Fitness Benefits

Since its Olympic debut in 1984, synchro has become an increasingly athletic and challenging aquatic sport, with the top teams practicing upwards of 50 hours a week to build the strength, stamina, flexibility, speed and precision needed to perfect their routines. When tested and compared with other Olympic athletes, synchronized swimmers ranked second only to long-distance runners in terms of aerobic capacity, and second to gymnasts in terms of flexibility. They perform intricate maneuvers with their legs while holding their breaths, relying on their own strength to support their bodies above the water. It's anything but easy.

With that said, you don't have to be an elite-level athlete to reap the fitness benefits of a synchro workout, described by some as "cardio Pilates in the water." Synchro encompasses elements of swimming, water polo, diving, gymnastics and dance, working the same major muscle groups. Because it takes place in water, synchro is low-impact, putting less stress on your joints than running or other land exercises. At the same time, it's a high-intensity cardiovascular workout that tones your legs, arms and core as you increase your endurance, coordination and breath control. Add music, and synchro is a fun (and potentially addicting) way to get and stay in shape, even at the beginner level.

Being "the ultimate team sport" does provide additional benefits: Michigan State University researchers have found that aerobic exercise is promoted when individual performance affects the group, as it does in synchro. Researchers from Oxford University have shown that synchronized training creates a heightened endorphin surge compared with similar solitary training and correlates with elevated pain thresholds.

Synchro can also be a life-long fitness activity with age-defying results. Masters synchro competitors range from twenty-year-olds to octo- and nonagenarians, with the senior athletes having fitness levels comparable to older Masters speed swimmers. Researchers at Indiana University at Bloomington have found that the arteries of older swimmers tend to be more elastic than those of younger non-swimmers — they have lower average heart rates, as well as muscle masses equivalent to people 15 years younger. Findings of Indiana's Brain Science Lab show that regular swimmers appear to have greater cell density and stronger connections between neurons in the cerebellum (which could protect from age-related gait and balance issues that lead to falls). Eighty-year-old swimmers also had smaller age-related declines to working memory capacity, as well as superior reaction time in making decisions compared with sedentary fifty-year-olds in the general population.

Perhaps synchro icon Esther Williams put it best: "When you’re in the water, you’re weightless and ageless."