How to Do a Stack Lift in Synchronized Swimming

[Img_Popup_13264903222010011927.jpg]The standing stack lift is a great opportunity for your team to demonstrate its ability to work together. It is a skill that requires strength and power to perform, but if executed well, may lead to a higher score and a better overall routine. The stack lift also serves as a valuable building block in the development of your team and its ability to perform more difficult throws and flips.

General Description

Stack lifts are usually done by four to eight people on the team. One person, called “the base,” starts underwater in a squatting position, while another person, “the top,” perches in a tuck on their shoulders. The remaining teammates (“the lifters”) hold onto the base’s feet and lower legs and push as the base and top both extend to lift the top out of the water.

Set Up

To the Base: You are the center of the lift.

Hot Tip: Know Your Strength

Theoretically, the more compact your squat, the more power you will have to lift (like a tightly wound spring). But, pressure from the lifters pushing upwards, combined with the weight of the top standing above can make it difficult to open up quickly or even at all!

Experiment with your squat position to find the balance between power and consistency. There's a sweet spot where you're compact enough to gain strength, but still able to stand rapidly and completely. Most bases choose to squat with about a 90° angle bend in their knees, thighs parallel to the surface.

  • Position yourself deep enough so that the top can set up without their head being out of the water, but not so deep that the lifters can’t get under you.
  • Assume a squat position. Keep your upper body as vertically aligned as possible and centered over your thighs.
  • Pike arch to keep your upper body vertical. This will help the top stay on your back.

To the Lifters:

You are the deepest part of the lift. It is your job to keep the lift at the right depth.

  1. Set up just deep enough so that the top’s head isn’t out of the water.
  2. Grab the base’s foot.
    • If the whole team of eight is doing one stack, there will be three lifters on each leg. Each lifter will either hold the heel, middle or ball of the foot. Lifters holding the heel and the ball of the foot may also hold onto the base’s calf or front of the shin with their free hand.
    • If a team or group of four is doing the stack, there will only be one lifter on each of the base’s feet. In this situation, each lifter must hold the base’s foot with both hands: one hand under the ball of the foot with your fingers wrapping around the front of the toes, and the other under the heel with your fingers wrapped around the back. If you want to, you can scull with one hand until the lift rises and then grab the foot.
  3. Hold the foot close to your chest for extra support.
  4. Use your free hand if you have one, or pull yourself down with your legs, in order to keep the whole lift at the right depth until it’s actually time to rise.

To the Top:

Hot Tip: Stay Close

There seems to be a tendency for lifters to spread out as they go. It can happen if you pull the base’s foot towards you instead of swimming in to the lift, or as you rise to the surface.

The wider apart the base’s feet are, the shorter the height of the lift will be as a whole.

Try these quick fixes:

  1. Be aware of the base’s original body position and be careful not to change it as the lift progresses.
  2. Get even closer in and underneath the Base as you rise.

Since you are closest to the surface, it is your job to communicate with the base and lifters about the depth of the lift.

  1. As soon as the base is set (or almost set), get into your tuck position with the middle of your feet on their shoulders.
  2. Center your weight over the base (the tendency is to hang off the back) and scull for balance.
  3. Keep your upper body as straight as possible: The first thing out of the water should be your head, not your back.


This step is called “rush” because you need to build speed and momentum to break through the surface. The more momentum you gain, the higher the lift can be.

To the Base:

Hot Tip: Look Up, Not Down

The competition pools might be a different depth than pool you practice in at home. If you’re used to setting your lift’s depth according to the bottom of the pool, you might end up to too shallow or too deep at the meet. Instead, use the surface of the water as a reference point. Your set up will be consistent no matter the depth.

  1. Hold your position while the lift rises.
  2. You may want to hold onto the top’s ankle(s), though your ability to do so depends on their choreography.

To the Lifters:

  1. Eggbeater hard and push the base and top toward the surface. Keep the base’s foot close to you without extending your arms.
  2. If you chose to start with only one hand on the foot, reattach your second hard after initiating the lift (if there is enough room).
  3. Keep an eye on the lifter(s) across from you who are attached to the base’s other foot. If the lifters stay level, the base will stay level as well.

To the Top:

  1. Keep your weight balanced over the base (which will be a little more difficult now that everything is moving).
  2. Resist the urge to open up or stand early.
  3. Scull to balance yourself.

The Peak

All of these steps happen within a second or two.

To the Base:

  1. Stand as quickly and with as much force as you can.
  2. Try to stand up as opposed to down on the lifters.
  3. Keep your upper body straight as you open. If you bend at all, the top might roll off your back.
  4. Hold the top’s feet (if you both agree that is best).

For the Lifters:

  1. Push the base’s feet up towards the surface by extending your arms up over your head. This is another point where lifters tend to spread apart. (See Hot Tip: Stay Close, Gain Height.)
  2. Perform at least one big breaststroke kick to finish with a powerful push.
  3. Resist the push of the base. Try to stay as shallow as you were at the end of the rush.

To the Top:

  1. Wait to stand until the very peak of the lift. (It’s usually a little later than what seems natural.)
  2. Stand up, as opposed to feeling like you’re pushing down onto the Base.
  3. Lead with your head. Do not bend forward to initiate the movement.
  4. Stand on the center of both feet.

Finish with Class

To the Base:

  1. Keep your body straight as you sink back into the water.
  2. Bend your legs first to break out of position.

For the Lifters:

  1. Your team or your coaches should pick a count ahead of time to let go of the base’s feet so the descent will be even and synchronized.
  2. Hold the lift as high as you can until you reach the designated count.

To the Top:

  1. Keep your body position and pose until you are totally underwater.
  2. You or your coach can add choreography to make the ending look deliberate and to keep the lift from lingering too long at the end.

Get up & Try Again

There is a good chance that your lift will fail a few times at the beginning…and then a few times after that. It’s important for the lifters to not swim up towards the surface before they know if the lift has been successful. If the top falls while the lifter is swimming up, there is a good chance the two will crash together and someone could get injured. The top should try to fall flat on the surface (without belly-flopping or hurting themselves). This will cause the top to sink less and therefore decrease the risk of colliding with the lifters.

Don’t be discouraged if the stack lift falls a lot before your team gets it right! Keep working together and you’ll have a successful lift in no time.

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