Open Water Swim - Treading Water

30percent30percent United StatesNew Member

I live near Lake Lanier in Georgia. I'm interested in joining an open water swim group here for a swim. I have been going to the lake during the summer at least once a week to practice and refine my freestyle.

One legitimate concern that has been holding me back from joining an open water swim group or a triathlon race is that I can't tread water for long.

1) how long should one be able to tread water for an open water swim in the event if I need to take a break in the middle of the lake or say ocean?
2) I have watched many youtube videos, and read articles on the internet - but I still haven't been able to master treading water for a long period of time. Any advice or tips?

I'm always afraid that if I get tired in the middle of my swim and I can tread water for long, it becomes a major safety concern.
If I keep my body and head vertical, I could perhaps tread water for a minute before I get exhausted (and then panic). If I lean my head back and keep my eyes in the water, I can perhaps tread water 2-5 minutes.

I could backfloat - but I suppose I would only feel comfortable in the water, if i'm confident that I can tread water for a long time in the event if I'm tired from swimming.

I was at a swimming pool in NJ 1 time talking to this old Russian lady. She was treading water effortlessly like as though she was standing in the water while chatting with me. I asked her how long can she tread water like this. She said, "2 hours effortlessly".


  • MLambyMLamby Senior Member

    Hello ! If you begin panicking after 2-5 minutes, that is definitely a concern. There are myriad reasons why you might be expected to tread water for considerably longer during an open water swim. Cramp, fatigue, sudden change in conditions, gear malfunction, potty emergency, getting lost, getting disconnected from your kayaker (happened to me in the fog), etc. The Russian woman telling you that she could tread water "effortlessly" for 2 hours is actually quite average or even low end of average. I would personally recommend making sure that you can tread water "effortlessly" for an appreciable amount of time before venturing beyond where you are able to touch bottom. Here is a link that you may find useful. Stay safe and enjoy your swims!

  • dc_in_sfdc_in_sf San FranciscoCharter Member

    Your goal when "treading water" is really just to keep your head out of the water so you can breathe comfortably. Your main source of buoyancy is the air in your lungs so there are two things to remember:

    1. Don't try to have your neck or torso out of the water. You want your lungs to be submerged to maximize the buoyancy they impart. Some people can float naturally higher in the water than others, and for them they may have part of their torso out, but if it doesn't come without effort you should waste the energy trying to emulate it.
    2. If you exhale completely you will sink. Don't do zen breathing while treading water, because you'll have to work harder to stay afloat when the air is out of your lungs. Find a middle ground where you keep some air in your lungs to aid floatation.

    Floating on your back is a lot easier, because you are not trying to support the weight of your head. I would practice floating on your back in a pool for extended periods of time and get comfortable with that first. When you are confident, transition to a vertical pose, and see how buoyant you are with your lungs full and holding your breathe, then work on your breathing and treading water in that position.

    MLamby - open water adventures of a very ordinary swimmer

  • 30percent30percent United StatesNew Member

    I'm comfortable floating on my back for a period of time (although, I have timed myself for how long).
    I have been trying to go the the shallow end of the lake 1-2 times a week to practice on my freestyle and treading water. I have seen improvement in my freestyle swim but not treading water.

    I've been trying what I have read on internet or watched on YouTube on treading water. Whatever I tried I feel
    like I'm expensing too much energy hence tired out inside 2 minutes. when I swim freestyle in the pool, I feel relax and I can swim for an hour. But I can't do that with treading water.

    As mentioned if I exhale completely, I will lack that buoyancy in my lung. I run and play soccer - naturally I'm not conscious when I breathe other than to slow down my breathing after a sprint. Controlling my breathing when tread water is a little foreign to me.

    1) Is eggbeater the same as vertical breaststroke kicks with the difference in alternating the kick?
    2) how much treading water is muscle and how much is technique?


  • abeabe australiaMember

    Hi 30percent
    Good to hear the freestyle improvement - I am played water polo for over 20 years so can tread forever, you tube some water polo drills.
    In the open water that is your relax time like a ultra runner who needs to walk for a while
    Good luck

  • MLambyMLamby Senior Member

    Howdy 30 P. As dc_in_sf stated earlier, you should probably make sure to NOT exhale completely when treading water. You need air in your lungs in order to stay buoyant. Also, yes the eggbeater is a form of vertical breaststroke. Alternating the kick isn't mandatory. Everybody sort of has their own way of getting it done. This method is just a great starting point because it makes sense.....sort of like the physics of a helicopter just hovering above the ground. The idea is to expend LESS energy than when you are actually swimming. Also, I would say that treading water isn't as much "technique" as it is finding a method that is comfortable for you. It will be like riding a unicycle. It will seem impossible, and then it will just click for you once you find your sweet spot and will (or at least should) just become second nature. I've posted another article below, And again, I am a "Nervous Nelly" who has ultimate respect for the water. Please, no matter how comfortable you are while you are swimming, don't put yourself in a position you may not be able to get out of if something goes wrong until you are very comfortable treading water. Runners and bikers can stop and sit on the ground or a bench when things go wrong. Swimmers cannot, and if you go under, someone who is literally right there may have no ability to find you. Please be safe. All the best.

  • curlycurly Issaquah, WASenior Member

    Some thoughts on treading water. You don't always have to have your head and shoulders out of the water. You can bob along and maybe even submerge your head a bit. There are techniques for survival floating like the deadman's float for example. You can even float like a jelly fish with your arms and legs hanging down. Take a breath, then float in the water with your head submerged. When you need a breath, do a gentle helping push with your arms and lift your head to grab another breath. There are lots of ways to float around in the water without putting in a whole lot of energy.

    I use sort of a scissor kick when I tread water. I have an utterly useless breaststroke kick so I think that's why I use scissor kick. I do it with a really slow rhythm but a somewhat strong kick, just enough to keep my mouth above the waterline. My arms do sort of a modified sculling motion. Again, I use as little effort as possible.

    If you are swimming with a kayaker and want to pause and communicate, you can do a lazy elementary backstroke. You can lift your ears out of the water and just bounce along doing elementary backstroke as you talk. Breaststroke will work fine as well, but I think elementary backstroke uses less effort.

    The trick is to fine some sort of comfortable lolling around in the water technique that you can use that requires as little arm and leg movement as possible. If that means you float around like a manatee, then fine, go with it. Manatees seem to have developed lolling around as an art form. So find your inner manatee and embrace the act of doing nothing.

  • 30percent30percent United StatesNew Member

    thank you for the tips! I find them very helpful.

    In the past, I would swim freestyle from one end of the pool to another end of the pool and I would
    then have to take a break as I was tired. I bought a few swimming books from Amazon and practiced some
    of the techniques and drills from those books. My freestyle has improved a lot. I'm able to swim
    an hour non stop in the pool.

    I hope I'm able to achieve the same in terms of treading water. I'm going to try to make more conscious
    effort not to exhale completely.

    It is good to know that if I do it right, it should be like a runner who needs a walk after a while.

    I might go to a local Tri or water polo club to see if they offer lessons on water treading.

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