About synchronised swimming – rules, facts and routines

About Synchronised Swimming. Find out about the rules of synchronised swimming in England.

So, you want to learn about synchronised swimming. Well, 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? No? That’s synchronised swimming!

Synchronised swimming routines are essentially athletic movements performed in water and choreographed to music.

Facts about Synchronised Swimming

  1. The sport used to be known as ‘water ballet’
  2. It is incredibly strenuous and skillful. A test on all the Olympic sports before the London 2012 Olympic Games found that synchronised swimmers ranked second only to long distance runners in aerobic capacity!
  3. Competitors need strength and flexibility to perform twists and lifts as well as rhythm and flair to synchronise and interpret the music, which they listen to through underwater speakers.
  4. Swimmers commonly hold their breath underwater for around a minute, but sometimes between two and three minutes.
  5. Routines can be anything from two and a half minutes to five minutes long, depending on whether they perform alone or part of a team, but one rule applies to all routines
  6. No athletes are permitted to touch the bottom of the pool during a routine, even when lifting one another.

Click one of the buttons below to get more detail about synchronised swimming. Find out about the different competitive events, routines and the unique presentation side to the sport, or use our synchro dictionary to learn more about synchronised swimming language.


To learn about synchronised swimming is to know 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.
  • Combination – 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 fewer people there are in a routine.

At the ASA National Age Group Championships, competitions are held in solo, duet and team while there is a combination competition held among the recreational events on the opening day.

Currently only the duet and team competitions are held at the Olympic Games although the solo competition featured in 1984, 1988 and 1992.


In most senior competitions, swimmers 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.

The thing about synchronised swimming is that judging routines is a subjective activity, but there are strict guidelines for the judges to consider.

Technical routines receives scores for:

  • Execution – this is predominantly based on the performance of the required elements, which all athletes performing the routine must do.
  • Overall Impression – this score is based on the routine choreography (the variety and creativity of the routine and the pool coverage), synchronisation, difficulty and presentation.

Free routines receives scores for:

  • Technical Merit – this is a combination of scores inputted for three sub-categories; execution of the elements, synchronisation and difficulty of the routine.
  • Artistic Impression – again, this is a combination of three scores for choreography, interpretation of the music and presentation.

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.

At the ASA National Age Group Championships, all athletes complete various pre-determined figures and then their final ranking is based on a combination of their figures score (or average score for duet or team) and their free routine score.

Junior international competitions also use figures rather than technical routines and use a combination of figures and free routine scores to determine rankings from the prelims. The figures score for a duet or a team will be an average of the individual swimmers scores from the figures competition.

  • Click here to learn more about the judging of routines in the FINA Handbook.


One of the unique and most recognisable things about synchronised swimming is the athletes’ costumes, make-up and presentation.

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 wait waterproof make-up to ensure their features can be seen clearly throughout, and gelatin in their 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 poolside before they enter the water and while their walk on to the pool and the position they take do not count towards a score, they do set the tone for the routine and judges will already be forming their impression from it.

Synchro Terms

Learning about synchronised swimming means understanding jargon. You need to sort your technical merit from your transitions.

All sports have their own terminology and language and synchronised swimming is no different. Help is at hand.

Simply click on the drop down menu, choose your word, and a definition will appear below.

An event in which one swimmer performs a routine alone.
An event in which two swimmers perform a routine together.
An event in which a group of four to eight swimmers perform together. For other team events such as the combination routine, more than eight may be allowed or required.
Combination routine
An event in which ten swimmers perform together in groups of varying numbers throughout the routine. Swimmers not performing in a portion of the routine are not allowed to touch the side or bottom of the pool. Called 'combo' for short.
Free routine
A solo, duet, or team routine in which swimmers perform choreography of their choice, without any required elements. Free routines are longer than technical routines.
Technical routine
A solo, duet or team routine that contains required elements performed in a certain order. Elements vary depending on skill level and competition. They are shorter in length than free routines.
Meet officials in charge of scoring routines. Most events have 10 judges, 5 for each scoring category. They sit along the sides of the pool in different arrangements depending on the competition. Judges give scores from 0 to 10 based on their evaluation of the quality with 10 being the perfect score.
A technical routine category of scoring to which half the judges are assigned. 70% of the score is based on required elements and 30% is determined by the rest of the routine.
Overall impression
A technical routine category of scoring to which half the judges are assigned. Choreography, synchronisation, difficulty and manner of presentation are all considered.
Artistic impression
A free routine category of scoring to which half the judges are assigned. Choreography, musical interpretation and overall impression are considered.
Technical merit
A free routine category of scoring to which half the judges are assigned. Execution, synchronisation and difficulty are considered.
Technical element
A movement, figure, pattern, or lift required in technical routines. The technical elements vary depending on skill level. Sometimes just called an element.
A specific series of body positions, the majority of which involve holding the legs out of the water.
The formation that a team holds during any period of choreography. It changes many times during one routine.
When one or more swimmers hold or throw one or more swimmers above the surface of the water.
Degree of difficulty
A number assigned to a figure that weights the score in correlation to the skill required to perform it.
Amount deducted from the score for rule infractions. Different amounts are deducted for different infractions.
The movements that connect strokes, figures and other positions in a routine.
Figures competition
An event in which junior level and younger swimmers perform a chosen group of figures individually in front of panels of judges.
A method of treading water in which the lower legs rotate in opposite directions and the feet are flexed to create water pressure.
Hand movements that propel, stabilise, and balance a swimmer's body.
Flutter kick
Rapid up-and-down movement of the feet, which provides propulsion.


website: Skylab