Routines are composed of "hybrids" (leg movements) and arm or stroke sections. They often incorporate lifts or throws, an impressive move in which a group of swimmers lift or throw another swimmer out of the water. Swimmers are synchronized both to each other and to the music. During a routine, swimmers can never use the bottom of the pool for support, but rather depend on sculling motions with the arms, and eggbeater kick to keep afloat. After the performance, the swimmers are judged and scored on their performance based on technical merit and artistic impression. Technical skill, patterns, expression, and synchronization are all critical to achieving a high score.

Technical vs. Free Routines

Depending on the competition level, swimmers will perform a "technical" routine with predetermined elements that must be performed in a specific order. The technical routine acts as a replacement for the figure event, and is usually used only in senior and collegiate level meets. In addition to the technical routine, the swimmers will perform a longer "free" routine, which has no requirements and is a chance for the swimmers to get creative and innovative with their choreography.

Length of Routines

The type of routine and competition level determines the length of routines. Routines typically last two and a half to five minutes long, the shortest being solos, with length added as the number of swimmers are increased (duets, trios, teams, and combos). Age and skill level are other important factors in determining the required routine length.


Routines are scored on a scale of 100, with points for both artistic impression and technical merit. The artistic mark is worth 50% of the total and the technical mark is worth 50%.