The Basics

Synchronized swimming was known as

water ballet

Synchronized Swimming Presentation

One of the unique and most recognizable things about synchronized swimming is the athletes’ costumes, make-up and presentation during the aquatic routine.  Synchro swimmers will often wear elaborate costumes which, while they do not count towards any of the scoring, should complement the music selection and be in good moral taste.  Presentation marks are affected by swimmers’ facial expressions in the water so they will wear waterproof make-up to ensure their features can be seen clearly through-out, and gelatin in the female’s hair to ensure it stays slicked back and out of the way!

Athletes aren’t allowed to wear goggles – this would mask their facial expressions further – but they are permitted nose clips to aid them with the underwater aspects of the routine.

Another distinctive aspect of synchro is the deck work. Swimmers have ten seconds on the poolside deck before they enter the water.  While their walk on to the pool deck and the position they take do not count towards a score, they do set the tone for the routine and judges form initial impressions based on the deck work.


Fundamental Skills


Sculls (hand movements used to propel the body) are the most essential part to synchronized swimming. Commonly used sculls include support scull, stationary scull, propeller scull, alligator scull, torpedo scull, split scull, barrel scull, spinning scull and paddle scull. The support scull is used most often to support the body while a swimmer is performing upside down.

The support scull or “American Scull” was invented by Marion Kane Elston and transformed the sport from water ballet to the athleticism of modern day synchronized swimming. See the International Swimming Hall of Fame as a reference.

Support scull is performed by holding the upper arms against the sides of the athlete’s body and the fore arms at 90-degree angles to the body, with hands facing the bottom of the pool. The fore arms are then moved back and forth while maintaining a right angle. The resulting pressure against the hands allows the swimmer to hold their legs above water while upside down.


The “eggbeater kick” is another important skill of synchronized swimming. It is a form of treading water that allows for stability and height above the water while leaving the hands free to perform arm motions. An average eggbeater height is usually around collarbone level. Eggbeater is used in all “arm” sections, a piece of choreography in which the swimmer is upright, often with one or both arms in the air. Another variation is a body boost, which is executed through an eggbeater buildup and a strong whip kick, propelling the swimmer out of the water vertically. A body boost can raise an athletic swimmer out of the water to hip level.


Fundamental Positions


There are hundreds of different regular positions that can be used to create seemingly infinite combinations. These are a few basic and commonly used ones:

  • Back Layout:The most basic position. The body floats, completely straight and rigid, face-up on the surface while sculling under the hips.
  • Ballet Leg:Beginning in a back layout, one leg is extended and held perpendicular to the body, while the other is held parallel to the surface of the water.
  • Bent Knee (or Heron):While holding a vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other leg bends so that its toe is touching the knee of the vertical leg.
  • Crane:While holding a vertical body position, one leg remains vertical while the other is dropped parallel to the surface, making a 90-degree angle or “L” shape.
  • Double Ballet Leg:Similar to ballet leg position where both legs are extended and held perpendicular to the body.
  • Flamingo:Similar to ballet leg position where athlete’s bottom leg is pulled into the chest so that the shin of the bottom leg is touching the knee of the vertical leg, while remaining parallel to the surface of the water.
  • Front Layout:Much like a Back Layout, the only difference is that the swimmer is on his/her stomach, sculling by his/her chest, and not breathing.
  • Knight:The body is in a surface arch position, where the swimmer’s legs are flat on the surface, and the body is arched so that the head is vertically in line with the hips. One leg is lifted, creating a vertical line perpendicular to the surface.
  • Side Fishtail:Side fishtail is a position which one leg remains vertical, while the other is extended out to the side parallel to the water, creating a side “Y” position.
  • Split Position:With the body vertical, one leg is stretched forward along the surface and the other extended back along the surface, in an upside down split position.
  • Tub:Both legs are pulled up to the chest with the shins and tops of the feet dry and parallel on the surface of the water.
  • Vertical:Achieved by holding the body completely straight upside down and perpendicular to the surface usually with both legs entirely out of water.




When performing routines in competition and practice, athletes wear a rubber noseclip to keep water from entering their nose when submerged. Some swimmers wear ear-plugs to keep the water out of their ears. Hair is worn in a bun and flavorless gelatin, or Knox, is applied to keep hair in place; a decorative headpiece is bobby-pinned to the bun. Occasionally, swimmers wear custom-made swimming caps in place of their hair in buns.

Competitors wear custom swimsuits and headpieces, usually elaborately decorated with bright fabric and sequins to reflect the music to which they are swimming. The costume and music are not judged (but marks will be taken off if the headpiece falls off any swimmer while she is swimming the routine) but factor into the overall performance and “artistic impression.”

Makeup is also worn in this sport, but FINA has recommended a more natural look. Motions have been made by FINA, as well as national aquatics officials to regulate and diminish the use of elaborate makeup. In Canada, eye makeup must be smaller than a circle made by the swimmers thumb and forefinger, and be used solely for “natural enhancement”.

Underwater speakers ensure that swimmers can hear the music and aid their ability to synchronize with each other. Routines are prepared and set to counts in the music, to further ensure synchronization. Coaches use underwater speakers to communicate with the swimmers during practice. Goggles, though worn during practice, are not permitted during routine competition.

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