Treading water is the first thing everyone should learn before swimming, but sadly lots of people learn the wrong techniques. There IS a correct way to tread water. It’s the most energy efficient and could save your life later if you practice it NOW.
When treading water, your body stays upright, head above the surface. If you aren’t vertical, you’re technically swimming, not treading! Your arms and legs move to keep you afloat, although you can tread temporarily with just arms or just legs. It is important to stay calm and slow your breathing, since this will increase your energy efficiency and slow exhaustion. You know you’re doing it right if your body is barely bobbing up and down. Your torso should remain motionless as your arms and legs work to keep you afloat.
Move your arms horizontally in the water, back and forth. Moving them up and down will make you bob around, which wastes energy! Your palms should face the direction that your arms are moving. This is called “sculling”. PUSH the water out of your way! Use those muscles!
There are lots of different ways to kick your legs when treading water. You can try using a flutter kick (freestyle), frog kick (breaststroke), or even just moving your legs in circles really fast. All of these will work to propel your body upward, counteracting gravity. But they waste a lot of energy! The right technique is the rotary kick, moving your legs like an eggbeater, with each leg rotating a different direction. Timing is everything! When one leg kicks out, the other should be coming in.