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How to Tread Water – Techniques and Drills

Learning how to tread water is an important skill for beginners to master in order to gain confidence in the water.

Treading water is a basic swimming technique, where you move your limbs to keep your body afloat in an upright position with your head above water.

A man treading water and smiling at the same time.
Once you know how to tread water, you feel safe.

This article will show two different styles of treading water, one popular style and then my personal style.

Afterwards, we provide a sequence of exercises to learn this technique.

Video Demonstration

Below is a video showing both ways of treading water:

Treading Water Using a 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) The flutter kick also provides some lift that helps you to keep your body afloat.

To flutter kick, you kick alternatively with each leg forward then backward with a long supple leg. Your feet are pointed in direction of the ground.

Treading Water Using My Personal Style

I learned how to tread water as a child, and I don’t remember if we were given precise instructions on what we should do with our arms and hands.

As a result, the technique is less refined, but it works well for me:

What I do is the following:

1) My arms are angled 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 to 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 to 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 using the popular style, you can practice the following exercises:

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

2) Then grab a swimming noodle, place it around your back and under your armpits.

Make sure the swimming noodle by itself is enough to support you in the water.

3) Supported by the swimming noodle, simultaneously scull the water with your arms and flutter kick with your legs.

4) Practice these movements until they provide enough lift to keep you afloat in the water, even without a swimming noodle.

5) Finally, once you feel confident enough, remove the swimming noodle and try to tread water without floatation devices.

In the beginning, only do this 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 challenging to learn for beginners.

Learning How to Tread Water – Personal Style

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

1) Practice the breaststroke kick on dry land.

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

3) Grab a swimming noodle, place it under one armpit, around your back and make it exit under the other armpit. Make sure that the swimming noodle by itself is enough to support you in the water.

4) Practice the arm and leg motions in a vertical position, first separately and then together.

5) Practice these motions up to the point where they provide enough lift to support you in the water even without a swimming noodle.

6) At that point, make sure to have a friend or a lifeguard supervise you, then try to tread water without a swimming noodle. At first, do short repeats, then slowly build up your endurance.


Knowing how to tread water, in addition to giving you water confidence, also helps in the following cases:

  • It also allows you to cover short distances in the water.
  • It allows you to stop in the middle of a swim and to orient yourself while swimming in open water.
  • It allows you to stop to recover your breath if you have swallowed water.
  • It allows you to stop to rinse your swim goggles if they are fogged up.
  • etc.

So it is worth spending some time learning this basic swimming technique. Good luck!

Related Pages

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

Breaststroke: Overview and Swimming Technique
← Previous
Backstroke: Overview and Swimming Technique
Next →


Saturday 7th of July 2018

The proper way to thread in deep water with tiring out too fast.


Saturday 7th of July 2018

Video and instruction on the proper way to thread in water without getting tired too quickly.

Sam Johny

Tuesday 12th of June 2018

I would like to say that when swimming sometimes when you are nervous, you may thread too fast. This is not good. So remember to calm down.


Sunday 3rd of September 2017

I'm not very professional in swimming but to tell the truth, I began with your site and then gradually with a similar site and... finally I succeeded!

You maybe ask, what's the success? Very simple: I don't scare of deep part of pool!

I can swim and enjoy the water, swimming and more important of all: I can water treading and the most important "egg beater!"

I really owe you and the other youtube video about swimming.

Now a question please: An amateur (like me), how long should usually be able to do water treading? In other words, "how long" is natural and good for a regular guy?

Obviously, I'm not a young, strong, professional water polo player. Thank you a billion!


Sunday 3rd of September 2017

Hi Hamid,

I'm glad that you were able to succeed in learning to swim, being able to enjoy it and now even be able to do water polo! :-)

Now, as for your eggbeater question, I can't give you an answer. I never learned the eggbeater as a child, and a few years ago when I tried to learn it I had to stop because I have some knee issues.

That being said, for the two water treading techniques I show above in the article, I think I can do them for a few minutes at a time without a problem.

Hope this helps.

Reny Boy Alicante

Friday 12th of July 2013

I don't know what am I doing wrong. I still sink after doing those maneuvers.


Friday 19th of July 2013

Reny, could it be that you have a low body fat percentage? That could be an explanation of why it is more difficult for you to float.

But with practice, it should be possible for you to be able to tread water using the techniques presented above.

Just practice patiently, it can take quite some time to master the techniques discussed in this article.