How to Do an Ibis Tip-Back

To the ear of anyone outside of the synchro world, the word ibis calls to mind an image of a long-legged, long-beaked bird. But to a synchro swimmer who knows the ibis better as a figure, it might conjure up frustrating images of long figure practices. Sometimes it can feel like no matter how many of the hints, tricks, and sheer will you apply to your tip-back, you end up sinking, travelling, or getting stuck somewhere between the ballet leg and crane.

This doesn’t have to be you! Believe it or not, once you get the hang of it (with a few refresher courses as needed) the ibis tip-back will come to you with ease.

To help you on your way to tip-back triumph, here is a reminder of what you’re trying to achieve for the tip-back, then a description of technique, and finally some tricks for correcting common problems.

Remember Your Ibis Goals

It’s always good to have a clear idea of what you’re aiming for.

  1. Hips stay at the surface, or as close to it as possible, throughout the transition.
  2. You stay in place.
  3. Your entire body, head to both toes, moves as one piece.

Tip-back Technique


  1. Start from standard scull in your ballet leg position.
  2. As you tip-back, continue to standard scull, but bend your wrists gradually so your palms continue to face the bottom. It will feel kind of like reverse standard scull, except you won’t be traveling.
  3. Continue in this modified standard scull until you feel like you are three quarters of the way to your crane, and then do a catch into support scull. The catch is quickly transitioning your hands, during one scull, inwards so your fingertips pass by your waist and end in a support scull out-scull.
  4. Finish holding the crane in support scull.


  1. Flatten out your body in your ballet leg position as much as possible by sculling your hips higher and pelvic tilting. The shallower your hips are, the closer you are to a correct crane position.
  2. Press your chest and head underwater while your left leg lifts (assuming you are doing a right ballet leg) off the surface and your right leg that is up tips over your face. Keep a 90 degree angle between your body and your right leg and also between your right and left leg.
  3. Continue to press your chest and head down and back towards vertical, bringing your legs along with you, moving as one T-shaped piece. Remember to use your abdominals!
  4. Finish in the crane position.

Ibis Tip-back Drills

Use these two drills to help you feel the correct way to do the tip back.

1. Use empty milk jugs or plastic collapsible water jugs (often used for camping, but nicknamed “jugs” or “bottles” for use in the synchro world).

  1. Grab the handle of one jug in each hand while holding a ballet leg position.
  2. Do the ibis tip-back, focusing on which muscles you need to use while not having to worry about sculling.
  3. Press down on the jugs as you tip.
  4. Repeat at least three times before attempting the move without the jugs.

2. Have a partner help you.

  1. As you perform the tip back, have a teammate hold their hand in front of your right leg. If the angle between your right leg and your body becomes less than 90 degrees, they can let you know by slowing your leg down for you.
  2. Have a partner lift your left heel off the water as your face goes underwater so you get the feeling of how quickly it needs to come up.
  3. Repeat both of these at least twice before trying again without your partner.

Common Problems & Solutions

Many people have similar troubles with this part of the ibis figure. Here’s a list of common problems, along with some suggestions and ideas to help you correct them.

1. Not Moving as One Piece

  • Pelvic tilt, engage your abs, and extend your legs throughout the entire movement.
  • Imagine yourself as a solid piece, a T-shape, instead of having so many joints.
  • Image that you have a stick between your right foot and your chin, so the two cannot get any closer together as you go, and your foot would actually help push your head down as you go.

2. Trouble Getting Your Head Down

  • Get your hips higher from the beginning. The shallower your hips are, the easier it will be to shift your weight over your head.
  • Push your sculling deeper and make sure your arms aren’t reaching too far towards your feet. This will allow you to have a less rounded upper back and an easier time getting down.
  • As you go, start using your eyes. Don’t look at your right leg. Look down the pool wall behind you.

3. Traveling Problems

  • Traveling is almost always caused by the way your hands are facing. Make sure that as you tip your hands are always facing the bottom. If your wrists aren’t bent enough, you will travel headfirst. If they are bent too much, you’ll move foot-first.
  • Catch later. If you catch too soon, you will push yourself toward your back when you are trying to finish your crane.

4. Losing Height as You Tip

  • The quick answer to this problem is stronger sculling. But, if your body isn’t helping out, you might never be able to maintain your height. Press your hips to the surface by pelvic tilting and pressing your head deeper from the beginning.
  • Make sure your sculling is in the right place. Scull below your hips at the beginning, behind them as you tip, and then catch at the last possible second.

You Can Master Your Ibis

The ibis, along with all the other figures that begin with a ballet leg, can be very challenging. Expect that they will take a good amount of time to perfect, and work hard on them. Because the tip-back is so difficult, you’ll be proud to show it off during figure competition once you get the hang of it. And after all this hard work, you should be proud!

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