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Treading Water – 7 Steps to Staying Afloat

According to the Guardian, “1 in 5 people in the UK can’t swim, but it’s never too late to learn.” […]

According to the Guardian, “1 in 5 people in the UK can’t swim, but it’s never too late to learn.” So, it’s no surprise to us that the 3 most common questions we get asked are:

How do I swim in the sea on holiday or deep water?

What should I do if I can’t float?

How do I get over a fear of drowning?

All of these concerns relate to water phobia and a lack of water confidence, so what’s the solution?

Treading water!

Treading water is an essential life skill, it’s the ability to float in one place whilst keeping your head above the water. It’s a useful skill for many swimming situations, especially deep water and it’s just as important as swimming from A to B. Although many people find treading water difficult, it’s all about technique and timing and can be learned in a just a few private swimming lessons.

Why is treading water so important?

Just look at the top 5 most popular swimming goals at Swim Now In 2019, they all involve situations where treading water is essential.

-Swimming in the sea on holiday
-Swimming in a deep pool

-Open water swimming
-Wild swimming in a lake
-Surfing 

How to tread water?

Let’s go right back to basics and focus on the principles of swimming to build confidence first before we learn about the correct technique for treading water.

Step 1: Floating on your back

“Did you just say floating on your back first???”

Yes that’s right, floating on your back is the first step in learning to tread water. On your back you can completely focus on the correct head and body position whilst breathing comfortably. The transition from flotation aids to floating alone will build confidence in preparation for step 2.    

Step 2: Breathing

You might be thinking, “Why is breathing so early on in the process, surely breathing comes later on?”

Well, there are 2 main benefits to mastering the breathing right away.

-Efficient breathing aids relaxation and reduces anxiety
-It allows for correct head and body position whilst floating on your front.

Breathing is such a fundamental part of learning to swim, that we’ve written a full article on it. Watch this video below to understand how to achieve an efficient, relaxed breathing style.

Breathing consists of 3 main elements:

-Inhaling, through the mouth, above water
-Holding the breath to utilise oxygen

-Exhaling slowly, through mouth and nose, underwater.
This is the part that most beginners struggle with. It takes a few hours to get fully comfortable with the breathing techniques, but once achieved it makes swimming fun and relaxing.

A good pair of swimming goggles can improve relaxation and make swimming more enjoyable, you can open your eyes fully and see what’s going on around you. 

Step 3: Floating on your stomach

Can anybody float?

Many people can swim, but can’t actually float very well, this causes issues with stopping, changing direction, or going out of their depth, which are all vital skills for swimming on holiday or in open water. Without the ability to float, anxiety can creep in as the question looms, “What if i can’t put my feet down?”

Everyone has the ability to float but some people have a genetic disadvantage. Heavily muscular people tend to find it harder to float, it doesn’t mean they can’t float, it might just require an experienced swimming teacher to help learn the skills.

Step 4: Buoyancy and Balance 

There is a simple exercise for finding your buoyancy and balance shown in the first minute of this video. Pay particular attention to the head position which affects what happens to the rest of the body. If you watch the full clip you’ll get a better understanding of steps 5, 6 and 7.

Although finding your buoyancy looks like a simple task, it can take some time, don’t get frustrated, just keep practising, you’ll pop up to the surface soon enough.

Try taking a deep breath first, then hold your breath whilst trying the mushroom float, it’s easier when your lungs are full of air.

Step 5: Vertical Sculling

The sculling arm action is as difficult or as easy as you want to make it. If you relax and take your time sculling can be easy, if you speed up the resistance on your arms and shoulders will be greater and you will tire more quickly.

Beginners can practice sculling in a shallow pool with their feet or knees touching the bottom of the pool and progress deeper once technique is established.

Speedo say “To practice sculling, place your arms directly out in front of you, elbows slightly bent. Ensure the palms of your hands are facing downwards and a figure-of-eight motion. Your body should be horizontal in the water and as straight as possible”

Step 6: The Leg Action

There are two main leg kicks associated with treading water, the most common is an alternating egg beater leg kick, most commonly used in water polo. The second is a vertical flutter leg kick which is a very similar action to that used in both the front crawl and backstroke swimming techniques.

Which one is best?

It’s a personal preference. If you favour front crawl or backstroke you’ll likely gravitate towards a flutter kick, whereas if you have a natural tendency to breaststroke the egg-beater kick might feel more natural. Experiment with both to find the most efficient method.

The Eggbeater Leg Kick

The eggbeater kick can be tricky to learn so it’s best to practice the action on dry land first, in front of the mirror to get a feel for the movement. When done correctly it can be a very efficient method of treading water  

The action is essentially breaststroke. The swimmer is in a sitting position, with the back straight and knees bent so that the thighs are parallel to the surface of the water. Each leg rotates in a different direction giving a constant flow of propulsion, pushing the body up out of the water.

The Vertical Flutter Kick

The flutter kick is used in two of the four recognised swimming strokes (backstroke and front crawl). The technique of the vertical flutter kick is a continuous motion with limited recovery, so there’s potential to get tired quicker than with the eggbeater kick.

“Keep your body vertical, with your legs below you.  Kick your legs in a scissor motion, known as the flutter kick.  Do not bend your knees, but keep your legs flexible and relaxed and with pointed toes” – explains Your Personal Swim Coach.

Step 7: Treading Water

Once proficient at both arm sculling and the preferred leg action you can combine the two to tread water. By keeping a rhythmical arm and leg action you can conserve energy, which is ideal for a survival situation where you might need to tread water for a long period of time.

Remember when treading water it’s all about technique and timing, to stay relaxed focus on controlling your breathing.

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by Alistair Mills - CEO of Swim Now

In 2016 I saw an opportunity for a new swimming company that did things a little bit differently and here we are almost 4 years later, having built a family of teachers and clients that we are all really proud of.

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