Can you imagine running for up to five minutes while performing acrobatics, holding your breath, looking graceful and having to keep in time to the music or your fellow athletes? No? Well welcome to the world of synchronised swimming!

Synchronised Swimming used to be known as ‘water ballet’ and this is a good starting point to see the sport because routines are essentially athletic movements performed in water and choreographed to music.

However, Synchronised Swimming is also a very strenuous and skillful sport because competitors need strength and flexibility to perform the routines, as well as rhythm and flair to synchronise and interpret the music.

Synchronised Swimming is open to both male and female athletes but it is a sport dominated by women, mainly because the Olympic and World Championship competitions are not open to men.

Athletes perform routines that can be anything from two and a half minutes to five minutes long, depending on whether they perform alone or part of a team. The routines are made up of certain movements that are performed using certain basic positions.

Approximately two thirds of a synchronized swimming routine is performed under water.


There are four main categories of competition:

  • Solos (where an individual swimmer will synchronise with the music).
  • Duets (where a swimmer co-ordinates with their partner and in time to the music).
  • Teams (where the swimmer co-ordinates with up to seven other athletes and in time to the music).
  • Combo (a team routine where up to ten swimmers perform in one continuous routine but during the routine there will be segments where different numbers of swimmers will perform.
  • Teams normally contain eight swimmers, but the minimum number for a team is four. Teams lose marks for every swimmer they have under the full complement because it is easier to synchronise the less people there are in a routine!

Currently, only the duet and team competitions are included in the Olympic Games (although the Solo competition featured in the 1984, 1988 and 1992 Olympics)

In most senior competitions, swimmers will perform two routines for the judges, one technical and one free.  The technical routine involves performing predetermined elements that must be executed in a specific order. The free routine has no requirements so the swimmers can be ‘free’ in how creative they get with the movements and their choreography.

There are also competitions called ‘Figures’ for junior swimmers where they perform set movements to the judges. There is no music and this is simply a case of how well the individual performs the movements.


Synchronised swimming is based on a number of basic positions and transitions.. These include the obvious ones, such as performing a figure on the front or back or from a vertical position, to the more technical ones such as the flamingo position, where one leg is straight and the other is bent in the same kind of shape as a flamingo, hence the name!

There are also certain movements that swimmers can perform in many different ways, so for example a swimmer can spin in the water but this can be spinning 180degrees or moving their entire body for one rotation (360 degrees).

Or with the Flamingo position there is a way to move the leg into the bend position and a way to get out of the move. Learn more about Figure Descriptions.

There is an internationally recognised list of figures provided by FINA, the sport’s world-wide governing body. All figures are given a category and a tariff. So a single ballet leg (one leg out of the water stretched upwards) has a lower rating of 1.6, while a spiral (where a swimmer will lift both legs out of the water to hip height and perform two full twists , followed by a Vertical Descent) has a rating of 3.5.

There are also a few figures that are part of the synchronised swimming stages of the ASA’s National Plan for Teaching Swimming but are not recognised by FINA. These have been designed to introduce young swimmers to the basic movements of synchro.


Music is integral to Synchronised Swimming. In the solo event it is all the swimmer has to synchronise with and swimmers in the duet and team routines must sychronise to each other and the music.

The choice of music is not judged but it will support the theme of the piece or may have even inspired the theme in the first place. The choreography and performance will be expected to mirror the tempo of the music in its speed.

In synchronised swimming competitions there will be speakers underneath the water so swimmers can continue to hear the music clearly.

Music actually carries better under the water than it does on land and so swimmers should be able to hear the music better when they are submerged.


Synchronised swimmers will often have elaborate costumes. These costumes are used to highlight or emphasise the theme of the music. Costumes are not judged and so should not affect the scores.

If a head-dress falls off one of the athletes in the British team, they get a fine because experienced athletes should ensure everything is securely fastened.

Synchronised  swimmers also wear make-up. The make-up will be used to highlight the swimmer’s features so it is easier for the judges to interpret their facial expressions. It should not be so theatrical that it is distracting.


Competitive synchronised swimmers must be extremely fit, and completely at home in the water. When tested and compared with other Olympic athletes the results showed that synchronised swimmers ranked second only to long distance runners in aerobic capacity.

In order to achieve the standard needed for competition, athletes must train with speed swimmers in distance work as well as complete sessions that are devoted to working on technical skills such as the set body positions and transition movements that form the basis of synchro.

The faster and further the swimmers move around the pool the more difficult the routine

In addition, hours are spent working on the routines. Athletes work with partners for duet routines or in teams of between 4 and 8 swimmers, perfecting movements, developing the choreography of the routines etc. Some athletes will also train with weights so they build up their stamina and strength.

Not all of the training is done in the pool. Land-work sessions include working on flexibility, strength and weight training. Creating, walking through and learning routines, as well as listening to music, is all done on dry land.


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