Ask the Experts: Flexibility for Synchronized Swimming

Stacy Burns is a Synchronized Swimming & High Performance Coach who just became certified as a FLX Conditioning Specialist at the NYC 2015 training.  She trained 25-30 hours per week as a synchronized swimmer from ages 15-19 while incorporating ballet, Pilates, and yoga to complement her training.  Burns is currently a certified NCCP 2 - Synchronized Swimming coach whose team ranked 6th nationally in Canada.   As a coach, her responsibilities include everything from planning and implementing fitness and flexibility programs, teaching and refining sport-specific skills, and choreographing routines.

Get prepped for the season & gain insight about flexibility and conditioning techniques for swimmers from our synchronized swimming expert, Stacy Burns!

Q: How much time per week is required for synchronized swimmers to dedicate to conditioning and flexibility training?

Synchronized swimmers at the high performance level (national level) typically train 18-20 hours/week. Depending on their age, about 4-5 hours would be spent on developing flexibility and extension on land, 3-4 hours conditioning and strength on land, and 8-12 hours in the pool working on synchro specific skills and routines. 

Q: Where do synchronized swimmers need to be flexible?

Synchronized Swimmers need to be very flexible in their splits (front and middles), backs, and shoulders.

Q: What are the typical stretches and exercises done in a conditioning routine for competitive synchronized swimmers?

We spend lots of time doing splits! We do a lot of stretches for quads and hamstrings, so we do typical lunges, forward folds, and split holds. We also work on our toe point and extension. That’s where we really love to use the Flexistretcher.

Q: How is the Flexistretcher beneficial for synchronized swimmers?

In synchro, just like dance, swimmers need to be able to be flexible AND have muscular strength to be able to fully engage their legs for full range of motion, active flexibility, and good extension of knees, ankles, and toes. The Flexistretcher helps us to develop a full range of motion, simultaneously stretching and strengthening our muscles. I think that it will really help to develop a better split position in the water.

Q: What stretches/exercises with the Flexistretcher have you found most effective in synchronized training?

I believe that the arabesque and standing split (penchée) are the most effective exercises for synchro swimmers. They help to develop strength in the glutes and hamstrings, as well as extension muscles in the quads, which are necessary for developing active flexibility in the water. It also gives a good stretch at the same time!

Q: What’s your favorite Flexistretcher stretch?

I love some of the simplest stretches that are really effective. Both the Supine outer thigh stretch (piriformis stretch) and the seated double leg hamstring stretch are my favourite because you can tell when an athlete does it right; their face says it all when they figure it out! Both stretches get really deep when done effectively and the piriformis too often gets forgotten.  Split Flexibility is very important in synchronized swimming.

Q: What are some key points required to skillfully master this move?

In synchronized swimming, being flat on land isn’t enough. Splits must be flat in the water with excellent extension which requires an extreme range of motion and the functional strength to hold the position while upside down. First, it’s important to develop your oversplits. Then work on developing the strength to hold your splits flat in the water by doing leg kicks, barre work, and - of course - using your Flexistretcher! Focus on developing your arabesque and penchée, as well as front and side extensions. You’ll see big results since you’ll be developing both active and passive flexibility simultaneously.

Q: What elements are synchronized swimmers judged on and which are the most important?

Figures are judged based on accuracy, control, height, stability, and extension. Flexibility is really important as having flat splits upside down is hard to achieve and being accurate in splits means being fully flat, dry, and extended. During routines, synchronized swimmers are judged based on the following: 30% for execution (excellence in performing highly specialized skills and synchronization), 40% for artistic impression (choreography, music interpretation, and manner of presentation), and 30% for difficulty of movements.

Q: When preparing for a competitive season, what types of cross training methods do you stress?

We do a lot of cross-training in Synchronized Swimming, particularly during the preparation phase of the season. We do running and agility work, strength and cardio, as well as borrow training methods from yoga, Pilates, and ballet.

Q: Where do you see your swimmers improving the most from working with the Flexistretcher?

I think it will really help swimmers to develop their figure skills. “Figures” are combinations of skills and positions that are competed individually. They require a great degree of control and accuracy. Flexibility and extension are very important in figures.