When diving we try to pace ourself and take it slowly to conserve our air, but divers can nonetheless benefit from being in physically good shape. Then what kind of training and how much is needed?
Divers often call diving “the lazy man’s sport”, owing to the fact that taking it slow and easy underwater is highly recommended, as is avoiding any unnecessary strain. For more on this, read about the benefits of slowing down when scuba diving.
However, the fact that we benefit from taking it easy does not mean that divers can let go of all concerns for their physical shape. Being physically fit has a number of benefits for divers.
Benefits from being fit
Avoiding strain is a key skill in diving, and helps us conserve air, avoid excessive nitrogen buildup and helps us de-gas after a dive. But the more fit you are, the less you need to strain yourself during any activity, on dry land or underwater.
Also, just because diving is a relaxing activity underwater, doesn’t mean it’s not taxing for the body. Our respiratory system is strained by breathing air under pressure, and carrying heavy gear to and from the water taxes the body skeletan and muscular systems.
That doesn’t mean you need to have the build of Arnold Schwarzenegger or the lung capacity of Ursain Bolt to dive, though. But building and maintaining a good physical base can do much to improve your health, safety, and enjoyment of diving. But what is needed?
Cardiorespiratory fitness refers to our body’s ability to absorb and utilize oxygen. A high level of fitness in this area means that your body is able to very effectively strain out the oxygen molecules from the air you breath, and use them more efficiently on a cellular level.
In turn, this will cause you to use less air when diving, compared to an unfit diver. Also, training your body’s respiratory systems will make the dispelling of nitrogen more efficient, reducing the risk of decompression illness.
While any form of cardio training, from cycling to running and even walking, can be of benefit, there are some types that are more beneficial than others.
Cycling has an obvious advantage in that it is a very mild form of cardio, without the strain on joints and tendons of running, and the muscular movement of pedaling is good training for finning. Swimming has obvious advantages for diving, as well. Running is very convenient for many, and is an effective way of pushing you cardio capacity.
To really get the most of your cardio, limit the amount of long, slow training sessions in favor of short interval-based sessions. A typical interval session for running might look something like this:
- Start with a warm up, 5 minutes at a steady pace and at no more than 60 percent of your maximum capacity
- Sprint for 1 minute at as close to maximum capacity as you can
- Slow down to a light jog and stay here for 2 minutes
- Repeat steps 2 and 3 five times, for a total of six intervals
- Cool off, 5 minutes at a steady pace of around 50 percent of your maximum capacity
With this program, you get a thorough cardio workout in less than half an hour. These kinds of workouts are strenuous, though, so start out with only one a week, and work yourself up to two or three a week, combined with a day where you go for a longer, easier run.
This interval approach can be done using any cardio activity.
In diving, we tend to carry a lot of heavy gear. A normal dive tank of 12 liters, made of steel, can weigh as much as 15 kg/33 lbs. add to this any other gear and weights you normally carry, and a diver can haul around as much as 25 kg/55 lbs on his or her frame.
To take some of the strain of this, a solid muscular base is useful. As we walk with the scuba gear on our backs, leg and core strength is very important for divers. But for lifting the gear or hauling ourselves into boats, general upper body strength comes in handy, too.
A good, basic training program for a diver can be done in any gym, or, with a little creativity, in your own home, using your body weight for resistance. A starting point could be something like this, a full-body program that can done two or three times a week:
- Push ups or bench presses
- Shoulder presses
- Bent-over-rows or inverted pushups
- Leg raises
If you’re new to resistance training, these terms may not be familiar to you. It is paramount that you do not try your hand at strength training without proper supervision and guidance into the techniques of each exercise.
So seek out information where you can. The best option is a certified trainer at your local gym, or even a personal gym. A good quality book on the subject is a good second-best, though.
A few sessions each of cardio and strength training can go a long way, not just in your diving safety and enjoyment, but in your overall health and well-being. So take the challenge, and get diving fit!