Ask Stew: Treading Water Tips

Marines participate in water survival.
First Lt. Clark Petersen (right), a field artillery officer with 1st Battalion, 12th Marine Regiment, tows a drowning victim to safety during a gear rescue evolution of a Marine Corps Instructor of Water Survival course at the base pool on Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Nov. 12, 2012. (Cpl. James Sauter/Marine Corps Base Hawaii)

Here is an email from a future Navy special-ops candidate seeking to practice these weaknesses prior to joining.

Stew -- I have a few months before I ship to boot camp and want to master the tread. I am fairly lean (less than 10% body fat) and pretty sure I am negative in the water as I tend to sink and have to work really hard at floating and treading. Any tips for me?

Good job working on weaknesses now, because they will be exposed during your training. My number one tip is to keep doing what you are doing. Make every swim workout end with a prolonged tread session of 10-15 minutes, just to get used to the suck factor of treading.

You have to go into the tread with the realization that it is a put-out evolution. Too many people think treading is easier than swimming. I find it just as tough. I call it vertical swimming.

If I told you to swim for 10 minutes, you could do that easily and be winded if trying to get a good time. The same goes for treading. Expect to be winded and tired.

My second tip is to breathe differently than you normally breathe when you run or swim. Treading can be easier if you have a full chest of air in your lungs. To do this without holding your breath for a long time -- "breathe in reverse."

This means to take a big inhale and keep your lungs full for about 5-6 seconds. Exhale real fast (kick hard to stay up), then inhale again to keep your lungs as flotation devices. It works really well and will require less effort to stay close to the surface.

My third tip is to learn how to kick and play with a variety of kicks: scissor kick (alternating left/right), little flutter kicks, breaststroke kick and egg-beater kick (see video). Also for a real expert in treading, see any water polo player in action (live or video).

My way of teaching the egg beater is to have people first learn the breaststroke kick, then apply that skill to making the breaststroke and alternating left/right kick to get into the egg-beater rhythm.

And my fourth tip -- practice daily. You do not need to be a competitive water polo player, but you must be competent in the water. Practice is the only way to get there. Good luck.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

Want to Learn More About Military Life?

Whether you're thinking of joining the military, looking for fitness and basic training tips, or keeping up with military life and benefits, has you covered. Subscribe to to have military news, updates and resources delivered directly to your inbox.

Story Continues