread water with your hands. To scull, keep your hands outstretched to the side and completely submerged. With your palms facing toward one another, move your hands towards one another until they are almost touching. When you've reached this point, turn your palms facing outward and move your hands back out to their original position. Try to keep your hands doing one fluid movement back and forth.
    • The advantage: you can keep your legs free by sculling, allowing you to combine this with another foot treading technique such as the flutter kick.
    • The disadvantage: you have to keep pretty much your whole body (minus your head) underwater.
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    Try the rotary kick. Also called the eggbeater, this is where you move one foot clockwise while moving the other foot counterclockwise. This technique is hard to master, but it saves a lot of energy.
    • The advantage: you save a lot of energy doing this technique if you can perfect it.
    • The disadvantage: this is a hard technique to perfect, and many people need to practice extensively in order to learn it.
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    Try the little helicopter. Lay back in the water in the same manner as floating. Immediately move your hands in a circular motion. Move your feet up and down together.
    • The advantage: it's very simple to explain to children.
    • The disadvantage: circling hands can become tired.


  • The more salt or sugar in the water, the easier it is to float.
  • If you need to, use flotation devices. They can get you used to floating in the water.
  • Relax and conserve your energy. The longer you have to tread, the more tired you get, and the more susceptible to hypothermia you are.
  • Exercising will make it easier to hold your body weight up in water.
  • If you're swimming and you get tired, try swimming without using your arms.


  • Always swim with a buddy.
  • If you're new at swimming, don't try to impress somebody in the water (like treading water without arms, without legs, etc.).

Sources and Citations

Article Info

Categories: Basic Swimming Techniques