How to Do a Crane & Porpoise Lift with Paddle Scull

Throwing a leg up in the air is actually not that hard to do, but when you’re trying to slow it down for figure competition and maintain a vertical (not over-piked) body position for as long as possible, you need a technical plan of attack.

Here is a guide to the skills needs to do a good crane and porpoise lift, then some drills to help you make them the best they can be.

A porpoise lift is lifting two legs from a pike position to a vertical. A “perfect” one would have hips at the surface and a vertical body throughout the entire lift. The expectations for a crane lift are the same, but easier to achieve since you only have to lift one leg.

Sculling Techniques

You will use three different sculls just from the time you finish your pike to the time your leg(s) are in position.

1. Barrel Scull to Paddle Scull

After holding your pike position in barrel scull, it’s time to transition to paddle scull. Switch one arm at a time, one right after the next.

Paddle scull is done right underneath your knees in a pike position; your palms alternately push water down to the bottom to hold your pike up. Your arm should be straight as you push, and bend slightly as it recovers for the next push. (See the iSport video in the side bar.)

After two or three seconds, begin lifting your leg for the crane or both legs for the porpoise. Keep paddling until your leg(s) are halfway to vertical (more on the legs in the next section).

2. Paddle Scull to Support Scull

Since your arms are already very close to where they need to be, there isn’t really a need for a formal transition—just switch from paddle to support scull. It’s the timing of the switch that’s important.

The point where your legs are halfway to vertical is usually the right time, but you have to go by feel. Support scull has a shorter reach than paddle scull, so if you switch too soon, you will either over-pike to support your legs or tip over (not good options!).

Start with a narrower support scull, more in front of you, to help counter the weight imbalance of having your legs in front of your body. Then, as you get closer to vertical, gradually make your sculls wider and more out to the sides of your body.

Lifting Your Legs

Now that you’ll be able to lift your legs slower using this new sculling technique, it’s time to turn your attention to the way you lift them. Try these two drills that help you focus on using the right muscles as you lift, which will take some of the work load off your arms.

1. On the Wall

  1. Set up upside-down in a pike position with your back against the side of the pool. Hold onto the wall or gutter of the pool with your hands so you don’t have to worry about sculling.
  2. Lift slowly to a vertical or crane position. Keep your entire back, from hips to the back of your head, against the wall the entire time— paying special attention to your lower back.
  3. Make a conscious effort to use your hamstring muscles to lift your legs and your stomach muscles to hold your body still.
  4. Repeat successfully at least three times before trying it off the wall and sculling.

2. Sinking Porpoise

  1. Start in a pike off the wall.
  2. Lift your legs slowly to a porpoise, but do not scull or try to hold yourself up.
  3. As you lift your legs, sink headfirst down to your ankles.
  4. Focus on keeping your body vertical as you go and your legs and stomach muscles.
  5. Repeat successfully at least three times before trying it again with sculling.

Go for It

Now you’re ready to put it all together. It probably won’t come naturally, so you will need to be patient when combining these skills.

Hot Tip: Beware of Common Errors
  1. Resist the urge to over-pike, especially in the porpoise lift. When you can’t seem to fight it, go back to the wall and repeat the drill again.
  2. Some swimmers revert to doing one big-arm circle between barrel scull and paddle scull—also a bad habit! There isn’t a drill for this mistake; you just have to practice and force yourself to leave it out.

Adding to a Great Foundation

These sculling techniques along with crane and porpoise lift skills are the building blocks for an endless combination of figures, technical elements, and hybrids. Mastering them is an essential part of progressing to far more difficult moves and choreography for the rest of your synchro career.

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