Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
ISSN: 1303 - 2968   
Ios-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
Androit-APP Journal of Sports Science and Medicine
©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2023) 22, 726 - 738   DOI:

Research article
Energetic and Cognitive Demands of Treading Water: Effects of Technique and Expertise
Tina van Duijn1,2,3, , Chris Button1, James D. Cotter1, Rich S. W. Masters4
Author Information
1 School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
2 Human Performance Research Center, Faculty of Health, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
3 School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
4 Te Huataki Waiora School of Health, University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand

Tina van Duijn
✉ School of Sport, Exercise and Rehabilitation, University of Technology Sydney, Rugby Australia Building, Moore Park Road, Moore Park NSW 2021, Australia
Publish Date
Received: 05-04-2023
Accepted: 01-11-2023
Published (online): 01-12-2023

Being able to tread water effectively can improve the likelihood of survival following accidental immersion. People tread water in various ways, ranging from rudimentary ‘doggy-paddle’ to more elaborate techniques like the eggbeater, but little is known about the energetic and cognitive requirements of treading water. We therefore aimed to measure the demands of treading water techniques for people of different experience levels. Three cohorts, comprising 21 adult water treading experts (water polo players), 15 intermediate swimmers and 16 inexperienced swimmers, treaded water for 3 min each using four different techniques while cognitive and energetic economy measures were taken. For inexperienced swimmers, the flutter kick and breaststroke patterns produced the lowest self-reported physical and task load (rating of perceived exertion, NASA task load index), while cognitive (probe reaction time), cardiac (heart rate) and metabolic (oxygen consumption) load did not differ between techniques. In contrast, for expert water treaders, both breaststroke and eggbeater patterns produced lower cognitive, cardiac and metabolic loads. For intermediate swimmers, breaststroke resulted in the lowest cardiac and metabolic loads, as well as self-reported task load. Probe reaction time was highest while performing the eggbeater technique, indicating that this technique was challenging to coordinate and cognitively demanding. While the energetic demands of antiphase kicking patterns (such as eggbeater in experts or flutter kick in beginners) may be similarly low, the symmetric coordination of upright breaststroke may explain why this pattern’s cognitive economy was favourable for all groups. As the eggbeater can be challenging to perform for many people, an upright breaststroke technique is an adequate alternative to adopt in survival situations.

Key words: Water safety, water polo, eggbeater, cognitive load, task load, economy, probe reaction time, physical load, oxygen consumption

           Key Points
  • The physical and cognitive load of water treading varies for different treading techniques and between levels of expertise.
  • In experienced treaders, the energetic demands of continuous, asynchronous patterns are generally lower.
  • In less experienced swimmers, the cognitive load of performing synchronous movements is lower compared to antiphase patterns.
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