How to train like a synchro Olympian without getting in the pool
- By Andrew Russell
Karine Thomas is among the very few who can pull off the dazzling routines synonymous with synchronized swimming.
Karine, 28, did so at two straight Olympics, and while she has formally retired from elite competition, she fondly remembers her experiences in training.
Many people may remember a time when they attempted a synchro routine with friends or family at a nearby lake or pool. It’s a significant gap between a fun attempt and actually doing it. The feat requires hours and hours of in-pool and dryland training.
“How did you get into synchro,” I ask Karine, who competed at the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
She says she was watching synchro on TV and instantly thought, “this is the coolest thing ever.” Karine casually got into the sport, and her “just fun to try it” gradually shifted to a realization she had both a real love and talent for the sport.
So, here’s the million dollar question: “If one wanted to emulate Karine Thomas, out of the pool, what type of workouts would you recommend?” We assumed best leave the in-pool routines to the experts. The Hull, Que., native gave us the goods on three pretty cool angles:
Flexibility is Key
Flexibility is tremendously important to excel at synchro.
In order to develop this important element of the sport, ballet or dance classes are both excellent cross-training opportunities to train for the rhythm and flexibility demands. Ensure that whatever class that is chosen is “stretchy” in nature.
Synchro demands each athlete utilize a combination of dynamic or moving power while holding one’s breath (typically for 30 seconds).
To train acrobatic moves and the dynamic power required to hold certain positions, a variety of exercises work well to make improvements.
Here’s a typical workout for Karine:
Warm-up - Take 5 minutes to elevate your heartrate; you can cycle, go for a short jog, or hop on a rowing erg. You get the idea. Most accessible aerobic and aerobic-power based equipment will do the trick.
Exercise 1 | Jump onto 5 foot mats, 8 total repetitions.
Here you are aiming to coordinate an explosive broad jump. You should be focused on landing firmly bracing both feet as you land with sturdy legs, a strong core, and an attention to keeping your balance and an even distribution of your weight.
Exercise 2 | Chin-ups, 5 sets of 8 repetitions
Upper body strength is when you’re lifting your body up out of the water and holding an elevated position. If you think it looks hard, just remember it is likely even harder than you think.
Exercise 3 | Push-ups, 5 sets of 8 dynamic push-ups
You know how to do a push-up, roger that. Now take a standard push-up, and the only tweak is to let yourself move slowly on the decline as your chest nears the ground, and then try and push-up quickly back to your starting position, reset, and repeat.
Synchro is pretty demanding, and a lot of the most challenging elements are done while underwater. So there’s that.
Training Exercise (Disclaimer - don’t make an attempt!!! This is not safe or worth doing, this is just shared as an interest piece).
How long can you hold your breath? Curiosity led to asking Karine about her personal stats.
“While we seldom statically hold our breath, we did once do it during an altitude camp in Colorado,” she says.
Obviously I’m pumped to hear the result Karine shares with me… “2:37”.
In disbelief, I double-check: “Like… 2 minutes and 37 seconds??!!”
And I’m awestruck.