Two thirds of professionals have mental health issues

Synchronized swimming might look like a blast to perform, but it is undeniably hard on the brains and bodies of its participants. A recent survey concluded that almost two thirds of former or current professional synchronized swimmers suffer from anxiety, depression or an eating disorder, as a consequence of being pushed so relentlessly towards perfection.

They use Jell-O on their hair

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In the early days of synchronized swimming, athletes and dancers wore caps to prevent their hair from getting in their eyes. Nowadays though, it’s more common for swimmers to use unflavored Jello-O packets that are combed into the hair. The hair then sets like a rock, and it takes hours in the shower to brush it all out before rehearsal the next day.

Concussions are common place

Just like competitive cheer, synchronized swimming is a field that is becoming more popular and widely known rapidly. As a result, routines are getting harder and harder at a breakneck pace. This has led to a sharp uptick in concussions, which most often occur when swimmers crash into each other while executing lifts, jumps or throws. Sometimes, swimmers even hit the water with enough force to sustain injuries.

Coaches often terrify athletes about their weight

Credit: Republic of Korea via Flickr

The narrow body image expectations that plague many Olympic athletes are also present in synchronized swimming, with many former professionals anonymously reporting high levels of body shaming from coaches throughout their training. Swimmers confessed to being called “little pigs” by their coaches, being instructed to “suck in their lunch” and being told that just seeing them was enough to make their coaches ill.

They never touch the bottom of the pool

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Synchronized swimming routines often include moments where swimmers will shoot out of the water like a bullet. This is already impressive to look at, but it’s more so when you know that they execute these stunts without ever touching the bottom of the pool. In competition enviornments, touching the bottom of the pool leads to docked points, and so they rely on their own strength to propel them.

Overuse injuries can end careers

Sudden, accidental injuries aren’t the only things that can put a swimmer out of comission. Doing advanced gymnastics without any solid ground to balance on, while holding your breath and unable to see, puts more strain on the body than almost any other art form or sport. As a result, professionals are often forced to retire by torn muscles or wrecked joints.

Food is sometimes withheld by coaches

Synchronized swimmers are supposed to look beautiful, effortless and uniform, which means they are held to incredibly narrow standards as far as acceptable body types are concerned. Anonymous athletes have reported that coaches will sometimes withhold dinner or force teams to practice through lunch if they believe they need to lose a few extra pounds before an important competition.

They train for eight hours a day

Credit: Republic of Korea via Flickr

All athletes have to train hard to attain the level of skill needed to stack up at the Olympics or other elite competitions, but synchronized swimmers train more than almost any other discipline. On average, they train between eight and ten hours a day, six hours a week, with rehearsals broken up into land run throughs, underwater lung conditioning, pilates, swimming practice and cardio.

Men aren’t allowed to compete in the Olympics

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Synchronized swimming is one of a few disciplines that is dominated by women at the highest levels of competition. This is because, starting in the 20th century, men were banned from participating in the art form. 2024 will mark the first year in which men can compete in the Olympics, but they are restricted to the mixed team category and can only appear two at a time.

They can stay underwater for minutes without breathing

Most competitive synchronized swimming routines are around three minutes in length, and two minutes of that is spent underwater. As such, athletes have to be experts at holding their breath, and much of their daily training slots and rehearsals are based around lung conditioning. Many synchronized swimmers will develop increased lung capacity after working in the sport for just a few months.