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Treading water is moving your limbs for the sole purpose of staying afloat and it is a basic survival swimming skill.[1] Its something you can learn even before you learn how to swim. Treading water is also used frequently in aquatic sports like in water polo. Even if youre 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.

Basic Techniques

  1. 1

    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, youll start swimming, not treading water.

  2. 2

    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.

  3. 3

    Move your arms horizontally. If you move them up and down, youll 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

  4. 4

    Move your legs circularly or kick your legs back and forth. If you are moving your legs in a circular fashion, dont point your feet and keep them stiff. If you are kicking back and forth, point your feet downward and kick them constantly.

  5. 5

    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. Youll still have to paddle with both arms and legs, but not nearly as much as you would have to with your body vertical.

  6. 6

    Hold onto any flotation device if youre 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 youll last.

Treading Techniques

  1. 1

    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.[2]

    • The advantage: it doesnt take a lot of proper technique in order to do.
    • The disadvantage: it saps you of energy, meaning you wont be able to do this technique for very long.
  2. 2

    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 youre using just your legs to keep you up, this technique can be taxing.
  3. 3

    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.
  4. 4

    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 youve 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.[3]

    • 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.
  5. 5

    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.
  6. 6

    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: its very simple to explain to children.
    • The disadvantage: circling hands can become tiring.

Community Q&A

Add New Question

  • Question

    How do I get over a fear of deep water?


    Fear of deep water is natural. To overcome this, first learn to swim various strokes properly, master one stroke and learn one way of treading and one way of floating which you feel comfortable with, all in water depth you feel comfortable with. Then slowly enter the deep water and spend a bit of time to adjust yourself. It can help to have a good swimmer with you, for reassurance.

  • Question

    How do I face my fear of drowning?


    Try wearing goggles and practice going underwater, youll feel better if you can see whats happening. Start by going under for a few seconds and see if you can gradually increase your time.

  • Question

    What should I do when water enters my nose while swimming?


    Blow air through your nose when water enters it.

  • Question

    What do I do when I cant float?


    Try lying back and paddling gently with your feet. Do a flapping motion with your arms. Make sure to keep your back straight, and stay calm and very relaxed. Breathe deeply. If all else fails, try some floats to assist you.

  • Question

    What is the best way to tread water? I have to be able to tread for a minimum of 2 minutes.


    Just practice as much as possible, and start near the edge of the pool. Try all treading techniques and see what suits you best.

  • Question

    I cant relax in deep water and as a result I really struggle with treading water. I really want to learn this important survival skill. How can I fix this?


    Brandon Wolfeld

    Community Answer

    First try easing yourself in by treading water in shallow water and then ease yourself - over several weeks - into deeper and deeper water. If you feel that this is a full phobia, you could try cognitive behavioral therapy.

  • Question

    How to prevent my head going into water even though Im treading with my forearm?


    Push your neck and chest upwards so that your head isnt as close to the water and you have less chance for your head to go under.

  • Question

    What do I do if I cant swim very well?


    Try doing these things in the shallow end of the pool, or near the wall, where you can grab onto things if you need to.

  • Question

    When I do the eggbeater, I move my left foot going out and away from my body counter clockwise, and the right clockwise out and away. Whats the difference in these moves, or is there a difference?


    Your legs are going backwards of what they should be. Your right leg should be going counter-clockwise, and your left leg should be going clockwise. This will make treading much easier.

  • Question

    What should I do if I can float, but I am unable to coordinate my breathing?


    Colette Dionne

    Community Answer

    You must inhale when you turn your head up out of the water for every stroke you do, and when you put your face in the water, you must exhale through your nose or mouth into the water. Your breaths should be relatively deep and even.

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  • 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.

  • Exercising will make it easier to hold your body weight up in water.

  • If youre swimming and you get tired, try swimming without using your arms.

  • Relax and conserve your energy. The longer you have to tread, the more tired you get, and the more susceptible to hypothermia you are.

Thanks for submitting a tip for review!


  • Always swim with a buddy.

  • If youre new at swimming, dont try to impress somebody in the water (like treading water without arms, without legs, etc.).


About This Article

Article SummaryX

To tread water, keep your body vertical in the water and your head up above the surface. Then, move your arms back and forth horizontally to keep your upper body afloat. At the same time, move your legs around in a circular motion, keeping your feet stiff. If you get tired, give yourself a break by lying on your back so that you don’t have to paddle with your arms and legs as much. For different kicking techniques to use while treading water, read on!

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Reader Success Stories

  • Bill

    This article has given me ideas to remember when I want to tread water. At one time, many years ago, I could swim... more

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