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How to Tread Water (for Beginners)

If you’re interested in learning how to tread water, the above video covers the sculling motion, eggbeater kick, as well as some alternatives to treading water.

Introduction: Treading water is often one of the first skills that parents want me to teach their child. However, treading water properly with a relaxed sculling motion and egg beater kick is a more advanced skill. From a safety perspective, a comfortable, relaxed, back float is your most critical life saving skill. It’s not uncommon for young swimmers to be able to back float or even swim back stroke for longer than they can tread.

Treading versus Dog Paddle: Maintaining a vertical, up and down, body position requires a good feel for the water. Most beginners, want to use dog paddle arms and running legs. This can get tiring over a short period of time.

Finning or Sculling: You want to use your hands like fan blades. The angle of your hand, and how it moves through the water can create downward pressure without pushing down.

Back float with sculling: I often introduce the sculling or finning motion when teaching back floats. It gives kids that are grabby something to do with their hands. Notice, I’m using a side-to-side motion with my arms while changing the angle of my hands.

Treading: Here, I’m utilizing the same hand and arm motion in a vertical, treading, body position. My hands scull out and together, out and together. I can feel the pressure of the water against my hands throughout the stroke. If I speed it up, I can lift myself farther out of the water.  In general though, I’m just trying to keep it slow and steady.

Eggbeater Kick: Moving on to the kick, if I wanted to crush an aluminum can, would I use a pointed to? No, I keep my foot flatter. Similar to breaststroke kick, we push or kick the water with the sole of our foot.  Eggbeater kick gets it name from the motion of the legs. First, I’m pushing down and out, then I’m bringing my leg in and up. One leg at a time. Down and out. In and up.

Here, I’m doing the kick in the water. Stay nice and tall. Don’t curl up in a ball. While my knees are bending significantly, I’m not bringing them up to my chest. I’m kicking from the waist down. My kick is kind of lazy here, but you only want to kick hard enough to stay afloat.

Full Stroke: As I put the arms and legs together, I want to finish my kick or stomp as I finish the out-sweep and/or in-sweep of my arms. Stomp, stomp, kick, kick, sweep-out, sweep-in.

Alternatives to Treading Water: While treading water is an important safety skill, there are alternatives.  A good back float with some light finning can be just as effective.  The current Boy Scout and U.S. Navy swim tests emphasize prone floats or survival floating for 5 minutes as opposed to treading water. Figure out what works best for you.


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Written by Chris B.

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