I read on this page the phrase, 'Treading water – great all round body conditioner'.

What does this mean, to condition the body? I've heard of 'conditioning' before (when reading fitness how-to's), but have never understood it.

And to give an example, what would be its application in this context, of treading water?


Conditioning exercises attempt to increase athletic ability and capacity, but may also help reduce the likelihood of injury.

Suppose you're a marathon runner, you don't just run marathons to train. You'd do shorter runs, some strength training etc and this will improve your marathon 'ability' even though your program does not include marathons.

I have no idea what the application of treading water might be. The water provides resistance, and you need to coordinate all your limbs, it's low impact, and it gets tiring, so it may have value as a general exercise.

  • Thanks. I think it may be a bit of a misnomer (being low quality journalism) and they just mean 'body toner', which would make more sense (to me) if it's talking about treading water at least. – user5581 Jul 14 '14 at 5:33
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    Oh god tone is the worst word to use in exercise. A hive of vague handwaving. – Dave Liepmann Sep 16 '14 at 20:03

"Conditioning" in this context means "preparing" or "getting used to". Here, it's used as to describe treading water as a general physical preparedness (GPP) exercise.

In many other fitness contexts, "conditioning" means "cardio conditioning" or "metabolic conditioning", which means training to resist fatigue from physical effort. There is task- or sport-specific conditioning as well as general conditioning. This meaning of the word places conditioning alongside other fitness domains such as strength training or flexibility training.


Megasaur has the perfect answer to your question about what it means to "condition the body". My answer below is meant to be supplementary.

Regarding your question on the application of treading water, I can answer that since my water polo practices in high school required treading water as an exercise in itself. Have you ever tried to tread water for 5-10 minutes without stopping? It can tire the legs very fast. It has a similar effect as doing leg squats. Your legs will feel numb after several minutes if you're not used to it.

Because of this, treading water is often accompanied by sculling water with the arms to make it easier on the legs; this works as a full body workout (the application in this context of treading water). That's what those divers likely do at the ocean surface level while chatting with their friends. Treading can be done in other ways too. My high school water polo practices had everyone tread water with arms raised above water for several minutes, to maximize conditioning benefits. Even if arms are kept down and not used to scull water, it is still a great workout for the entire body. Your upper body gets respiratory benefits, plus the upper chest muscles and abs muscles are used too.

Kick-wise, treading water can be done using a flutter kick or by kicking like a frog one leg after another. Divers regularly use flutter kick to navigate through the depths... so treading water using flutter kick shouldn't be hard for them, although most people probably find the frog version of the tread kick easier. However, each type of kick also targets different leg muscles for conditioning so both can be alternated if one type of kick wears out your legs. As indicated by the article, treading water is great for conditioning the entire body.

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