How to Tread Water

How to Tread Water

Welcome back team for my article on How to Tread Water! Or at least how to learn not to sink!

How to Tread Water


This week I’m going to walk you through the skill of treading water. Before we begin, I really want to stress how easy a skill this is to learn. Treading water is something you can pick up in an afternoon if you want to.

Along with being incredibly easy to learn, treading water is one of those universal skills that you must learn if you want to be safe in and around the water. It is the skill of staying stationary and remaining buoyant above the surface of the water. Or in laments terms: you keep yourself from sinking. This skill will also allow you to move yourself around in the water without having to dunk your head beneath the water surface.

So, how does someone tread water to begin with?

Treading water is done by assuming a vertical body position in the pool, tucking your legs in slightly, and then using propulsion from your arms and legs to keep yourself afloat.

The process, like I mentioned above, is very straightforward, so without further ado, lets walk you through the process:

How to tread water:

Step 1: Sit down on a pool edge and practice your kick!


If you want to learn how to tread water, you must learn how to do one of three types of kicks. You can tread water with any of these types of kicks, and they are as follows:

  1. Eggbeater (The most common type) and;
  2. Scissor Kick
  3. Regular Kick (This is much tougher)


Eggbeater is performed by tucking your knees up into your body till they are at about a 90 degree angle to your body whilst flexing your feet. You then whip your feet around in circles, alternating sides when you are kicking. This is the most common way to kick while treading water and it is also the way that I perform my treading water. It should also be noted that I highly recommend you try kicking this way when you are learning how to tread water due to the skill level required for it. The photo reel below clearly demonstrates the motion so please look at it if you are having troubles understanding my description above.

How to Tread Water

Image 1: Eggbeater Steps: 1, 2, 3


Scissor Kick:

The second type of kick that you can use is referred to as a scissor kick. This type of kick is performed by bending both legs to about a 90 degree angle while offsetting them from each other (one in front, one behind the body). Once the legs have been tucked up and bent, you scissor your legs together while extending them outwards back to a stretched out position. I find I don’t utilize this mush when I tread water, UNLESS I want to swim sideways while staying afloat and without putting my head back in the water. Again, I have a scissor kick photo reel below that you can look to if things aren’t making complete sense.

How to Tread Water

Image 2: Scissor Kick Steps: 1, 2, 3


Regular Kicking:

And lastly, I know some people who utilize regular kicking when they tread water. I do not recommend going this route unless the other kicking types cause a bit too much stress on your knees. If you are looking to develop you kick a little more, check out the article I have on performing a excellent regular swimming kick.

How to Have the Perfect Swimming Kick


Picked your favorite kicking type yet…?

Once you’ve decided on the type of kick you are going to try, hop onto a pool edge and practice it sitting (or lying) on the pool edge. A couple of minutes of practice in a non-critical situation will help you stay relaxed while you are practicing the kick.

Once you have completed that, move on to the next step of how to tread water…


Step 2: Practice your sculling


Learning how to tread water is directly related to how good you are at sculling. Practicing your sculling will be one of your greatest tools in improving your ability to tread water!

What you do is lie down on the pool edge, either on your front or on your back, and then use your hands and forearms to pull or push water toward yourself as if you were trying to pull yourself in that direction. If you are doing the sculling on your front, your hands will be above your head. If you are going the sculling on your back, your hands will be below your head. Hop into the pool when you feel comfortable and try sculling while doing a front float or a back float. Side note, remember to exhale while your face is under water!

Tip: you will move your hands and forearms in a figure-8 type of motion when you are practicing sculling, but when you are treading water, your hands will always be facing the bottom of the pool. The point of sculling is to get yourself more acquainted with the feeling of using your hands and forearms to redirect the water in a way that you want.

Think of a “scooping” motion and you are probably doing it fairly correctly. See the below image for a demonstration…

How to Tread Water

Image 3: Sculling Technique

Some things to keep in mind with sculling:

  • Fingers should be tightly pressed together like a “cup”
  • Your shoulders shouldn’t be “fused” tightly together, but relaxed
  • The motion shouldn’t be perpendicular to the direction you want to go. Think of a plane and how the angle of the wings is at an angle that catches the air that it passes


Moving from sculling to treading with your arms…

Try doing a bit of sculling in a back glide or a front glide once more. Once you’ve managed to move yourself around comfortably a little bit, try the following exercise:

Grab a lifejacket or PFD and put it on. Go and hop in a shallow spot in the pool. And try to do some sculling with your arms in front of you this time instead of over your head. The only difference is that your hands should now be facing the bottom of the pool always. Your forearms need to be pushing the water down towards the bottom of the pool to provide you with upwards buoyancy.

And try to get your shoulders up and out of the water a bit. Since you will be bobbing up and down in the water a little bit with your lifejacket to keep you safe, you don’t have to worry about sinking.

Try to notice if you are providing some upwards buoyancy to your body by the sculling you are performing in front of your body.

Try to scull and keep your shoulders out of the water for a minimum of at least 30 seconds before moving to the next step.


Step 3: Add the arms and kick together with a PFD on to keep yourself safe

Now, keep your life jacket on, and try to do some sculling and kicking at the same time.

Do it in shallower water so that you can stand up when you need to take a break.

Are your hands around breast height? Or are they by your hips? If so, they need to come upwards because bringing your hands downwards away from your body will make the movement more strenuous because you are taking all the big muscles out of your disposal. You can’t move water very forcefully if your arms are really far away from your chest.

Also notice if you are holding your breath. Again like many other swimming techniques, your body will manifest stress in lots of different ways that will make the process much more difficult for you. So let that breath go! Relax your body consciously while trying these skills!

Now, try and keep your shoulders out of the water with the assistance of a lifejacket for at least one or two minutes before you move on to the last and final step for my article on how to learn to tread water!

Step 4: Take the lifejacket off



You can do this. Try taking off the lifejacket and slip into the pool in a shallower section so that you can stand up when you need to. The water should be at about chin height.

And try to tread some water. You are succeeding when you realize you are no longer touching the bottom of the pool! Again, keep all the same pointers above that I have already mentioned.

And just keep practicing till you can tread water longer and longer every time. When you really feel like you’ve mastered it, shoot for treading water for a whole five minutes!

This is one of those skills that is so rewarding for me as a swimming instructor to see you guys learn. So let me know what works for you and what doesn’t work for you and I can provide you all with some additional feedback!