Support Scull & Water-Pressure Drills for Synchronized Swimmers

An efficient support scull is your best weapon in the battle against gravity—especially when upside-down and trying to get as much leg out of the water as possible. And don’t even think about touching the bottom!

A Brief How-to

There’s not too much to say about the mechanics of support scull. It’s almost always done while you’re upside-down and made up of only two repeated movements: With your upper arms by your sides and your forearms and palms face the bottom of the pool, your hands move together. Then you move them away. Since you've already learned standard scull by this point, you know how to slightly tip your hands to push the water. Getting enough water pressure is the hard part.

When done correctly, you can create enough water-pressure to hold your legs up out of the water. The more efficient and stronger your scull becomes, the higher out of the water you will be. And, you will be able to hold yourself in position without a lot of bumps or changes in water level.

Here are a few drills and tips to help make the most of your support scull. Do each drill many times in a row, for a minimum of thirty seconds or as long as your breath-holding can allow. Sculling is a repetitive movement, and doing only a few at a time will make it difficult to memorize the right technique and feeling.

1. Standing

  1. Go to a part of the pool where you can stand on the bottom (don’t worry—it’s just a drill, no penalties here). You should be underwater from armpits down.
  2. Begin support sculling. The goal is to create enough water pressure to make the surface of the water “boil” above your hands and forearms. If the surface of the water is still, you will not have enough pressure.
  3. Tilt your hands so that your pinky fingers are closer to the sky when your hands move away from each other, what is called the “out scull.” When your hand move towards each other—during the “in scull”—slightly tilt your palms so your thumbs are closer to the sky.
  4. Too much tilting is detrimental. Your palms should always be closer to parallel to the surface than perpendicular. When it’s right, you will be able to feel the pressure on your hands and forearms.

2. Sculling Down to the Bottom

  1. Swim back to deep water. Start with your head at the surface with feet pointing to the bottom, but not touching.
  2. Try to scull yourself down as deep as possible, using the same techniques to gain water pressure as you did in the first drill.
  3. Practice until you can really identify and master the feeling of water pressure.

Hot Tip: Beware of Bad Habits

Two bad habits that can form in support scull:

  1. Sculling in a V-shape, towards your feet on the in scull and towards your head on the out scull
  2. Letting your elbows move around too much  

To prevent a V-shape, keep your forearms relatively flat as if you are washing the underside of a table.

Your elbows don’t have to be totally immobile, but keep them near your waist. If this is difficult, have a partner help you hold them still.


3. Upside-Down

  1. Start underwater in your vertical position.
  2. Begin support sculling with the exact same feeling and technique used in the other drills.
  3. Rise slowly out of the water foot-first. Only rise as high as you can while maintaining good support sculling technique and body position.
  4. Repeat.

As your support scull becomes stronger and more efficient, it will feel more natural.


Putting It Together

Many synchronized swimmers rush into working on the upside-down support scull in the vertical position without doing any drills or practicing how to find water-pressure—but being inverted in water can make even the most basic moves confusing.

Take your time to really work on correct water-pressure technique before applying it upside down. Eventually, you’ll be able to put it all together: powerful support scull, height, and good body positions.

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