treading water

Treading Water

Treading water is a method of keeping the head above water whilst remaining on the spot in deep water. The swimmer uses arm and leg movements to create downward pressure, helping them to stay up. Treading water is a basic survival skill, but has many other uses. A swimmer can tread water whilst talking to a buddy in the pool, to supervise swimmers in deep water or to pause and look around the environment. A swimmer can tread water whilst removing, de-fogging and replacing goggles, or fixing an undone goggle strap. A swimmer can tread water whilst shouting and waving for attention. Swimmers in a triathlon will often have to tread water whilst waiting for the race to start. Water polo players tread water for the majority of a game, which is played in deep water. Artistic swimmers may incorporate treading water into their routine.

Skills that help to improve Treading Water:

Development of Treading Water from Beginner to Advanced:


Some young children can tread water without needing to be taught how. Their technique may not be very efficient, but they can often work out a way to keep their heads above water for a short period of time. A young child’s treading water attempts might look like they are running on the spot in water or doing a vertical doggy paddle. Nervous children may panic and tense up or do very inefficient flapping movements that do not allow them to stay above the water. Encouraging children to stay calm and make strong arm movements can be a useful starting point. Older children and beginner adults can start by learning a strong sculling hand action, aiming to create whirlpools on the water surface (see sculling). They can try treading water using a noodle float for support. When the swimmer is able to raise themselves higher than the noodle float holds them, then it indicates that their treading water actions are effective. Beginners do not have to be out of their depth to try treading water. Chest deep or neck deep water is adequate enough to practice whilst staying safe. When treading water for the first time, it can feel tiring, so treading water for only a few seconds is a reasonable achievement for a beginner.


When swimmers are able to tread water in their own style for a few seconds, they can start to build up their duration. Improving by just 5 seconds at a time is common. Soon, strength and fitness for treading water improves as well as confidence, and treading water will feel easier and less exhausting. Swimmers can start to think more about their arm and leg actions, making clear, effective movements. A breaststroke kick in a vertical position is one useful method of treading water, but has quite a bouncy effect. An “eggbeater” kick is a very efficient method of treading water, which is used by water polo players and is similar to a breaststroke kick, except the legs move alternately.


When a swimmer has the ability to tread water using an efficient arm and leg action for about 30 seconds or longer, they can challenge themselves to tread water using just their arms, just their legs, or a combination of arms and legs to simulate a survival situation where one or more limbs is incapacitated. Treading water whilst waving for help is another useful survival skill. Advanced swimmers can practice treading water whilst wearing clothes, although this should be done under the supervision of a qualified teacher or coach, or as part of an organised personal survival or water rescue class. For fitness, swimmers can practice treading water using less efficient leg actions, such as front crawl or a vertical dolphin kick. This can aid stroke development and fitness for competition swimming. Swimmers can further build up the duration in which they can tread water and can experiment with rotating to look in different directions when treading water. Adjusting the angle of the hands and feet allows a swimmer to shuffle in different directions whilst maintaining a vertical treading water position (as opposed to leaning forward and swimming), which is useful for water polo and general control in the water.

Skill-specific Hazards for Treading Water:

Besides the general inherent dangers involved with water-based activities, Treading Water has its own specific risks:

  • A swimmer can tire easily when they are learning to tread water. This can put them in difficulty if they are in deep water
  • A breaststroke or eggbeater kick can put strain on the knee and hip joints if those joints are susceptible to injury or if treading water is practiced excessively
  • Swimmers who are practicing removal and replacement of goggles whilst treading water can get themselves tangled up or find themselves in difficulty if they are not used to being submerged without goggles on
  • Treading water whilst wearing clothes can be very tiring and should only be practiced under the supervision of a qualified teacher or coach


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