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Learn How to Tread Water – Techniques and Exercises

When you tread water, you move your arms and legs to keep your body upright and your head above water.

It is an important skill that beginners must master in order to be safe in the water.

Once you know how to tread water, your water confidence will greatly improve.

A man treading water and smiling at the same time.
Being able to tread water builds water confidence.


Treading water is a basic swimming technique used primarily to pause for a moment in the water, rather than for propulsion. It is useful in many situations, for example:

  1. While practicing a specific drill, if you get out of breath, swallow water or lose your rhythm, you can use it to stop in the middle of the water and regain your composure.
  2. While swimming in open water, you can stop and look around if you lose your bearings.
  3. If your goggles fog up while swimming, you can stop, take them off, rinse them in the water, put them back on and resume swimming.

Video Demonstration

The following video shows you two different ways of treading water: a popular style and my personal style.

Treading Water – Popular Style

One of the popular techniques for treading water is sculling on a horizontal plane with the arms and fluttering on a vertical plane with the legs.

1) To scull water, raise your arms sideways to shoulder height and then move your arms forward and back, pushing against the water with your hands.

The pressure your arms and hands exert on the water creates some buoyancy that keeps your body afloat.

2) To perform the flutter kick, you alternately kick forward and backward with small quick movements. Your feet point downward as you do this.

The flutter kick also provides some buoyancy, which helps keep the body afloat.

Treading Water – Personal Style

I learned how to tread water as a child, and I don’t remember if I learned this technique on my own or if it was taught by an instructor.

In any case, my technique is less sophisticated, but it works well for me. What I do is the following:

1) I angle my arms at about 90°, with my forearms horizontal and pointing forward, my palms turned downward, and my elbows close to the body.

2) Then, I make circles in the water with my hands. They move down and outward, then up and inward, then down and outward again, and so on.

What I basically do is push the water down with circular movements.

3) My feet also do a circular kind of movement that is similar to the breaststroke kick. The initial position is with my knees bent and my feet in their natural resting position.

4) Then I move my feet down and outward while they go in plantar flexion, then they move up and inward in dorsiflexion.

So what I basically do is push down the water with the inside of my lower leg and foot.

Learning How to Tread Water – Popular Style

To learn how to tread water in the popular style, you can do the following exercises:

1) First, practice the swimming exercises given in the articles about sculling water and the flutter kick.

2) Then, take a swimming pool noodle, put it around your back and under your armpits. Make sure the pool noodle provides enough buoyancy to keep you afloat.

3) Supported by the pool noodle, you simultaneously perform sculling movements with your arms and a flutter kick.

4) Practice these movements until they provide enough buoyancy to keep you afloat even without a swimming pool noodle.

5) When you eventually feel confident enough, remove the pool noodle and try treading water without a buoyancy aid. In the beginning, do this only under the supervision of an experienced swimmer or a lifeguard.

Note: Some instructors use the eggbeater kick as an alternative to the flutter kick, but I think it is more difficult for beginners to learn.

Learning How to Tread Water – Personal Style

To learn how to tread water in my personal style, you can do the following swimming exercises:

1) Practice the breaststroke kick on dry land.

2) Practice the breaststroke kick in the water using floatation aids.

3) Take a swimming noodle, place it around your back, and then under your armpits. Make sure that the pool noodle is sufficient to keep you afloat.

4) Floating in the water in a vertical position, practice the arm movements and the leg movements, first individually and then together.

5) Practice these movements to the point where they provide enough buoyancy to keep you afloat without a swimming pool noodle.

6) Finally, under the supervision of a good swimmer or lifeguard, try treading water without a pool noodle. Do short sets at first, then slowly build up your endurance.


Beginners should spend sufficient time to get good at treading water, as it provides both water confidence and safety. I hope that the information provided in this article will motivate you to master this important basic swimming technique.

Have fun and good luck!

Related Pages

You may also be interested in the following articles that cover basic swimming techniques:

Breaststroke: Overview and Swimming Technique
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Backstroke: Overview and Swimming Technique
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