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February 11, 2019

Synchronized Swimming: From Tryouts to Competition Day

Performance + Athleticism

The term synchronized swimming, also known as artistic swimming, typically conjures up images of graceful red-lipped ladies floating in a hypnotic moving pattern. The smiles, the suits, the swim caps, and the lovely performance. While synchronized swimming places a large emphasis on the artistry of the performance, there’s a lot of hard work and athleticism going on behind those vivid facial expressions.


In any synchro routine, you can expect not only some intricate patterns but flips, lifts, throws, and a whole lot of quick leg movement – all while the swimmers hold their breath, move on count, and never touch the bottom of the pool (that’s a big points deduction).

Find useful synchro information for university students from a synchro newbie in our article: Synch and Swim: What I did when life threw me a curveball. For more resources on synchronized swimming and sport rules, Canada Artistic Swimming is also great resource.

Where to Swim and Try-Outs


For Ontario university students

The Canadian University Synchronized Swimming League (or CUSSL) has two divisions in their league: novice for swimmers like yours truly who wanted to give synchro a whirl and the experienced division for those who participated in synchro prior to their time at university.  Find synchro/artistic swimming teams at your university on CUSSL’s university team finder.


For athletes 20+ years old

Local synchro clubs typically offer both recreational and competitive Masters division for 20+ years old. Club synchro works like dance studios: you have recreational teams and then you have teams who compete. Except in these classes you’re dancing in the water. Aqua ballet if you will. Find a synchro/artistic swimming club near you on Canada Artistic’s Club Finder.


Megan Hughes, a former Trent University and club synchronized swimming coach and swimmer, grew up in the sport and offers tips for club synchro tryouts.

“Don’t let the idea of competitive try-outs scare you away from synchro. In the CUSSL and other recreational streams, the “tryouts” are intended to give the potential swimmer a better idea of what practices will look like, how the sport of synchro works, and give participants a chance to try a few moves. Tryouts aren’t to cut you from a team, you’re deciding if the sport is something you would enjoy. You may be evaluated in a recreational ‘tryout’ but it is simply to gauge your skill level to ensure you’re on the best-fitting team, making the season more enjoyable for everyone. “

Practices: What to Expect and What to Bring


Team Practice is vital

Practice is especially important in synchronized swimming. Not only do you need to learn your choreography, counts, and positions, you also need to practice with your team. No matter how experienced the swimmers are, team lifts need to be practiced many times before it goes smoothly.


When evaluating a team or club, ask how often the team practices. A team that practices often is committed, fun and typically performs well.  Synchronized swimming is a team sport. You practice as a team, you swim as a team, and you’re judged as a team. So, if you choose to commit to a synchro team, make sure you carve out dedicated time in your schedule and really commit to your synchro team.

What to expect          

Now that you have your gear, you’ll be ready for practice. A typical synchro practice will involve landrilling (practicing your routine on dryland) followed by a warm-up which will often be laps of various strokes and synchro-related skills such as egg-beater (the leg movement that keeps swimmers’ upper bodies above the water). 


After your warm-up, you get into the practice itself. Early in the season practice will likely involve working through segments, practicing your elements and positions, and getting a feel of the choreography. Closer to competition you can expect to run through the routine and doing some troubleshooting.


As you become more experienced, you might start swimming in other categories as well, not just team. Aside from team routines, swimmers can also swim a solo or in a duet/trio. These different routines will come with their own practices as well but they have a different feel from Team which can make your synchro experience that much more enjoyable and varied.


Pre-season practice drills      

Want to start your synchro season off strong? Practicing some of the following skills before the season starts will really help you out in the long-run:

  • Breath control. Synchro swimmers will spend roughly a third of their routine under water! Practice your breathing by building up the distance you can swim in one breath. Do this safely please.
  • Egg-beatering. A strong egg-beater will literally set-you up to do the arm work with ease. Aim to stay as high out of the water as you can.
  • Stretch. Flexibility can really make those highlights (synchro lifts and throws) pop.
  • Count to music. Synchro is all about knowing what to do on your count. If you get lost, try to pick up the count as quickly as you can.

What to bring

While you don’t need much equipment for synchro, you’ll still need a few practical items. In your swimming bag you’ll want the following:

  • A one-piece bathing suit (bikinis + upside-down moves = a whole lot of skin)
  • A towel
  • Flip flops
  • A hair elastic or two
  • A swim cap (a silicone cap will cause a lot less pain upon removal)
  • A few nose plugs (gravity + upside-down moves = water up the nose)
  • Goggles

Competition Day: Showing Off All That Hard Work



Competition Day means an early morning. Even the most non-morning person, will get caught up in the buzz and excitement that comes with each competition day. Your effort, your costume, your performance – you’re showing it all off today.



When it comes to getting competition-ready, the first thing you do is your hair. Doing your hair is time-consuming and the main reason why competition days are an early start. Depending on your hair type and length, this will be executed differently but safe to say you are going to put your hair into the tightest bun of your life, slick that all back by painting on pure gelatin (yes, with a house paintbrush), and then bobby pin your bun cover into place. Recruit a teammate to make sure you get your entire head because even the back needs to stay in place. Although there are various techniques, this YouTube video below does a fantastic job to list what you need and show you how to properly Knox your hair.



Once you’ve swam your heart out and competition is all wrapped up, you’ll want to get the Knox out of your hair. While this process can take almost as long as doing your hair, it is much simpler: simply run your hair under the hottest water you can tolerate so the gelatine starts to melt off. A brush and conditioner will help speed up the process but the most important tools are hot water and patience.


Suit and makeup

You’ll show up to the pool in your practice suit, saving your fun, custom-made competition suit much closer to your routine’s category. You also won’t have to worry about your makeup until much closer to your swim time. And keep in mind both suit and makeup are meant to be a part of the performance – it may look harsh on land but in the water, it helps set the theme of your routine and emphasize your facial expressions. On the subject of makeup, the look will be decided upon either as a team or by your coach. And while you may think you’ll need to scour the shelves looking for waterproof items, you really will only need your mascara and eyeliner to be waterproof. Any powders you simply layer on and/or use a primer prior to application. Once your makeup is on, tucking a few extra nose clips into your suit will really help to elevate the synchro-chic look you’ve got going on.


Yes, you may be getting judged but the most important part of Competition Day is to have fun. You’ve put a ton of effort and practice time into your routines. You know them by heart, in and out, it’s time to do your best, leave it all in the pool, and smile a genuine “I’m so happy I tried synchro!” smile.


Looking to learn more? Explore our Synchronized Swimming activity page for articles, videos, and great community resources.

Check out our Athlete Advisor, your online business directory for more information on golf in your community. Find, rate and review synchronized swimming clubs, swimming programs, local community offerings and businesses that will help you do your thing!

Find or attend a synchronized swimming event on our SWSCD Hub.

Do you have a good resource for those learning to swim or a story about your time in the pool? Tell us about your experience directly on our Discover blog or by using #seewhatshecando on social media and inspire others to get active. 


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