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How to Do the Headfirst & Foot-First Dolphin in Synchronized Swimming

Although simple, the dolphin has a lot to offer in terms of skill development. Practicing the dolphin will teach you body awareness, how to feel your depth in the water, and assorted sculling techniques.

No matter the direction it goes in, the dolphin always starts and ends in a layout, and it always follows a circular path. The following guide offers step-by-step instruction for performing not only the headfirst dolphin figure, but also the foot-first version.

Headfirst Dolphin

Back Layout & Beginning the Circle

As you begin, imagine that you are lying on the top of a giant globe that happens to be exactly the same size as the circle you are going to make. This will help ensure that you're traveling around your circle instead of cutting off any of the arc.

Start in a back layout while sculling overhead. Line up your hands with the marker or center judge. Bend your wrist to start reverse torpedo sculling yourself headfirst across the surface. Do two or three sculls to get your momentum going before you take your face underwater.

Arch your upper body first to submerge it. Then gradually move the arch into your lower back by the time only your hips and legs are left at the surface.

Move Along the First Half of the Circle

Once your hips are under, maintain this same dolphin arch position for the rest of the underwater portion of the figure.

Continue using reverse torpedo scull to pull yourself down and around the circle until it's no longer strong enough to propel you. At that point, gradually scull your hands down toward your hips.

Your head should keep descending until it reaches the very bottom center point of the circle's path. Scull near your hips. Do a hybrid version of canoe and standard scull, to get you around the bottom half of the circle.

Finishing the Last Half of the Cirlce

Continue along the second half of the circle while tipping your head up slightly towards the surface. As soon as you feel like you are starting to float up too fast (usually about the three-quarter point of the circle), catch yourself with support scull. Then, turn your palms over again to scull yourself back towards the marker.

Hot Tip: Go a Little Further

It's a natural tendency to cut off the second part of the circle because it makes your journey to the surface shorter. However, since circles are supposed to be perfectly round, this isn't a good plan. You will probably have to overcompensate and feel like you make the second half of the circle wider than the first to do it correctly.


Come up face-first with your head in line with the marker. This should be the exact point your head went under. Control the way you surface by coming slowly through the water, opposed to letting your face just pop up.

Move across the surface using standard scull. At the same time, straighten out the arch in your back. Then, finish in a back layout with your hips in line with the marker, and your hands by your sides. Then, sit up gracefully.

Foot-First Dolphin

You may have guessed that the foot-first dolphin is exactly the same as the regular version, only backwards. Thus, you will need a couple different sculling techniques to be successful.

Back Layout & Beginning the Circle

Start in a back layout in standard scull. Line up your feet with the marker. Bend your wrists, and use reverse standard scull to get your momentum going. Then begin to arch in your hips to push your legs underwater. As you go underwater, arch your upper body gradually.

Move along the First Half of the Circle

Transfer your hands to either support scull or paddle scull to propel yourself around to the bottom of the circle. As soon as your toes reach the lowest center point, tip them slightly up towards the surface.

Finish the Last Half of the Circle

Follow along the second half of the circle, and continue in paddle scull until you feel that you are starting to float up too fast. Then to slow down, switch to sculling by your hips or waist with your palms facing the surface.


Your feet should surface in the same exact location they went under in the beginning. Put your hands behind your hips, and use reverse standard scull to move across the surface. As you do this, simultaneously bring your body up into a back layout. Finish with your hips in line with the marker.

Hot Tip: Sneak up on the Surface

Break the surfacesubtly with your feet. Your feet shouldn't come up out of the water. Just the tops of them should slide up to, and across, the water.

Swim like a Dolphin

The dolphin was retired from the FINA (synchro's international governing body) figure list, but has been recently reinstated. There's a good reason the dolphin figure made a comeback from retirement. Practicing it will help you gain more awareness of your placement and body position in the water (even when you're totally underwater where it can get confusing). And while you're at it, you'll have the chance to practice your sculling techniques as well.

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