Winter is now in full swing. In some parts of the country, February brings bone-chilling winds, and snow and ice on the local ponds.
For many divers, the beginning of winter means stowing away scuba gear until spring. Diving loses its appeal when the temperature drops and the wind blows fiercely. Unfortunately, the human body cannot be stored away as easily as a tank or regulator. Inactivity is the diver’s worst enemy, as muscles and the circulatory system soon begin to deteriorate if not exercised regularly.
Aside from outdoor sports, Americans are basically a sedentary society. We drive to the corner store instead of walking; we take the elevator in lieu of climbing the stairs; and we spend many hours in front of the television watching sporting events instead of participating. Meanwhile, our body functions dwindle to minimal activity status. Our lungs rarely expand to more than half their total capacity, and our hearts beat at slightly above idling speed. Muscles that were once firm and tough begin to turn to jelly. After one month of this kind of inactivity, most of the diver’s physical fitness will have faded substantially. Two months away from the water will turn even a super diver into a blob.
A program of regular exercise is essential to maintaining fitness for diving. The seasonal enthusiast faces a crucial period in the spring when he attempts to get back into diving. He no longer has the advantage of the preliminary training and conditioning which preceded his first open water check-out. Now he is trying to make a comeback with one quick step from the sofa to the open sea. Although the spirit may be willing, the body may not be.
Thinking about diving or talking about diving does not help to regain the stamina or scuba proficiency of last season. It is dangerous to attempt to rationalize the situation by thinking, “I won’t get into a jam because I know my limitations.’ Out-of-shape divers have no idea of their limitations, since they have not been near the water for months.
The best way to avoid the pain of reconditioning your body is by not permitting it to get out of shape in the first place. Maintaining a minimum degree of scuba fitness is far easier than beginning the long hard struggle back from months of inactivity. How can you stay fit for diving? The diver has different options available depending on where he/she lives, how much time is available, and what contacts he/she has with other divers.
Perhaps the best way of remaining fit for diving is to continue diving throughout the winter. If you can make a couple of dive trips each month, you’ll find it much easier going in the spring. Obviously, this is not possible in all parts of the country, but it is certainly an option available to those who live in California or Florida. You might consider taking a couple of short dive vacations or trips during the winter months, as this provides an excellent opportunity to exercise under more pleasurable environmental conditions. A quick trip to the Caribbean or Hawaii can result in six to ten dives in a surprisingly short period of time.
Those divers who live in northern parts of the U.S., where winter is more severe, may not find it as easy to get out for an open water dive. Strong winds and frequent storms make it virtually impossible to plan weekend dive trips. However, a good alternative is to seek some form of activity at an indoor swimming pool. The most obvious is to swim laps at the local pool, making regular visits three times a week. For minimal scuba fitness maintenance, a quarter to half mile swim is recommended. And to help things along, this swim should be done using fins, mask, and snorkel. Some divers even wear six pounds of lead weight to make the swim more vigorous.
For years many YMCAs have conducted a fitness program called, “Swim for Life.’ Each swimmer keeps track of the distance he/she swims in an exercise session by marking it in on a large chart. The goal of this program is to swim 50 to 100 miles over a six-month period. The same rules could be utilized for a “Scuba for Life’ program.
If you find that swimming laps is a bit too boring and you seek a more challenging program of exercise, you might want to contact dive clubs or dive shops in your area to see if they are conducting any programs of regular pool competition. There is a new wave of enthusiasm which has recently begun to build for a variety of different pool games divers can play. In some parts of the country, a game called underwater rugby has gained considerable popularity and several dive shops in upstate New York are now forming teams.
Underwater hockey has gained tremendous popularity in the Midwest and may someday become as great an activity here as it is in Europe. In many parts of the country, water polo has been a long-time favorite among dive clubs. Although this game is not played underwater, the strenuous exercise and competitive spirit involved certainly provide a good workout.
Another pool competition which is extremely popular in Europe is swim fin races. As yet this activity has not reached the U.S. dive scene, but there are strong indications it may soon. The special yard-long fins used in these races have been available here for several years.
Whatever activity you choose, it is important to stick with it throughout the winter and exercise regularly. Don’t kid yourself by thinking that jogging, tennis or snow skiing are adequate substitutes for diving. The only good exercise for swimming and diving is one which is actually done in the water – and the best way to stay fit for diving is to dive regularly.