This blog is to inform people of the differences between the different streams of synchronized swimming.
Enjoy and I hope you learn a bit!
This blog is to inform people of the differences between the different streams of synchronized swimming.
Enjoy and I hope you learn a bit!
Synchronized swimming has truly developed as a sport through the ages from its original water ballet performances to its recognition on the Olympic committee as a sport worthy of global recognition and competition. Synchronized Swimming is a very difficult and intricate sport requiring a lot from the athlete both physically and mentally. Synchronized swimming, or synchro to those more familiar with the sport, consists of one to ten swimmers swimming choreography in a pool to music while all staying synchronized with each other and the music. Routines are comprised of both above and underwater sections; the above water sections are called “arms” and consist of leg movements done while lying across the surface of the water, and arm movements.
Arm (Russia’s Olympic Team 2004) (http://synchronizedswimmingblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/synchronised-swimming-1.jpg)
As for the underwater sections, those are called either “figures”, or “highlights”. Figures are the movements made with the legs above the water while the body is upside down in the water.
Figure (Spain’s Olympic Team 2012) (http://www.zastavki.com/pictures/originals/2014/Sport_Synchronized_swimming_085244_.jpg)
Highlights, however, are anything that draw the eye of the viewers so these could be boosts, which is when an athlete is lifted or launched out of the water, or a partner lift, which is the same as a boost except with 2-4 swimmers instead of the whole team. Both of these highlights can be done with the athlete moving head or feet first; it is up to the coach to decide what fits best into the choreography and theme of the routine. (http://www.fina.org/H2O/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&id=86%3Asynchronised-swimming-rules&Itemid=184)
Boosts (At the 2012 London Olympics)
This is a double boost, so two are going off at the same time
A.1 Accessories Required For Synchronized Swimming
Synchro also requires certain accessories for competitions such as a swimsuit designed specifically for the routine being swum, a nose clip to stop water from going up the athletes’ noses while they are upside down, various hair supplies with the goal of putting the athlete’s’ hair into a bun, gelatin to keep hair out of the athletes’ faces while competing, makeup to help add to the suit and theme, and finally music along with both above and below water speakers. All these added together help create a theme for the routine. The above and below water speakers allow the athletes to keep time with the music and counts as well as stay synchronized with the music and each other. For practices there are many other accessories necessary such as head caps, goggles, practice swimsuits, stretchy bands for flexibility training, a water bottle to stay hydrated, and on the odd occasion toe pointers to assist swimmers attain the desired aesthetic foot position. (http://www.fina.org/H2O/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=345%3Ass-13-routine-sessions&catid=86%3Asynchronised-swimming-rules&Itemid=184)
Nose clip used by synchronized swimmers to block out water when upside down. (http://i.ebayimg.com/00/s/NTAwWDQ0NA==/z/eMgAAMXQEgpTBNdV/$_35.JPG)
A.2 Synchronized Swimming Events and Judging
Synchronized swimming itself consists of 3 main events: solo, duet and team. Solos consist of a single swimmer in the pool swimming synchronized to the music and their theme, duets are with two swimmers who are synchronized with each other as well as with the music, and finally a team which consists of usually 4-8 swimmers synchronizing with each other and again with the music. (http://www.fina.org/H2O/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=345%3Ass-13-routine-sessions&catid=86%3Asynchronised-swimming-rules&Itemid=184) Synchro is marked by judges who give scores from zero to ten in two categories: technical merit and artistic interpretation. Technical merit is comprised of execution which is the perfection of swimming strokes, propulsion techniques, figures, patterns and transitions, synchronization which is based on the swimmer’s ability to synchronize with the other swimmers as well as the music, and finally difficulty. Difficulty is evaluated based on the height of movements above the water, complexity and multiplicity of movements, the strength required to perform the movements, length of time of movements and complexity of synchronization. Then there is artistic impression which is composed of choreography which is evaluated based on the variety and creativity of movements, transitions, fluidity, patterns and pool usage, music interpretation, manner of presentation which is the poise with which the routine is presented, ability to communicate through the choreography and seeming effortlessness of the performance. These two categories are what the judges mark on with half the judges marking technical merit and the other half marking artistic impression and are what coaches and choreographers pay attention to when creating the routines. ( Lord, C. (2008)) Routines last anywhere from two to five minutes of performing at lactic acid threshold by all athletes on the team to make the routine appear effortless and flawless. One of the hardest aspects of synchro is even though the athletes are pushing themselves to and past lactic acid threshold, they still have to keep a smile plastered on their face no matter what. “Ever been kicked in the face or in the head, but had to keep on swimming with that fake plastic smile?” said a commenter on http://www.thetoptens.com/hardest-sports/synchronized-swimming-464503.asp describing a synchro swimmers average practice.
Here is a visual of all the elements of synchronized swimming that are explained above. This is Canada’s Olympic Team swimming at the London 2012 Olympics.
A.3 History of The Development of Synchronized Swimming As a Sport
Now here is some history of the development of synchronized swimming as a sport throughout the ages and how it has developed into the sport it is present day.
Synchronized swimming, like many other sports out there, did not start out as it is today, it evolved over time and with the help of many pioneers. One of the American founding fathers, Benjamin Franklin, was actually a pioneer for synchronized swimming and is thought to have possibly invented it. Franklin grew up in Boston, Massachusetts and swam frequently in the Atlantic Ocean to experiment with exercise and its health benefits. He performed manoeuvres he called “ornamental swimming” for spectators in the Thames River on a trip to London in 1724 which people believe lead to the appearance of the sport. We are unsure as to whether Franklin was the actual creator of synchro but he most definitely increased the popularity of swimming which contributed to its invention. (http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/history-of-synchronized-swimming).
Synchro originally started as a primarily male dominated sport but then became a more female dominant sport since women’s bodies are more buoyant in the legs causing women to be able to make better pictures on the surface of the water with their bodies. It developed from ornamental swimming and into a recognized sport in the late 19th and early 20th centuries with swimmers performing round-dances in the water as a swimming art form. The first contests were held in Berlin in 1891 and in London in 1892 but were only for men. It was not until after this that females were accepted as being more suitable for the sport. ( Lord, C. (2008))
The early competitions were called “water ballet competitions” and it was not until after these competitions that the sport was named “synchronized swimming”. These competitions also caused synchro clubs to start popping up in Australia, the USA, Canada, and France with the intent of hosting and competing in these competitions. Modern synchronized swimming was invented by Annette Kellerman, an Australian-born actor and swimmer who was a champion in distance swimming, and diving. She was also a practiced ballerina throughout the early 1900’s and caused quite an uproar in the media when she went to a beach in Boston, Massachusetts wearing a one piece swimsuit that did not cover her arms or legs. Again in 1907 Kellerman caused more uproar in her fabulous one piece swimsuit while performing underwater in a large glass tank at the New York Hippodrome. Kellerman opened the door for women to be more comfortable with their bodies and showing them off. Her performance in New York added to the rising popularity of synchro and raised lots of awareness for the sport.
Over the next 30 years more and more countries began developing synchro clubs as well as college teams, one of the most famous venues being the University of Chicago’s water ballet club, started by Katherine Curtis. “In 1934, sixty of Curtis’ Modern Mermaids swam in the lagoon at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago using what they called, “a combination of strokes, tricks and floating formations.”
The act received rave reviews. The announcer at the event inadvertently named the sport when he called the performance “synchronized swimming.”” (http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/history-of-synchronized-swimming) After this momentous development in the sport’s history aqua shows became more popular as a form of entertainment though it was still recognized as a sport as well.
(http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/history-of-synchronized-swimming) Synchro also had its time in the spotlight when Hollywood discovered Ester Williams, a swimming champion and Olympic contender.
Esther Williams in “Million Dollar Mermaid”
Esther Williams did movies involving synchronized swimming and featuring herself as the lead role. These films included elaborate sets, water slides, fountains, and stages that emerged from the pools and involved many swimmers in the water at once. It was also common for men to be swimming along with Williams in her films and it wasn’t until after the films started appearing that the sport became almost entirely a women’s sport. It was Esther Williams fame on screen that made a place for synchro in American pop culture in the 1940’s and 50’s. (http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/history-of-synchronized-swimming)
In the 1940’s competition in the United States heated up and synchronized swimming was officially adopted into the Amateur Athletic Union as a competitive sport, including both a team and duet category. In 1942 the first attempt at a National Championships was held but only three clubs showed up and they were all from Chicago. In the 1950’s a solo competition category was added and it was a Canadian named June Taylor, from Ontario, who was named the first solo champion in the Indoor event. These US National Championships were held twice a year, once indoor and once outdoor until 1990 when they started only doing one a year regardless of the pool type, whether it be indoor or outdoor.
International competitions were also occurring annually with the first World Aquatic Championship being held in Belgrade, Yugoslavia in 1971, which North America dominated. The synchronized swimming community had its sights on having the sport included in the Olympics so in 1952 the US and Canadian teams performed at the Pan American Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina. They also performed at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland as well as in the 1955 Pan American Games in Mexico City where Mexico decided to include synchronized swimming as an official event but the International Olympic Committee was not convinced. The US team did a lot more demonstrations including one at the Rome Olympics in 1960 meanwhile at home more and more national competitions from age group and junior level competitors were becoming more organized. Officials worked on compiling rules and regulations which lead to the creation of the figure competition. Synchronized swimming finally made its Olympic debut at the 1984 in Los Angeles with a duet and a solo competition after having to prove its legitimacy and demonstrating for two decades. The 1996 Olympics only had a team event instead of the duet and solo events, however, duet was added back into the event options in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. To date countries are permitted to enter synchronized swimming teams and duets into the Olympics games. (http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/history-of-synchronized-swimming)
Synchronized swimming has truly developed as a sport through the ages from its original water ballet performances to its recognition on the Olympic committee as a sport worthy of global recognition and competition. Throughout its history, synchronized swimming has developed and different streams have been created to meet the demand for availability to learn the sport. There are recreational, competitive and Olympic level athletes all around the world with the same love for the sport and this research paper will be focusing on how these streams differ from each other in required body types, cellular advantages, nutrition of athletes, and training styles.
“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 or your fellow athletes? No? Well welcome to the world of synchronised swimming!” (http://www.swimming.org/britishswimming/synchro/about-synchro/) Synchronized swimming as a sport is a combination of strength and flexibility to perform the routines, as well as rhythm, discipline to synchronise and ability interpret the music. (http://www.swimming.org/britishswimming/synchro/about-synchro/) You require a balance of stamina, flexibility, strength, grace, focus, and perseverance. All these different components of being a synchronized swimmer, or synchro swimmer, require a certain body build to have optimal success in the sport. “Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, but specific body types tend to favour specific sports” (Ruiz, F. (2005)). This can give some athletes with a specific body type an advantage over others. In this chapter we will be looking at the specific body type that is best suited for Synchro.
1.1 Why Females are Better Suited Than Males For Synchro
The differing factor for males and females are the sex hormones in their bodies. Females generally have higher levels of estrogen while males generally have higher levels of testosterone, though there are some exceptions to this generalization (http://www.yale.edu/ynhti/curriculum/units/1988/5/88.05.04.x.html). The estrogen in females causes them to have more body fat (http://www.livestrong.com/article/347443-athletic-differences-between-men-women/) which also helps females to be more buoyant in water with the proper fat to muscle ratio in their body (Harmon, K. (2011, May 10)). The estrogen in females also causes their joints to be more flexible giving them a greater range of motion which is required in synchro. (http://www.livestrong.com/article/347443-athletic-differences-between-men-women/) The female body structure also gives females an advantage over males since females have their centre of gravity below their navel whilst males have their centre of gravity above their navel which is where a lot of the movements that are meant to keep the athlete out of the water are done. (http://electron6.phys.utk.edu/101/CH2/center_of_mass.htm) Males have more weight in their shoulders and chest which means that the sculls that are meant to be supporting them are away from the section of their body that carries the most weight. Females on the other hand have more weight in their hips and buttock which is exactly where most of the supporting sculls that keep the athlete up are in synchro. (http://www.jeanniethoren.com/theory.html)
The more heavily weighted sections of the male and female bodies
Females also have wider hips which affects the alignment and movement of the extremities. (http://www.livestrong.com/article/347443-athletic-differences-between-men-women/)
Female hip size compared to male hip size
1.2 Ideal Body Type for Synchronized Swimming
“Synchronized swimmers need to be strong, powerful, flexible, elegant and precise, says Jadine Cleary, domestic technical director for Synchro Canada and former national and Olympic team coach. Their body types resemble that of a dancer, with long legs and good extension, but they also need to be buoyant.” (Barker, J. (2012, August 7)) Studies that were conducted by Chinese researchers at the 1997 FINA World Cup showed that the Russian Synchronized Swimmers were the best equipped physically for the sport. The Russian swimmers were of average height (1165.2 cm) and weight (55.2 kg) and had a body fat composition of on average 19.83%. Along with these elements they also had broader shoulders, longer arms, and narrower pelvis breadth when compared with other country’s athletes. The mean value for the somatotype are 3.8-3.3-3.2. A somatotype measures how alike the 3 body types you are, the left number representing the degree of endomorphy, the middle number indicates the degree of mesomorphy, and the number on the right represents the degree of ectomorphy, on a scale of one to seven. Endomorphs are more on the gut dominant side while mesomorphs are more muscular and ectomorphs are more dominated by nervous and cerebral features. (http://www.mysomatotype.com/body-type/?page_id=58) The Russian team also placed Gold at the 1997 FINA World Cup, a success that was predicted by this research. (Quinn, E. (2014, December 1))
For the specific body types there are certain distinguishing characteristics between them. Table #1 below highlights the biggest differences between the three body types.
Table #1: Characteristics and Exercises for different Somatotypes
|Physical||Stout/round, strong bones||Muscular, athletic, broad shoulders, muscular limbs, narrow waist||Tall, lean, small chest, thin hips|
|Metabolic||Slower, excess body fat||Gains/loses weight easily||fast metabolism, slow muscle gain|
|Training Positives||Naturally strong, quick muscle gain||Resistance and aerobic training||naturally fit, loses weight easily|
|Training Negatives||Difficult to lose weight||Quickly over trains, needs variety in workouts||Slow to gain muscle, exercise might cause weight loss|
|Cardiovascular Exercises||Race walking/ swimming/rowing/ cycling (to avoid adding strain to joints), push ups, pull ups,||Sprinting, middle-distance events, 3-, 5-, 10-km races and 5- to 20-mile bike rides, interval training, shuttle runs, sprints, track workouts, triathlons||Long-distance running, cycling, pool swimming,|
|Strength Exercises||No information provided on https://experiencelife.com/article/just-your-type/||Technique, balance, working all muscle groups, strict workout format, 3 days a week, weight-training exercises, focusing on muscles involved in sport, stretch||Work out frequently with heavy weights and low repetitions, can handle more training sessions per week,|
|Sports||Football, long-distance swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing,||Bodybuilding, weightlifting, soccer, hockey, rugby||Marathons, triathlons, cross-country skiing, long-distance and endurance events, squash, tennis, indoor cycling, body sculpting, circuit training|
|Fibre Type||Mostly slow twitch||Fast twitch type 2A||Fast twitch|
(Ruiz, F. (2005))
Visual of endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph body types in both male and female athletes. From top: Male shotputter, Female shotputter, male body builder, female body builder, male triathlete, Female triathlete
Looking at this table and these pictures it makes the most sense for a synchronized swimmer to be a mix of all the different body types. Synchronized swimmers need to have the strong bones and excess body fat from endomorphy, muscular limbs, technique, speed and balance from mesomorphy, and the height, natural fitness, and ability to recover quickly between workouts from ectomorphy. That is why the Russian swimmers are the best built to be synchronized swimmers with their mean values for the somatotype being 3.8-3.3-3.2 on the scale of one to seven. Synchronized swimmers need to have the perfect balance between body fat and muscle mass to not have too much difficulty floating whilst still having enough muscle to support themselves in the water. (http://www.mysomatotype.com/body-type/?page_id=58)
1.3 Recreational Synchronized Swimming Body Type
“It’s friendly, being suitable for all body types, all skill levels, and both sexes” (Glass, T., Devana, S., Cronin-Schlote, C., Morrow, W., & Wood, L. (2005)). The recreational program for synchronized swimming is generally run with the mentality of fun and that anyone is welcome. They practice a lot less than the competitive teams and focus more on the fun aspect and building the love for the sport in swimmers. (Glass, T., Devana, S., Cronin-Schlote, C., Morrow, W., & Wood, L. (2005)). Here in Ottawa there is a club called Nepean Synchro Swim Club and they have six different classes offered in their recreational program ranging from Synchro Squirts, for ages 7-8, to Advanced Rec, for girls ages 13-18 and have been swimming for two or more years. These different levels create the opportunity for youth of any age to participate in the sport and are designed to be adaptable to any body type. It is a program that welcomes everyone and doesn’t require any specific body type to be able to participate. Recreational is all about having fun, getting kids involved in synchronized swimming, developing their love for the sport, and giving youth a community that they can be a part of. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/2014-15-recreational-season/program-info-2014-2015-1)
Here is an example of what the difficulty and skill level is in the recreational program. This is one of the Advanced Recreational teams from Nepean Synchro at the 2015 Rec Meet hosted by Nepean Synchro at Brewer Pool.
One of the recreational teams from Nepean Synchro from the 2013-2014 season at the 2014 Rec Meet, level 4, ages 10-15
1.4 Provincial Synchronized Swimming Body Type
The provincial stream is slightly different in the sense that the level of commitment and the physical demand on the participants are higher than that of the recreational program. The same club that was mention while discussing the recreational program has a different philosophy for the competitive program. Their mission is to “Enhance the physical, social and emotional development of our swimmers through participation in synchronized swimming as a team sport within the provincial stream.” (https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxuZXBlYW5zeW5jaHJvMXxneDoyZDg5MTJlODhhYmUyMmM1). Competitive is more about the athlete development as opposed to the fun aspect of the recreational program. In competitive the workouts, in and out of the pool, the routines, and the goals are much more difficult and much more physically demanding. To succeed in the competitive program you need a body structure that is closer to that of the Russian Olympic swimmers mentioned in section 1.2 with their somatotypes being 3.8-3.3-3.2. The competitive swimmers won’t have the same body fat or muscle development but if they have a similar body somatotype to that of the Russian Swimmers then they will have an advantage over the competition who might not have the same body structure. Competitive synchro can still be performed and excelled in by those without this body type. There are many girls in the sport that have a higher degree of endomorphy, mesomorphy, or ectomorphy than stated in the desired somatotype and are still highly successful. (http://www.mysomatotype.com/body-type/?page_id=58) This is a routine performed by the first place team in Ontario in 2014, from Nepean Synchro, to give you an idea of the difficulty and skill level of the routine and the athletes.
Nepean Synchro, recreational and competitive swimmers from the 2013-2014 season along with coaches
1.5 Olympic Synchronized Swimming Body Type
Olympic swimmer on the other hand have a very specific body type that is required to be eligible for the Olympic team. They require the somatotype of 3.8-3.3-3.2 or something very close to it along with the lower body fat and higher muscle development to excel at their level of elite athleticism. The balance of body fat to assist with floating, the muscle development to assist with suspension in the water and the leanness of the athlete to assist with the illusion of height all contribute to the overall success of the athlete. It is this balance that genetically gives certain athletes an advantage over others which occurs in every sport. (http://www.mysomatotype.com/body-type/?page_id=58) Olympic athletes train a significant amount more than the competitive teams and have a much more restricted guideline as to who is able to be on the Olympic team. The athletes are usually required to fit certain criteria and are expected to be fully committed, mind and body. The athletes are required to be at a certain level of physical fitness in order to excel at the Olympic level and having a particular body type assists some swimmers excel more than others.
Here is an example of an Olympic level team swimming. This is the North Korean team at Incheon 2014.
Canadian Olympic Synchronized Swimming Team for the 2012 London Olympics after swimming their free routine
There are many processes that occur in the body at a cellular level on a daily basis. These processes include metabolism, cellular respiration, the transport of oxygen around the body and muscle contractions. The different body types all have advantages and disadvantages when it comes to how efficient their bodies are at the processes listed previously.
“Metabolism is the chemical process that takes place within the cells for the purpose of sustenance of life- grow, reproduce, repair, transportation of nutrients, maintenance from wear and tear etc under various environmental factors like external stress, exertion or injury. To perform all these activities the cellular energy is generated when a molecule called ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) is broken down into ADP (Adenosine Diphosphate) and one phosphate molecule, while releasing energy.” (Sayan. (2014, June 23)) Metabolism is broken down into two processes which are catabolism and anabolism. Your body is producing energy in the catabolic process which means that when an athlete is working out and using lots of energy their body has higher catabolic levels when compared with regular levels. Anabolism is the opposite of this and is the repairing of your body after doing a hard workout or training period. This phase is when your muscle fibres grow thicker and the athlete gains muscle mass and strength, provided that the necessary nutrition is being taken care of. (Sayan. (2014, June 23)) People have different metabolism rates that allow these two processes to go faster or slower and this can be related, to an extent, to our body type.
In an ectomorph body the metabolism rate is very high. If we look at the ectomorphic body appearance this makes sense since ectomorphs are thin with long limbs and thin faces. They have little muscle and almost no fat. This allows them to be able to develop lean and longish muscles with the assistance of good nutrition but not bulk up like other body types can. Even still they will have low body fat percent with a very lean physique. An example of this would be a marathon runner who is required to have strong enough muscles to get them through the race but don’t want to carry a lot of extra weight that may tire them out. They usually have very long levers and look very lean no matter how much muscle they try to put on. (Sayan. (2014, June 23)) (Ruiz, F. (2005))
A mesomorph however is considered to be the result of a biased genetic advantage over the other body types. Physically they have square heads, thick necks, broad and muscular chests and shoulders. They have very muscular limbs and minimal body fat. These kinds of people are able to develop muscles easily which means that their metabolism occurs at a medium rate because it is not high enough to break down all of the nutrients that are put into your body since these kinds of people don’t generally put on a lot of fat. (Sayan. (2014, June 23))
Endomorphs, however, have a slow metabolic rate with a physical appearance of a round head, barrel like torso, and shorter limbs. These athletes have muscles but they are generally covered by a layer of fat because of their slow metabolic rate. They are unable to metabolize and break down all the nutrients they consume so they store it as fat. These athletes can easily gain muscle and fat without much effort. (Sayan. (2014, June 23)) Examples of female endomorphs include Beyonce Knowles, Oprah Winfrey, and Jennifer Hudson. (http://www.directlyfitness.com/store/3-body-types-explained-ectomorph-mesomorph-endomorph/)
2.2 Cellular Respiration
Cellular Respiration is the catabolic process in metabolism that breaks down organic matter in order to produce energy. (Sayan. (2014, June 23)) This being said, the amount of cellular respiration completed by your body is directly dependent upon your metabolic rate and thus your body type.
Ectomorphs have a higher metabolic rate so they demand more energy coming from the ATP molecules created through cellular respiration. This means that the ectomorphs must fuel their bodies more in order to gain muscle and maintain that fueling in order to not use energy from their muscles to perform. (http://www.biology-questions-and-answers.com/cell-respiration.html) Ectomorphs’ bodies need to produce more ATP from their cellular respiration and fuel this process by consuming more in order to maintain their gained muscle mass on their slight frames. That being said this means that mesomorphs, with their more moderate metabolic rate, don’t need to eat as much in order to maintain their muscle mass since they don’t use up their ATP as quickly as ectomorphs. This allows them to keep more muscle on while eating the same as an ectomorph since they don’t use up as much energy to do the same activities. (http://www.biology-questions-and-answers.com/cell-respiration.html) For an endomorph, who has a slower metabolic rate, they need to watch their food because they don’t break down the nutrients as quickly as people with faster metabolism. This means they store more nutrients rather than using it up right away since they can’t process it as quickly.
2.3 Oxygen Transportation
Oxygen is transported through your body in your bloodstream and by the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. A single hemoglobin molecule is composed of four subunits and can bind with up to four oxygen molecules at a time. The first oxygen molecule is the hardest to bind and then the second and third ones are easier whilst the fourth is hard to bind, similar to the first one. The binding of oxygen molecules to hemoglobin can be shown in this graph of the partial pressure of oxygen in the blood (x-axis) versus the relative hemoglobin saturation in the blood (y-axis). (https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-respiratory-system-39/transport-of-gases-in-human-bodily-fluids-222/transport-of-oxygen-in-the-blood-841-12086/)
2.3a Factors Affecting Oxygen Transportation
There are many factors that affect the hemoglobin’s ability to transport oxygen effectively through the bloodstream some of which include the carbon dioxide levels, the blood’s pH, body temperature, environmental factors, and diseases.
“When carbon dioxide is in the blood, it reacts with water to form bicarbonate (HCO3−) and hydrogen ions (H+). As the level of carbon dioxide in the blood increases, more H+ is produced and the pH decreases. The increase in carbon dioxide and subsequent decrease in pH reduce the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen. The oxygen dissociates from the hemoglobin molecule, shifting the oxygen dissociation curve to the right. Therefore, more oxygen is needed to reach the same hemoglobin saturation level as when the pH was higher. A similar shift in the curve also results from an increase in body temperature. Increased temperature, such as from increased activity of skeletal muscle, causes the affinity of hemoglobin for oxygen to be reduced.
Diseases such as sickle cell anemia and thalassemia decrease the blood’s ability to deliver oxygen to tissues and its oxygen-carrying capacity. In sickle cell anemia, the shape of the red blood cell is crescent-shaped, elongated, and stiffened, reducing its ability to deliver oxygen. In this form, red blood cells cannot pass through the capillaries. This is painful when it occurs. Thalassemia is a rare genetic disease caused by a defect in either the alpha or the beta subunit of Hb. Patients with thalassemia produce a high number of red blood cells, but these cells have lower-than-normal levels of hemoglobin. Therefore, the oxygen-carrying capacity is diminished.” (https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-respiratory-system-39/transport-of-gases-in-human-bodily-fluids-222/transport-of-oxygen-in-the-blood-841-12086/)
All these factors result in the body not being able to transport as much oxygen around it to the muscle tissues to be used during muscle contractions to produce ATP, the body’s energy source. As a synchronized swimmer, having an effective respiratory system is one of the most important jobs that your body could do. In order to succeed, synchro swimmers must have exceptional breathe control and with proper training they can achieve that. If they have a disease, such as sickle cell anemia, then it hinders their body’s ability to properly circulate blood and therefore lowers their ability to properly regulate their breathing whilst performing. (Gabrilo, G., Peric, M., & Stipic, M. (2011, March 1))
The opposite of all these instances can support and assist the effective transportation of oxygen around the body. With lower levels of carbon dioxide in the blood increases the hemoglobin’s affinity for oxygen and increases the transportation around the body. The same goes for the pH and maintaining it around 7.4 which is the regular pH level for human blood. (http://www.biologyreference.com/Bl-Ce/Blood.html) These can both help increase the hemoglobin’s ability to transport the most efficient amount of oxygen to the body along with maintaining a reasonable body temperature to not reduce the affinity of hemoglobin. As for the diseases, those are mostly genetic and cannot be changed. However, trying to focus on improving capillary size and efficiency can help improve transportation of oxygen around the body and to the muscles that are contracting.
2.4 Muscle Contractions
In order to move any part of your body all the muscles needed must contract for that movement to be possible. Muscle contractions are the sliding of two filaments across each other, inwards and outwards. When contracted the thin and thick filaments are pull together so that they are beside one another and then they slide back out so that there are spaces between them when relaxed, as shown in this picture. This is called the sliding filament theory.
The thick filaments are in blue and the thin are in red. (http://study.com/academy/lesson/muscle-contraction-actin-and-myocin-bonding.html)
When contracting, the muscle is active and then when not contracted it is relaxed. Muscles contract even when they are not being use for exercise and are used for every little movement, from breathing to blinking.
There are two different types of fibres in muscles that contribute to the contraction of muscles. These fibre types can be altered to better equip an athlete for a certain sport. There are fast and slow twitch fibres and everyone is composed of different percentages of each which allow them to excel at certain sports more than other ones. “On average, we have about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch fibers in most of the muscles used for movement” (Quinn, E. (2014, December 1)) Though some people are different and have more fibre types than others. (Quinn, E. (2014, December 1))
2.4a Slow twitch Fibres
“Slow twitch fibers (Type I): These muscle fibers can carry more oxygen and sustain longer periods of aerobic activity (activities that require your muscles to use oxygen) than other types of fibers, using fats or carbs as fuel. They can contract for long periods of time, but are weak. Think: long distance running or hours of cardio.” (http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/10/16/what-the-world-of-warcraft-can-teach-us-about-genetics/) These fibres are very useful for long activities or training periods. They are supported by aerobic systems to give them energy for the long periods of time that they are required to be working. These fibres allow the body to do continuous, extended contractions of muscles over longer periods of time. They fire off slower than the fast twitch fibres and are able to perform for longer before becoming fatigued. (Quinn, E. (2014, December 1))
2.4b Fast Twitch Fibres
“Fast twitch fibers (Type IIb): These muscle fibers can carry less oxygen and only work with short periods of anaerobic activity (activities that require your muscles to burn glycogen) before becoming exhausted. They have the greatest potential for strength and for gaining size. Think: sprinting, power lifting, strength training.
Fast twitch fibers (Type IIa): These are a mix of Type I and Type IIb fibers, and thus can be used for either aerobic or anaerobic activities.”
(http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/10/16/what-the-world-of-warcraft-can-teach-us-about-genetics/) With fast twitch fibres athletes can do sharp fast movements but only for short periods of time. These fibres are more anaerobic since they function too quickly to use oxygen effectively while performing.
2.5 Optimal Cellular Characteristics in Synchro Swimmers
The cellular characteristics discussed above can both help and hinder a synchronized swimmers ability to perform optimally. These following cellular characteristics help a synchro swimmer perform to their best ability in the pool.
Relating back to the optimal body type for a synchronized swimmer, metabolism contributes to their overall success in the sport. Synchro swimmers want to be a balance of all three body types to have the proper amount of muscle, flotation, and strength. The same goes for metabolism. They have to have the metabolic rate of a mesomorph since the metabolic rate for a mesomorph is between those of endomorphs and ectomorphs and is a medium rate. Synchro swimmers are a balance of all three body types so the two extremes of the endomorph and ectomorph body types cancel each other out in a way, leaving the medium mesomorphic rate. (Sayan. (2014, June 23)). Relating to metabolism, cellular respiration plays a part in an athlete’s performance as well. Since we are looking for a balance between the body types and a medium metabolic rate we want to be focusing on cellular respiration as it relates to the metabolic rate. Cellular respiration in a mesomorphic body requires less ATP than an ectomorphic body does to perform the same activity which means that they can work out for longer without needing as much nutrients to maintain their muscle and strength and requiring less fuel for their body to perform to the same standards as an ectomorph. (http://www.biology-questions-and-answers.com/cell-respiration.html) In order to do what these athletes do they have to be able to use as much ATP as is available while still being muscular and physically slim. Mesomorphic cellular respiration is the best option to help synchro swimmers obtain these results with the medium metabolic rate that uses ATP at a moderate rate, allowing more ATP to be created in the meantime, as well as having the metabolism to support the desired slim physical appearance while still being strong enough to perform the routines required of them.
The next cellular characteristic is oxygen transport which is a very important part of synchronized swimming. In a five minute routine synchro swimmers may spend as much as three and a half minutes cumulatively under water, sometimes being under for a minute without coming up for air. (http://www.seattlesynchro.com/SubTabGeneric.jsp?team=zzssst&_stabid_=70269) Obviously their body’s efficiency at transporting oxygen to all the different muscles in the athlete’s body is very important for this sport. That being said to optimally transport oxygen around a synchronized swimmers body the carbon dioxide levels in the blood have to be low, the pH has to be close to 7.4, and the body’s temperature has to be maintained at a healthy level as much as possible. (http://www.biologyreference.com/Bl-Ce/Blood.html, https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-respiratory-system-39/transport-of-gases-in-human-bodily-fluids-222/transport-of-oxygen-in-the-blood-841-12086/) Keeping the carbon dioxide levels down helps avoid it reacting with the water in the blood and from forming ions in the blood. The increase in H+ ions in the blood lowers the pH which in turn reduces the affinity of the hemoglobin to bind with the oxygen molecules. This then decreases the amount of oxygen molecules being brought to the muscles in the body that require them to keep functioning. As a result of these two factors, more oxygen is required in order to reach the same hemoglobin saturation level as is required in the blood stream normally. To avoid raising the carbon dioxide levels in their blood athletes should avoid taking shallow or short breaths which leads to less carbon dioxide being released from the blood. Athletes should focus on taking deep relaxing breaths whenever possible focusing on the exhale being slightly longer or equal to the inhale. Also frequently seeing your doctor to catch any illnesses that may affect your body’s ability to exchange gases such as Chronic Hypercapnia is a good preventative step to take. In the pool synchro swimmers should be taking very deep breaths while above water to counteract the time they spend underwater without air and oxygen available. (Campbell, S. (2015, April 14))
When athletes exercise the temperature of their skeletal muscles increases which also contributes to the increase in the hemoglobin’s inability to bind with oxygen. (https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-respiratory-system-39/transport-of-gases-in-human-bodily-fluids-222/transport-of-oxygen-in-the-blood-841-12086/) Synchro swimmers are lucky since they practice in a pool that is usually colder than their body, so this helps the body stay cooler longer than other athlete’s bodies that aren’t in a similar environment. This allows synchro swimmers to maintain their original body temperature for longer than other athletes in different sports. Being able to transport more oxygen around the athlete’s body can be an advantage for that specific swimmer in synchronized swimming since their muscles are receiving more oxygen that they can use to help them perform.
There are two kinds of muscle fibres, slow twitch and fast twitch (a and b), which are used for different activities. Slow twitch fibres are used for long, endurance activities while fast twitch fibres are used for short spurs or very fast action. Both of these fibres are useful in synchronized swimming between the endurance building and the aerobic training that both occur at practice. Synchronized swimmers have to be able to perform close to lactic acid threshold for between three and five minutes while still appearing to be enjoying themselves. Synchro is among the few sports where you cannot show how you are really feeling when performing which makes it that much harder. Athletes will use their slow twitch and fast twitch fibres during practice for workout laps, routine swims and practicing sections. They need to use their fast twitch fibres to be very sharp and crisp with their movements but also use their slow twitch fibres to be able to perform at their lactic acid threshold for five minutes. Slow twitch fibres are very useful in the figure category of synchro. Figures are the shorter and more controlled routines that swimmers perform individually in front of a panel of judges. These figures require slow and controlled motions that are entirely done by slow twitch fibres. The scores for all the swimmers on a team for their figures are averaged and then counted into their competition score at competitions and are worth almost 50% of the end score. Slow twitch fibres will use lactic acid first if present to fuel their processes so by better trained slow twitch fibres you can avoid reaching lactic acid threshold during the routine and avoid compromising the aesthetics of the routine. An example would be not being able to successfully perform the lifts or figures at the end of the routine. As a result of needed to be able to do all these different types of motions the optimal fibre composition for synchronized swimmers is a combination of both slow and fast twitch fibres with a large amount of fast type a fibres in the mix. With this combination the athlete’s muscles will be able to perform at lactic acid threshold for extended periods of time while still being able to execute the sharp and crisp movements that are choreographed into the routine. (http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/10/16/what-the-world-of-warcraft-can-teach-us-about-genetics/)
Picture of synchronized swimmers highlighting how their bodies are all the same and a mesomorphic body type structure.
2.6 Body Types at the Cellular Level in Different Synchronized Swimming Levels
Recreational synchronized swimmers are not required to be any specific body type and therefore there are not real cellular characteristics that would benefit a recreational synchro swimmer that wouldn’t benefit a higher level athlete. In the recreational level if an athlete genetically had one of the optimal cellular characteristics then it would give them an advantage over those that didn’t have that characteristic.
Competitive synchro swimmers, like recreational synchro swimmers, also do not have to specifically have any cellular characteristics. Again it does give them an advantage but they aren’t at a level where it comes down to the cellular level as to whether you win or not.
|Photo of the Canadian Olympic Team at the London 2012 Olympic games|
In the Olympic and national level however, the cellular functions can make the little difference in an athlete’s performance that helps them to win that gold or get that highest score. Olympic synchro swimmers are supposed to be the most elite synchro swimmers out there. They are most likely as close to the optimal cellular body type that is stated in section 2.5 as is humanly possible. Their bodies need to have a medium metabolic rate, be able to transport oxygen around their body effectively, and be a mix of both fast twitch and slow twitch fibres with some fast twitch type a fibres to allow for switching between fast and slow twitch. Since there are so many fantastic swimmers out there, having a more equipped body naturally or a body able to be trained for the sport gives certain athletes advantages over others. Those athletes with the advantages are the ones that make up the Olympic teams for all the different countries around the world. (http://www.biologyreference.com/Bl-Ce/Blood.html, https://www.boundless.com/biology/textbooks/boundless-biology-textbook/the-respiratory-system-39/transport-of-gases-in-human-bodily-fluids-222/transport-of-oxygen-in-the-blood-841-12086/,http://www.nerdfitness.com/blog/2013/10/16/what-the-world-of-warcraft-can-teach-us-about-genetics/)
Every athlete needs to fuel their body in order to excel in their chosen sport and depending on that sport there are different diets that support the necessary body type the athlete is required to have in order to excel. For synchronized swimmers they want to be a mix of all three body types focusing mainly on the mesomorphic qualities.
3.1 Recreational Level Nutrition
In the recreational stream of synchro there is not much that coaches can do to control what the athletes do or what they eat. Recreational athletes practice between one and half and four hours a week at Nepean Synchro Swim Club. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/2014-15-recreational-season/program-info-2014-2015-1) That being said since there isn’t a specific body type or cellular makeup that is required for the recreational level their diet also isn’t much of a concern. They are not elite enough athletes for their diet to significantly affect their performance at competitions though coaches highly encourage their athletes to eat healthily in the few weeks leading up to a competition. It is unfortunate that it is not encourage as a lifestyle choice and is only encouraged leading up to the competitions of the season. Whether they do that or not is up to their own discretion and they cannot be punished by the coach if they don’t. As a recreational synchronized swimmer the athletes should be eating healthily to fuel their body. They should be avoiding large consumption of foods such as fast foods, high sugar foods, sodas, pop, and high sodium foods as just a couple of examples. They should focus on eating organic and nutrient rich foods that will fuel their body in smaller quantities than a giant meal of only carbohydrates. Having a balanced and healthy diet can make athletes feel better working out and make performing even the littlest bit easier. In a healthy meal athletes and regular people should be eating most vegetables with some fruits and then the other half of the plate is evenly divided between whole grains and a healthy protein. Instead of having a sugary drink people should drink water at meal times and only use healthy oils such as olive oil in their cooking. This is a different philosophy from the competitive program and a very different philosophy from the Olympic training program.
3.2 Competitive Level Nutrition
Competitive swimmers are more closely watched than the recreational swimmers but again they cannot be punished for not eating appropriately. It depends on their coach and what they decide to do though they are all generally encouraged to eat as healthy as possible in the weeks leading up to a competition and specifically the week right before. Also while at the competition whether it be out of town or in town the coach is able to monitor what the athletes are eating more as well as supply healthier options for them to pick from while away. Some coaches will even do a food log for their athletes to record their meals in and the kinds of foods that they are eating. Some coaches chose to do those for the few weeks before a competition or every month during the season. It depends on the coach and in Nepean Synchro there are no specific regulations as to what the coaches should be doing with the athletes in respect to food logs.
A few years ago Nepean Synchro had Lucy Wainwright, an Olympic paddler with a Bachelor of Sport Science and Physical Education. She came and did a workshop on how to properly fuel our bodies during recovery, on a daily basis, as well as what to include in our meals. This was an interesting opportunity for all the athletes and below are the notes that were taken during her workshop. (Wainwright, L. (2015)) (http://canoekayak.ca/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/Nutrition-for-the-Developing-Athlete-Lucy-Wainwright.pdf)
The coaches recognize that athletes need to replenish their fuel stores and give swimmers snack breaks between dryland and water session as well as in the middle of a long practice to ensure the athletes were fueled for the entire practice and there were no dangers of injuring themselves. In the competitive program that is about the extent that the coaches are allowed to instruct the athletes for what they are allowed to eat. After that it is the athlete’s responsibility to fuel their body so that they can be successful in their sport. For the athletes to do well however a certain diet would help fuel their body in the most efficient way possible. To do so, athletes should be fuelling to their specific body type, whether it be ectomorph, mesomorph, or endomorph. Specifically for synchro swimmers with, generally, the mesomorphic body type they need to be keeping in mind what the article, “Eating for your Mesomorph Body Type” from www.coachcalorie.com, when eating their meals and planning their diets. ( Schober, T. (2012))
Source: ( Schober, T. (2012))
Characteristics of a mesomorph:
The mesomorph is a lucky individual. He/she can usually be fairly lax with their diet and still end up muscular and lean. With good testosterone and growth hormone levels, they have the ability to add muscle and keep a low body fat percentage much more easily.
A mesomorph should eat the recommended 1 gram/lb of bodyweight in protein, but they need to be a bit more mindful of their carbohydrate intake. While they may do just as well eating a moderate to high carbohydrate diet as an ectomorph, it would be wise to implement nutrient timing into their diet. Keeping their carbohydrate intake timed around breakfast and their pre and post-workout meals tends to work best.
Many people would be surprised to know that they are actually mesomorphs that have just been a bit too lax with their nutrition over the years. Your somatotype is not based on what you look like now, but on what you are genetically predisposed to look like. With a little more mindfulness towards your diet and exercise program, your true somatotype can show.
( Schober, T. (2012)) (http://www.coachcalorie.com/eating-for-your-body-type/)
Competitive athletes need to make sure they are getting enough protein for their body to maintain their muscle mass and body fat percentages. They also need to be eating enough carbohydrates to fuel their bodies during training sessions as well as during the recovery period. ( Schober, T. (2012))
A meal that a synchronized swimmer should eat after a practice would be a healthy quinoa salad with a light dressing and avocado, lots of vegetables, and black beans. The combination of the quinoa and black beans provides a lot of protein to help repair the torn muscles from practice as well as the healthy fats from the avocado are very good for the athletes and helps them to absorb vitamins such as A, D, E, and F. There are also lots of carbohydrates in the vegetables which helps to replenish the glycogen stores which were depleted during the practice. Overall it is a very good meal to help an athletes body recover for the next practice. In general athletes should be avoiding things such as highly processed foods, fast foods, pops, high sugar food items and high salt food items. This just helps them to maintain a healthier body to help their performance and help them feel healthy for competitions.
3.3 Olympic Level Nutrition
Olympic level athletes train at very high levels and need to be fueling their body accordingly to support this heavy training program. They need to be constantly monitoring their carbohydrate, protein, fat, and micronutrients they are consuming on a daily basis. “The nutritional requirements of synchronized swimmers vary depending on the training phase and the volume and intensity of the work being performed. (…) Researchers used a doubly labeled water method for measuring total energy expenditure (TEE) of elite Japanese synchronized swimmers during moderately intense training and determined that the mean TEE was 11.5 MJ/day (SD = 2.8), or 2,738 kcal/day (SD = 672)” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Athletes need to counter the amount of energy expended before practices in order to be able to endure the entire practice. They need to properly fuel their body with the necessary nutrients in order to be successful and optimize their practice times.
“Olympic-level synchronized swimmers have a high volume and high-intensity training program of 7 hr/day for 6 days/week (Mountjoy, 2009). The training regimen involves not only the synchro-specific pool training but also additional training in weights, ballet, Pilates, speed swimming, acrobatics, flexibility, and conditioning.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) To support this incredible amount of training, Olympic synchro swimmers must fulfill all the necessary energy requirements and maintain the appropriate levels of carbohydrates, protein, fat, key micronutrients, iron, calcium, vitamin D, and hydration. This is best highlighted in the following quote from the research report Nutritional Recommendations for Synchronized Swimmers, “ Food choices should be relatively high in carbohydrates, nutrient dense, easily accessible, and easily digestible to enable training at a high intensity during training sessions. Ideally, athletes should choose a well-balanced diet that is sufficient in energy, carbohydrates, and protein to optimize training performance.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014))
Starting with carbohydrates, swimmers are recommended to consume in the range of 5-7 g/kg/day of body weight spaced out across the day in frequent intervals, including before, during and after training sessions. The main goal of consuming carbohydrates is to provide fuel for the muscles to allow them to perform in the way the athlete intends them to. Foods that contain carbohydrates include vegetables, whole grains, fruits, and beans. Keeping their daily diet healthy with whole grain buns and including beans, vegetables, and fruits will better fuel an athlete and give them more energy in the pool. (Magee, E. (2008, October 30))
The starting range of protein required for Olympic synchro swimmers is between 1.5-1.7 g/kg of body weight/day with an emphasis on timing to optimize the effectiveness of the protein during athlete’s workout. “This range provides flexibility and should be individualized on the basis of the athlete’s requirements. Athletes should be encouraged to meet protein requirements by including high-quality, protein-rich foods at all meals and snacks, evenly spaced throughout the day.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Protein rich foods include avocados, greek yogurt, cottage cheese, steak, halibut, dried lentils, nuts, tofu, and quinoa. Combining these with your carbohydrates such as vegetables and beans would be a great start to a fuel rich plate of food. (Kadey, M. (2015, June 19))
The next nutrient that is important in a synchro swimmers diet is fat since it provides essential fatty acids, fat-soluble vitamins, and energy to the athlete. Olympic swimmers should have a total fat energy intake of 20-25% and if the fat levels in their diet are too low then it can result in a compromisation of the immune system. (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Foods such as salmon, nuts, eggs, cheese, and avocados are all full of healthy fats that your body needs in order to absorb vitamins A, D, E, and F. Without these fats athletes bodies would not be able to get the nutrients they needs in order to perform to the elite level that these athletes are looking for.
Next up are vitamins since “certain minerals are important for the energy metabolic processes through oxygen transfer and nerve impulse transmission of muscle cells” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Deficiencies of iron and calcium in athletes is very common, especially in female athletes, and the athlete will have to take supplements to help maintain the necessary mineral levels in their body. The only issue with this is that some vitamin supplements may contain prohibited substances that are not listed on the label and can cause issues with the Olympic committee and whether the athlete should be allowed to compete or not.
The first mineral is iron, which for synchro swimmers, is hard to come by since it is such a female dominated sport and women can be susceptible to having lower iron as a result of menstruation. Iron is required for oxygen-transporting compounds, such as hemoglobin, in order to circulate oxygen around the blood stream, which as we know, is very important for synchro swimmers. A deficiency in iron can lead to inadequate carrying of oxygen to the muscles and body which can also negatively affect the endurance and attention span of the athlete with the deficiency. Synchro swimmers also lose a low amount of iron through their sweat but since synchro swimmers sweat profusely and don’t even realize it since they are in the water, the risk of becoming dehydrated and low on iron is higher. “It is estimated that the typical diet in industrialized nations provides 6 mg of iron per 4.2 MJ (1,000 kcal) of energy. This requires that synchronized swimmers have an average energy consumption of approximately 2,500 kcal/day to satisfy the dietary intake of iron.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Swimmers can enrich their diet with iron by eating red meat, and spinach as two examples of iron rich foods. They can also take iron supplements to get the iron that they need in a day, whether it be to get that last little bit of iron that they need or get all their daily iron from a supplement if an iron rich diet is not possible for that athlete.
Calcium is also an important mineral for synchro swimmers to be consuming since it sustains a normal pH of the blood as well as helps clot blood and aids in the transfer of nerve transmission. There aren’t any studies done on synchronized swimmers specifically and iron but one was done on elite gymnasts who have the same kind of body image. It found that “elite gymnasts often demonstrate an inadequate intake of energy and several nutrients, primarily iron and calcium; a low intake of calcium, coupled with a low vitamin D exposure/intake, may predispose athletes to stress fractures” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) This is concerning for athletes who wish to avoid injury as much as possible but cannot help it if their body is simply not strong enough to withstand their sport, which is what happens when you have a deficiency of minerals. Athletes should have a calcium intake of 1, 500 mg/day to maintain healthy and strong bones. That being said a synchro swimmer should intake between 1, 000 and 1, 500 mg/day through a combination of food and/or supplements. (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) Calcium rich foods include milk or any dairy product, oranges, bok choy, kale, broccoli, okra and almonds. Having these included in an athletes diet will help them maintain a healthy and strong body that can go through the wear and tear of hours in the pool being beaten up accidentally by team mates. (http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20845429,00.html)
Another important mineral is Vitamin D which can be useful for muscle contractions, muscle protein anabolism, improving immune function, and enhancing anti inflammatory action, all of which are very useful for a synchro swimmer. The article Nutrition Recommendations for Synchronized Swimmers suggests that synchro swimmers should be having periodic blood tests done to monitor the amount of vitamin D in their system and increase it if necessary. Fat is required in order to absorb this vitamin which is why you should eat vitamin D rich foods such as mushrooms, fortified milk, and beef liver along with some fats like nuts and avocados. (http://www.health.com/health/gallery/0,,20504538,00.html)
Hydration is also very important for any athlete, not just a synchro swimmer. Failure to hydrate the body compromises the athlete’s performance by “lowering blood volume, thereby compromising the sweat rate (and therefore the cooling capacity), interfering with the optimum delivery of nutrients to working muscles, and interfering with the removal of metabolic by-products from working muscles.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) “Given the normal reduction in blood glucose during exercise, the hydration beverage should contain approximately 100 mg of sodium per 240 ml and approximately 6% carbohydrate.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) That being said it is very important for synchronized swimmers to be consuming enough fluids before, during, and after their practices to sustain their health and perform to their fullest. Swimmers should always have a water bottle by the side of the pool and drink one to two of these bottles per 2-3 hour practice as well as a bottle before and a bottle after.
Synchro swimmers also spend a majority of their time upside down in the water and can suffer from gastrointestinal upset. This can be caused by eating large volumes of food or certain types of high fiber, gas-producing foods, such as peppers and onions. Avoid eating gas producing foods such as asparagus, brussel sprouts, broccoli, peaches, pears, corn, potatoes, milk, oatmeal, beans, and sodas or soft drinks before a practice. By doing so the athlete reduces the chances of gastrointestinal upset. If it cannot be avoided then an antacid can be taken to prevent it, though it is better to simply avoid eating gas causing foods before a practice or perfomance. (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014), Rodriguez, D. (2012, December 28))
Photo bottom right: http://www.modernism.ro/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/swimmers.jpg
3.3a Recovery Nutrition
“The goal of recovery nutrition is to replace fluid and muscle glycogen and to optimize restoration of muscle glycogen between training sessions. Therefore, athletes should be encouraged to consume foods high in carbohydrate within the first 15–30 min after training, because the timing of post exercise carbohydrate intake affects glycogen synthesis. Recovery guidelines from Burke et al. (2004) recommend 1.0–1.2 g of carbohydrate per kg of body weight consumed at frequent intervals (0–4 hr) immediately after training. Nutrient-rich carbohydrate foods with a moderate to high glycemic index provide a readily available source for muscle glycogen synthesis and should be the foods of choice in recovery meals (Burke et al., 2004). Drinking additional fluid during recovery is also important. According to Burke et al. (2006), consuming small amounts of protein within the carbohydrate-rich meals can also help athletes achieve other nutritional goals such as adequate protein intake.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)). All these techniques for recovery contribute to the athlete’s body restoring muscle glycogen, preventing dehydration, and preparing for the next big competition or event. These recovery nutrition routine can often be interrupted by interviews, family, photos, or awards ceremonies so it is important that the athletes tend to their bodies as much as possible. They should try and get the recovery routine done before anything gets in the way or shortly after the distractions leave. Recovery snacks should include foods that contain carbohydrates to refuel, protein to rebuild muscles, and sodium and potassium to replenish lost electrolytes from sweating. Examples of recovery meals are peanut butter and jelly sandwich, chocolate milk, and yogurt and a banana. It doesn’t have to be a big snack, even just 100 calories will help to start the recovery process. (http://synchroswim.isport.com/synchronized-swimming-guides/nutrition-guide-for-synchronized-swimmers)
3.4 In Summary
Overall synchro swimmers should be focusing on their diet to maintain their appropriate body type, and at the Olympic level, the required aesthetic build. They do this by looking at everything they eat and focusing on eating the proper amounts of carbohydrates, protein, fats, and vitamins, as well as staying hydrated. All these elements combined with the athlete’s body will optimize the training methods that the athlete completes in order to be at the level of sport that they wish to be at. (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014))
Once the athletes are fueled they are ready to train having obtained the required nutrients and fuel to get them through practice. They need to be training their body successfully to have the optimal success in the sport. However, throughout the different levels there are different training programs and styles that develop the athletes in different ways that help those athletes succeed in their level of sport.
4.1 Recreational Level Training Methods
At the recreational level there is an emphasis put on fun and the coaches are supposed to create a very relaxed and not strenuous environment while the girls are at practice. That being said the athletes are still learning the skills required for their level within the sport but they are learning in a fun and creative way as promoted by Nepean Synchro. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/2014-15-recreational-season/program-info-2014-2015-1)
Recreational team practices are organized differently and are longer depending on the level of the swimmers. The young teams, of girls ages 7-8, practice for 1.5 hours a week while older teams, of girls ages 9 and up, practice 2 hours per week. Then there is the Advanced Recreational level, for girls ages 13-18, which practices for 4 hours a week and is the most demanding level, commitment wise, in the recreational stream.
For very young swimmers they do very few laps during practice, change activities often to make sure to keep the young athletes’ attention for the entire practice, as well as incorporate games into all of the skills being learned. They do a total of 8-16 lengths throughout the entire practice and focus on 3 or 4 skills throughout the practice time. They will learn a new skill, practice it, then play a game that requires them to use that skill to win. This way they are learning the proper technique as well as a situation where that technique is used and must be used in order to be successful. Then when they practice that skill in a routine situation they have the foundation and the fun attitude associated with that skill that makes their synchro experience to be more fun. Here are examples of practice plans for three different levels of recreational teams. These templates are taken from the 2013 recreational coaching program at Nepean Synchro and were resources for the coaches to help them plan their practices effectively.
You will notice throughout all three of these templates that the coaches make a practice goal as well have a monthly goal so that they are able to focus their practices accordingly to their season’s training plan. They also have time put aside for dryland training to promote cross training in the recreational level so if/when they move up to competitive they are more accustomed to the idea. They also all do 15 plus minutes of laps and workout to warm up the athletes for their practice. They all then proceed to focus on the more synchro specific aspects of practice such as routine and skill development. Overall the recreational teams practice enough to succeed in their level and fulfill the goal of having fun and building a love for the sport. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/2014-15-recreational-season/program-info-2014-2015-1)
4.2 Competitive Level Training Methods
Competitive teams train significantly more than recreational teams, often practicing 6 times a week with both drylands and water practices, lasting for a minimum of 2 hours at a time. There are often extra practices available too which result in the competitive swimmers practicing for a total of 15.5 hours in a regular week. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/competitive/training-schedule-1) This training program is comprised of many different types of training such as endurance, aerobic and anaerobic training, on land cross training, and routine specific training. Coaches use specific training methods to best train their athletes to perform to the level they are wanting. Here is an example of a summer training program made for me by my coach at the time, Michaela Kostron, to help me to improve for the next season. This will give you an idea of the types of exercises that synchro swimmers do during practices and to train.
The first and second pages are about me as an athlete and my previous athletic achievements as well as weaknesses. The point of this training plan was to improve my weaknesses to make me an overall better swimmer and my coach had designed exercises specifically for that goal.
The first workout that she gave me was to improve my power and upward momentum in body boosts which are a very fast and sharp movement exploding from the water. This workout is designed to work out and hopefully improve my fast twitch fibres. It is also to improve my strength in eggbeater which is more of a slow twitch fibre workout since you do eggbeater for the majority of the routine that you are above water for. The second workout was for speed, sculls, core strength and stability. This focused on improving my vertical line while upside down by focusing on the core strength and stability as well as improve my vertical height through training my sculls and the speed of my sculls.
The third workout focuses on endurance and slow twitch fibres of the athlete. Building this endurance will increase the athlete’s lactic acid threshold and allow them to perform at a higher standard for longer periods of time.
The first three workouts are in the pool to promote sport situated exercise so that when the athlete, in this case myself, are thrust into a sport specific situation they are able to apply those trained skills.
The next few workouts are a combination of land workouts and in water workouts, promoting the cross training that helps athletes develop and improve in their sport outside of a sport specific situation. The training plan focuses on how doing exercises outside of the pool will also help athletes in the pool. My coach focused on five main things for me with the combined on land and in pool workouts; flexibility, spins, eggbeater and body boosts, thrusts, and sharpness in figures. For each of these skills she gave appropriate land workouts that benefit that specific skill as well as in water drills and exercises to practice and perfect the skills. She also provided descriptions of how doing these workouts and the exercises can contribute to the improvement of that skill. My coach had also worked with me privately throughout the year and knew aspects of skills that I often had difficulty with. She made sure to add specific corrections to those skills that she knew I had trouble with to help me focus on them and keep those corrections in mind when practicing. This training plan was very helpful and improved me as a swimmer. When I came back for the next season after the summer I saw an improvement and had an advantage since none of my teammates had been training over the summer and weren’t at the same level of fitness that I was at.
Even though this training plan is specific to me as a swimmer, a similar one can be applied to any athlete and practices are structured in a similar way. During practice athletes will practice skills by breaking them down and working on improving all the little elements that are a part of the skills as a whole and perfect those before chaining them all together to make the skill itself. Athletes practice these skills multiple times a week and for weeks on end in order to get them as close to perfect as possible since for most of the skills done at practice, they are evaluated on at competitions. Being a competitive synchronized swimmer requires a great deal of time commitment and dedication to yourself as an athlete and your personal athletic development, which in turn improves the team’s overall athletic ability.
4.3 Olympic Level Training Methods
If you thought the commitment in the competitive level was a lot then the necessary commitment for the Olympic level will blow your mind. “Olympic-level synchronized swimmers have a high volume and high-intensity training program of 7 hr/day for 6 days/week (Mountjoy, 2009). The training regimen involves not only the synchro-specific pool training but also additional training in weights, ballet, Pilates, speed swimming, acrobatics, flexibility, and conditioning.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) “Elite synchronized swimmers need to be both aerobically and anaerobically fit. Current requirements for more acrobatic manoeuvres may now involve less time spent underwater, but the long training sessions associated with the sport mandate a high level of fitness.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014)) “The gymnastics-type movements that are performed within the high resistance of water requires that athletes develop a broad range of cardiovascular and musculoskeletal strength, typically attained through running, cycling, swimming, and practicing competition routines. Off season training commonly involves the use of free weights and plyometrics to improve leg and core strength. The typical training schedule involves the establishment of a quadrennial plan, usually established by national teams, which outlines the training goals and objectives of the 4 years leading up to the Olympic Games. The yearly training plan is divided into macrocycle, mesocycle, and microcycle phases, and the nutritional requirements of synchronized swimmers vary depending on the training phase and the volume and intensity of the work being performed.” (Robertson, S., Benardot, D., & Mountjoy, M. (2014))
Olivia Allison is an Olympic synchro swimmer for the United Kingdom. She practices 6 days a week and her weekly plan is outlined below. This is an example of what any Olympic synchro swimmer generally does for her training. (Allison, O. (2009, January 10))
My typical week
7-8am: Warm-up. I run on the spot to get warm, do 30 sit-ups and other core muscle work and use resistance bands to get my arm and leg muscles working. I also practise stretching and the splits.
8-9.30am: 5,000m of speed training in the pool. This involves both power and endurance sets using a combination of strokes, and we do monthly timed swims of 400m.
9.30am-12.30pm: Routine training in the pool.
2.30-3pm: Land drills (a walk-through of the routines on land).
3-5pm: Routine training in the pool.
7-9am: Strength training and conditioning. We have set individual programmes designed to target weaknesses, enhance strengths and avoid injury tendencies. The muscles being worked are related to pool work.
9am-1pm: Routine training in the pool.
7-8am: Land warm-up.
8-9.30am: Speed training in the pool.
9.30am-1pm: Routine training in the pool.
8am: 30-minute land warm-up and stretching followed by a cardio workout in the gym.
9.30am: Strength training and conditioning.
11am-12noon: Stretching, flexibility training such as over splitting (where the legs split over 180 degrees for extra flexibility), gymnastics.
Day off. I don’t have a lot of spare time, but when I’m not training I lifeguard to earn some extra money or I see my boyfriend. My training hours will gradually increase as I get closer to competitions.
(Allison, O. (2009, January 10))
This type of training is what Olympic synchro swimmers must do to maintain their body composition, muscle mass, endurance, and aerobic and anaerobic strength.
Here are some examples of exercises that synchro swimmers would do in their weekly training.
Core training: sit-ups, plank holds, bicycle crunches, hanging leg raises
Arms: support scull with bands, arm curls, pushups (tricep and regular)
Flexibility: scorpion, forward backwards stretch, pigeon, leg swings (forward, backwards, sideways)
Plyometric exercises: high kicks, butt kicks, lunges, ankle hops, tuck jumps, squat jumps, box jumps, cone hops
Stretching: As seen in this video syncho swimmers have to stretch out their body before they swim. This is only an arm and leg stretch video, leg swings (forward, backwards, sideways), back stretches (arching, cat and cow, child pose), leg stretching (touching your toes, straddle and reaching to each foot and the middle)
Routine training: swimming routine with weights, practicing sections to music or taps, practicing with partner, working on one specific figure or arm until perfect
Swimming training: synchro IM (underwater, back crawl, breast stroke, front crawl), endurance training (400m timed swim, sets including unders and front crawls), breathing and no breathing sprints, synchro sets (sets with synchro laps included, a lap of ballet leg, a lap of vertical travelling sideways, under with a figure at the end)
(Koh, S. (2014, March 17), http://www.mensfitness.com/training/build-muscle/the-go-hard-core-workout-routine)
These are just a few examples of exercises that you can do, there are many other options but these are the kinds of exercises that are done during practices and are expected of athletes to do at home as well.
4.4 In Conclusion
The training methods for the different levels vary greatly in difficulty and requirements since the different levels demand different things from their athletes. They all demand dedication and a certain level of athleticism for the athletes to be able to succeed in the sport. The recreational level demands less of the athletes and isn’t nearly as an intense training program. The competitive program is slightly more intense and demanding of its athletes. It is a big step up from the recreational program but not as big a step up from the competitive program to the Olympic training program. Olympic level synchro swimmers dedicate their whole life to training and the results really pay off when they get to go and represent their country on an international scale and stand on that podium.
There are different streams for different types of athletes in every sport. The different streams in synchronized swimming require different levels of competence from their athletes.
Recreational level athletes do not require a specific body type or any kind of specific cellular characteristics in order to be allowed into the program. Anyone can join recreational synchro though having a certain body type or useful cellular characteristics can contribute to the swimmer’s success in the sport. These swimmers can generally eat whatever they want, as long as they stay healthy, to be able to swim. There are no real dietary restrictions. They also have a very laid back and fun training program that doesn’t require that much dedication from the swimmers or their families.
Competitive has a few more specific requirements in order to truly succeed at your age level. Swimmers with a mesomorphic body type generally succeed more in synchro at the competitive level. Swimmers that have a medium metabolism, a good circulatory system, and muscles that contract efficiently and are mostly type IIA muscle fibres generally are more successful. These characteristics do not determine whether you are able to participate in the sport which is what makes it different from Olympic level. Competitive swimmers have to be more health conscious but mostly just before a competition. While away at competitions the teams eat as healthily as possible and the athletes are encouraged to the same at home leading up to the competition. As for training, competitive level swimmers train significantly more than the recreational level but significantly less than at the Olympic level.
Olympic swimmers have the most requirements as to whether they can be involved in the Olympic stream or not. They must be a mesomorph with a medium metabolism, excellent circulatory system, and mostly consist of type IIA muscle fibres. All these elements are important since there are so many people trying to join the Olympic stream so having any kind of advantage over other athletes can help a specific athlete get onto the team. Olympic swimmers also have a very restricted diet that fuels their body for practices and competitions without changing their body composition or affecting their body fat and muscle mass. They also have very high intensity training programs that all lead up to one goal; the Olympics and that podium. It is all these elements that allow these athletes to make it there, make it to gold.
Overall synchronized swimming is a very women positive sport and influences so many young women. Here are two articles written by two previous Nepean Synchro athletes on their love for synchro. The first is written by Greer Gemin who swam with Nepean for 7 or more years and continues to coach with them now. (Gemin, G. (2013, April 1)) https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxuZXBlYW5zeW5jaHJvMXxneDo4NjlmZmU0MTU5ZTUxNDU
Greer Gemin swimming her solo to Amelie in 2014 (http://danrobichaud.zenfolio.com/img/s2/v72/p1472677752-11.jpg)
The second article is written by Lily Dong who swam for 8 or more years and coaches now with London Synchro in London Ontario. (Dong, L. (2014, June 16)) https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxuZXBlYW5zeW5jaHJvMXxneDoyYTRhNDMwNDdiN2EwM2I3
Lily Dong’s coach profile photo on London Synchro’s website 2015
Both of these women were incredibly dedicated athletes in the competitive stream who coached recreational swimmers to share their love for synchro with young girls and continue to do that even now. (http://www.nepeansynchro.com/2014-15-recreational-season/join-our-club)