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Fitness for Diving

I'm sure a lot of you have heard one scuba Guru or another expound on the importance of fitness for diving. Most likely you thought to yourself, "sure if I were doing exploratory dives with decompression tops calculated in hours instead of minutes, but I don't need to workout for the diving I do. Well here comes that over used phrase you've heard time and time again, "I've got some good news and some bad news for you!" The good news is simple, you're right. You don't need to be anywhere nearly as fit as those explorers. The bad news is equally simple, you DO need a reasonable level of fitness for scuba whether you're a warm water weenie, frequent wreck diver or hard core tekkie! I know.... I know. You're thinking, "mmmm hmmm, right. What's in it for me?"  

Why Bother?

Over the years I've experienced a lot of things personally in diving. I've also had the pleasure, and displeasure at times, of training a lot of divers of different levels. Toss in the fact that I've been in a position to observe a heck of a lot of other divers in both demanding and not so demanding environments and you may understand how I've built a few theories concerning diving from these observations. One of my strongest beliefs, though one I can't back-up with cites, is that poor fitness is the number one.... let me emphasize that.... NUMBER ONE cause of diving accidents and near misses.

How is poor fitness causing problems for divers? I believe most problems we see are related to poor aerobic conditioning. How many times have you found yourself, or those around you huffing and puffing just from donning their gear before a dive? In some cases a winded diver reaches the entry point, steps off the boat into choppy waves and a mild current and the next thing you know they're flailing about on the surface, screaming for help! Why? They put more demand on their respiratory system than it could handle. Imagine what happens when the diver fights their way to the down-line, pulls them self down against a current and starts swimming off into that current huffing and puffing against the resistence extremely dense compressed air from their tank. Once they become air starved and the CO2 level builds up in their body, they become panicky, often bolting for the surface. Even worse, they might trigger a hear attack underwater! Anyway you look at it, divers with sub-standard aerobic fitness levels are an accident waiting to happen!

Other Benefits

There are other "fringe" benefits for divers that are physically fit, besides avoiding respiratory distress. The fit diver will have better blood diffusion to the tissues. This greater diffusion will aid in off-gassing during ascents, safety and decompression stops. A fit diver should face a reduced risk of Decompression Sickness. A diver that is in good condition will have more energy, in general feel better than one with a poor fitness level. When you feel better you'll enjoy your dives more and are likely to dive more often. The fit diver will also be less prone to pulled muscles, strains and sprains. Of course, important to every diver, as you gain a good level of cardio-pulmonary fitness your air consumption rate is likely to drop. You'll use less air/nitrox/trimix from you tank, allowing you more time in the water.

So How Fit is Fit Enough?

The level of fitness a diver needs to reach in order to avoid scuba related problems largely depends upon the type of diving their doing. The occasional vacation diver usually doesn't dive very demanding dive sites. They certainly don't need the conditioning that the avid weekend warrior type, or the recreational tech diver needs. The more extreme your diving, the more challenging the dive sites you visit, the longer and harder your fitness routine needs to be.

For the casual diver a hard-core fitness regime probably isn't necessary. Something as simple as a brisk thirty-minute walk, three times a week, combined with a basic stretching and abdominal routine, would suffice. If you dive more often or do more difficult dives you may want to take those walks five times a week, make them forty-minutes long and toss in some push-ups, toe-touches and other basic exercises. For cave or technical diving, and hard core wreck divers as well, you probably want to push the aerobics a bit beyond the casual walking level and toss in some strength training as well.

Ok Wise Guy, What Do You Do?

Those of you that have met realize I don't exactly have a rock hard, washboard flat stomach. Yeah, so? I'm not exactly a spring chicken anymore either. So do I actually practice any of what I preach? You bet cha. What follows is my current off-season routine.

Strength Training (3 Sets each, 10 Reps per set, 3 days per week)

  • Bench Press
  • Military Press
  • Lat Pull Downs
  • Arm Curls
  • Tricep Push Downs
  • Leg Extensions
  • Leg Curls
  • Butterfly Press
  • Leg Press

Aerobic (On beach, .2 to .4 mile power walk interspersed with .1 to .2 mile jogs to raise heart rate and respiration levels)

  • 1.5 - 1.75 Mile Walk/Jog, 30 - 35 minutes, 3 times weekly (Strength Training Days)
  • 3.0 - 3.6 Mile Walk/Jog, 50 - 55 minutes, 3 times weekly (Non-strength training days)

Abdominal (Daily, Sets x Reps)

  • Normal Crunch, 3 x 25
  • Reverse Crunch, 3 x 20
  • Long Arm Crunch. 3 x 20
  • Lower Back Crunch 3 x 15

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