One of the most difficult problems facing the certified diver is staying fit. Once the scuba class is finished and the novelty of those first few open water dives has worn off, the new diver may find himself slacking off. Perhaps it’s the arrival of winter or maybe intensive school studies which cause the diver to stray. Within a month to six weeks of inactivity the diver has literally lost the muscle strength and stamina he worked so hard to build up during scuba class. In other words, he’s back where he started.
How can you stay completely fit for diving, so you may go off on a dive trip whenever you choose? The obvious answer is to keep diving on a regular basis if it is humanly possible. Two dive trips per month is the minimum activity to maintain an acceptable degree of fitness. If you are having difficulty finding dive buddies or space on a dive boat, you might consider enrolling in some type of organized educational activity. Specialty courses on photography, wreck diving and U/W navigation, etc., offer opportunities for organized dive outings.
If regularly scheduled weekend dives are an impossibility, then regular workouts in a swimming pool could be a good alternative – provided those visits are really an organized workout and not just a quick dip. An average diver in good condition should be able to swim a minimum of one-quarter mile with fins and mask (no snorkel) with a rest stop. This type of exercise maintains leg muscle tone as well as keeping the respiratory and circulatory systems up to par. A workout two or three times a week is adequate for maintaining good dive fitness. Incidentally, a scuba instructor should be able to do a one-half mile minimum swim.
For those divers who are out of shape and know it, the job is more difficult. It means starting from the beginning and rebuilding muscles, stamina, strength, skills and confidence. But how do you get started when you haven’t been diving for six months? One of the best ways is to design a simple, but rigid, get-back-into-shape program. The first step is to establish a goal; a specific date a couple of months away. The target date might be a dive vacation, a long weekend dive trip, the start of lobster season or whatever.
The next step is a self-appraisal of you present physical condition. Just how bad is it? How many laps of a swimming pool can you do without being completely exhausted? How much overweight are you? How far can you swim underwater on one breath? Write all this information down, for it will serve as your personal standard of comparison throughout the next few weeks of training.
Then, set up a program of exercise that will occur during the six to eight weeks prior to your dive date. The exercise can be arranged to conveniently fit your life-style, but should include at least three to four visits to the pool each week. Business executives may find it more convenient to swim at lunch time, while others might find evenings and Saturday afternoons better.
The important thing here is your commitment. Once you start, let nothing stand in the way of accomplishing your regular exercise schedule. Don’t let unexpected business appointments, a special TV program, visiting relatives, or a basketball game stand in the way of your exercise program. Make it the most important thing in your life – it may very well save your life.
What kind of exercise is best? Swimming, naturally. Sit-ups and jogging may be fine for improving circulation and wind, but only swimming will exercise those specific muscles you use in diving. Start out slowly with a minimum number of pool laps, increasing during each successive session. In a month of exercising four times per week, a person can easily work up from four laps to a possible one-quarter mile swim.
A few words of caution should be kept in mind while going through this program – improvement often comes slowly. Just stick with it on a steady basis. Don’t attempt severe dieting while going through such an exercise program. You’re going to need the energy to build up your strength.
Six to eight weeks of regular swimming and diving exercise will work wonders for you. Physically, you’ll look better and feel better and most probably sleep a lot better. Mentally, you will have restored your confidence in your diving ability – and thus built up your immunity to possible panic underwater. Another benefit from such a program is restored dive skills. You again feel familiar with such basics as clearing your mask, emptying a snorkel and making a surface dive. You can now return to open water diving a much healthier and happier diving enthusiast. But most important – you’re a lot safer than that other guy who is wheezing and puffing his way around the ocean.