What is artistic (or synchronised) swimming?

We have come a long way since the aquatic ballets of the 1930s... A complete, demanding and graceful discipline: I give you artistic swimming!

Does the term artistic swimming mean anything to you? When you hear about this sport, you quickly imagine swimmers, glittering swimsuits, heavy make-up…
But artistic swimming is much more than mere appearance. Dive with us into a sport that requires endurance, strength, flexibility, and a sense of rhythm!

Artistic (or synchronised) swimming

What is artistic swimming?

Artistic swimming, formerly called synchronised swimming, is most akin to dancing in the water. The athletes must be synchronised on the same choreography, by linking technical figures, artistic effects and acrobatic lifts: somersaults, spins, splits… the teams invent new and ever more impressive combinations every year.

A number of the moves, figures and positions have strange names: support sculling, the dolphin arch, the barracuda thrust, the fishtail, the flamingo... In synchro, the principle is always the same: synchro swimmers will always try to be as high above the water as possible; upside down with support sculling, head above the water with eggbeating, and horizontally with sculling


Artistic swimming vs race swimming

In artistic swimming as in race swimming there's no surprise that the main similarity is the medium: water! Gliding capability is also essential in both disciplines
The common points stop there; synchro and race swimming remain different sports. For example, in race swimming, you always move horizontally, while in synchro, swimmers are more often head down or head up, so rather on a vertical axis (thanks to support sculling and eggbeating). 

Also, swimmers in race swimming will use their movements and muscles to pull themselves through the water, inhaling and exhaling as much as possible. In synchro, the water is used to propel yourself, you hold your breath underwater, and flexibility is essential! National teams also work with physical trainers to combine the power and flexibility of their muscles. 

The last major difference between the two disciplines: the others! In artistic swimming, except for solo events, swimmers are always surrounded by their team-mates, while in race swimming, each swimmer has their own lane. And also… who has ever seen race swimmers put on a sequinned swimsuit or swim to the beat of the music?


Artistic swimming events

There are several types of events depending on the number of swimmers on the team; and yes, artistic swimming is for men too! Although artistic swimming is a predominantly female sport, FINA (International Swimming Federation) has opened its doors to men by allowing them to compete in international competitions since the 2015 World Championships. 

At present, male swimmers can only take part in mixed duet events at national championships, European championships and World championships. 

But let's come back to the different types of events in artistic swimming: solo, duet (female or mixed), team (with 8 competitors), combination (with 10), and highlight (with 10). If you want to know more about synchro swimming routines, why not check out lire this article. 


Why choose artistic swimming?

If you're comfortable in the water and dance when you hear music, why not take the plunge and try out artistic swimming? It's a full-body sport that requires and develops several capacities at the same time: cardio, strength, breathing control, flexibility… In addition, because it is practised in water, it is gentle on the joints and spine, because it is a low-impact sport! 

Artistic swimming also calls upon your mental capacities: memorising the choreography and the figures, spatial awareness and moving to music… It's a sport that develops team spirit, concentration and self-discipline to a high degree. Quite a programme!


What is the profile for an artistic swimmer? 

This discipline would suit anyone who feels comfortable in the water and who loves music, girl or boy, at any age! The younger you start, the easier it is to learn. Some clubs offer learning to swim and then orient swimmers towards artistic swimming. Ideally you should know how to swim before you start; but you don't have to be an expert. 

There's no need to master the four strokes (breaststroke, crawl, backstroke and butterfly) to start synchro. Learning to swim is part of the training; swimming allows swimmers to warm up and work on their cardio. Some clubs accept baby-synchro groups from 6 years old. Beginner adult classes are more rare, but it is possible to start as a beginner for fun!

The advice of Virginie Dedieu, triple world champion, valid at any age and for any category:

"Anything is possible! You have to believe in your dreams. Believe in them and work hard, that's the secret! 
Perseverance and hard graft are what it takes. You also have to trust yourself, and let time take its course: Just because you don't nail a figure one day doesn't mean you'll never get it right. You have to keep working, rehearsing over and over, and it will come! 
You have to give yourself the time to get there.” 

To find where you can give it a go near you, take a look at our Decathlon Map or get in touch with your nearest swimming pool.


What equipment do i need to start artistic swimming?

To get you started, a swimsuit, a cap, some goggles and a nose clip are all you need! 

More specialised equipment such as competition swimsuits and headpieces are provided by clubs or can be purchased in addition during the year.

At what age can i start artistic swimming?

There's no age limit to start synchro swimming: it's never too late! If you are comfortable in the water and want to give it a try, do it! More and more clubs offer time slots for all age groups, from the very young to adults, even beginners. Learning will be easier if you start at an early age... as in any discipline. But with persistence and hard work, you'll progress. 
In general, clubs accept children from 6 or 7 years old, sometimes younger for certain clubs. Obviously, it will be easier to start synchro in good conditions if the future swimmer is already comfortable in the water: if you're not afraid, and know how to put your head underwater, etc., that's already an advantage! It is also possible to start artistic swimming a little later, around the age of 8, and access high-level teams if your child has done somewhat similar activities, such as dance, gymnastics, or rhythmic sports gymnastics... these kinds of activities have something in common with synchro: they develop flexibility, core strength, tone, sense of rhythm... so they help as well!

But note one thing: Just because your child is 9 years old and has never played another sport does not mean they should be prevented from joining a synchro swimming club! In many clubs there are so-called “recreational” groups which do not take part in competitions, or which take part in county or regional competitions only; the level of these groups is generally more accessible and less demanding than that of high-level groups. There are also clubs that offer introductory courses to learn the basics of synchro and put on “shows”, highlighting artistic creativity! That's another facet of our discipline, a bit like mermaid swimming… If you haven't heard of this activity before, check out our article on the subject to find out more! In short, artistic swimming is not only about competitions and technique: you can also practice in a more fun way and find pleasure in different aspects of the sport. 

Now you know everything you need to know to get you started in artistic swimming! So, are you ready to take the plunge?

Camille Adam

Camille adam

I was 9 years old when I discovered synchronised swimming. It was my mum who signed me up: I liked to do shows, I was very comfortable in the water, and fascinated by anything to do with glitter... And it quickly became very clear that synchronised swimming and I were in it for the long run! ! I love the type of effort that this discipline requires: core strength, breathing control, being able to move in every direction and dimension, moving, smiling... plus the teamwork of course—it's amazing how strong a team can be! Helping one another, support, perseverance, perfectionism, stress management: synchro has been the best school of life for me, whether as a swimmer or as a coach.

For more details about artistic swimming

The benefits of synchronised swimming

The benefits of synchronised swimming

Do you like swimming, but would like to add a little rhythm or even art? Synchronised swimming may be the sport for you.

artistic swimming glossary

Artistic swimming glossary

"After a ballet leg, the swimmers of the French team started forming to do a throw lift".

What equipment do you need for synchronised swimming?

What equipment do you need for synchronised swimming?

Swimsuit, swim cap, goggles, nose clip… Here's the equipment you need to make the most of this highly demanding discipline!