Fitness For Diving


By Gretchen M. Ashton, CFT, SFT, SFN, NBFE

We bring fitness to life for divers by posting exercises, nutrition and recipes, fitness principles, and training tips that relate directly to the benefits of fitness for scuba diving and our diving lifestyle.

#1 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving improves transportation of oxygen to the muscles.

Aerobic exercise is the highest priority for scuba divers. According to research, on the surface physical limitations are primarily associated with the heart while at depth physical limitations relate primarily to the lungs.

Aerobic exercise helps maintain the heart and lungs, i.e., cardiorespiratory functions of the body. ScubaFit® recommends divers train in the 70% and 80% heart rate training zones two to four times each week for 20 to 60 minutes and here’s why:

The 70% heart rate training zone improves the ability of muscle cells to utilize oxygen, trains the heart to pump more blood, metabolizes stored body fat as the primary source of energy, is preferred for weight management and is a good training intensity for moderate scuba diving conditions.

The 80% heart rate training zone supports overall cardiovascular fitness, improves the body’s ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells, is effective for overall muscle strength and is a good intensity for more demanding scuba diving conditions, such as swimming against a moderate current.

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Aerobic Training Zones

To maximize the benefits of training it is necessary to establish your heart rate training zones. These training zones are based on your maximum heart rate, which is the highest number of times your heart can contract in one minute. Working within 60% to 80% of your maximum heart rate is most beneficial for overall health. The 70% to 80% heart rate training zones improve the ability of the body to take in and distribute adequate amounts of oxygen to working muscles during physical activity. If you have heart conditions it is recommended that you measure your maximum heart rate by taking a max stress test administered by a physician. Otherwise, the most respected fitness standard for calculating your training heart rate zones is the Karvonen Formula developed by internationally renowned physician and exercise physiologist, Martti Karvonen.

As soon as you wake up in the morning, before you get out of bed, take your resting pulse by placing two fingers under the back corner of your jaw or on your wrist and count your heart beat for one minute. This number is your Resting Heart Rate. Use this number to perform the following Karvonen calculation. Subtract your age from 220.

From this result subtract your Resting Heart Rate (RHR). Then multiply this number by your training intensity of 70% (repeat the formula for 80%). Lastly, add your Resting Heart Rate back in to get your Training Heart Rate (THR). An example looks like this: 220 – (AGE) 45 = 175; 175 – (RHR) 68 = 107; 107 x 70% = 75; 75 + (RHR) 68 = 143

(THR). Using this example, while training in your 70% heart rate training zone, you will attempt to maintain a minimum pulse of 143 beats per minute. Your 80% heart rate training zone provides a maximum pulse of 154 beats per minute. However, if you are a beginner, work at 60% intensity until these higher percentages can be performed while still able to carry on a conversation.

The custom program I describe here applies the 70% heart rate training zone primarily to improve the muscle cells ability to utilize oxygen. This zone trains the heart to pump more blood, metabolizes stored body fat as the primary source of energy, is preferred for weight management, and is a healthful intensity in preparation for moderate scuba diving conditions.

Training in the 80% zone is most effective for overall cardiovascular fitness and the program uses this heart rate training zone to improve the body’s ability to transport oxygenated blood to the muscle cells and carbon dioxide away from the cells. This zone is also effective for increasing overall muscle strength. A training zone of 80% of your maximum heart rate is similar to the work of swimming against a moderate current.

Notably, the 90% zone, while sometimes used for short periods to train for high levels of athletic performance, is not considered a healthful zone for recreational activity.

However, of considerable importance is that exercising with consistency in the heart rate training zones of 70% to 80% prepares you for a time when you may need to exert beyond usual conditions.

Training with a heart rate monitor is a great way to easily know if you are working in your training zone and is recommended for individuals with heart disease or pulmonary conditions. Rely on heart rate monitors primarily during aerobic intervals. During resistance training intervals your heart rate will naturally fall slightly below your target training zones.


#2 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving reduces the amount of air used.

The main point here is that physically fit divers typically have greater potential for increased lung capacity and the strength and control in the muscles related to breathing. A fit body is usually able to transport more oxygen in each blood cell and through training the body increases the production of blood cells to meet the demand of carrying oxygen (and removing carbon dioxide) from body tissues. The previous post generally explains the importance of exercise supporting this benefit of fitness for diving but there is more to the discussion.

The efficient use of air relates to many variables such as the dive profile, water and weather conditions of the day, the diver’s overall well being, swimming and skill in the water, streamlining of equipment, selection and settings of gear, and importantly the diver’s level of physical fitness. Out of the water we call this “exercise tolerance” so we will also refer to it as “diving tolerance”. The variables of tolerance relate to performance of the diver and the systems of the body. Factors include how much sleep the diver took the night before, when and what did the diver eat and drink last, what is the temperature and humidity at the time and location of training or diving, what are the emotional and mental stresses of the day, and much more. Knowing this helps divers prepare in advance for a good exercise session and is part of well-planned diving and safety.

Interestingly, while there are few gender differences when it comes to the potential for physical performance, research shows that high humidity and hot temperatures are more difficult on the body for women than for their male counterparts.

Question: What is your favorite way of measuring (or reminding yourself) to efficiently use air?

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#3 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving extends dive time. . . depending on who we are diving with.

Of course if air consumption is efficient we can most likely dive longer depending on the diving profile…and who we are diving with, which leads us to a discussion of the fitness and health of our dive buddy, dive master and instructor.

Most of my diving has been with the same dive buddy. We were certified together, have advanced our training together, have completed hundreds of dives together in many locations and circumstances, and we exercise together.

Dstock-photo-11531394-clock-under-water (1)ivers are each responsible for their own health and fitness and making sure their fitness level and experience prepare them for the type of diving in which they participate. We are also each taking on a responsibility for our dive buddy and our students. Our training for fitness and diving skills should incorporate the ability to perform in an emergency situation.

Over the years, we have seen many situations where people are in denial about an appropriate level of fitness for diving (and overall wellness). In contrast, we have also witnessed instructors and divers who are overly judgmental about a diver’s health and ability in the water based solely on outward appearances. At this point we might discuss the health profile of the diving community, but for today, remember that health and wellness, disease and survival, the fit and unfit, beginners and experienced, come in all shapes, sizes and ages.

Exercise is the great equalizer – above and below!
Read “Extend Dive Time with Physical Fitness” and learn a new exercise. 

Question: Do you know your health and practice fitness yourself? Have you considered the same for your dive buddy? What if they are someone you just met?


#4 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving improves mental acuity.

joggingYes, it is true. Studies indicate that aerobic exercise improves mental acuity resulting in better concentration, enhanced ability to direct thoughts, and improved memory, all important mental performance activities for divers.

We also want to mention that many of the same benefits are experienced with resistance training workouts. First, practicing focus and concentration during resistance training is shown to produce better results over mindless participation.

Second, lifting weights in this way trains the mind and body for intense focus that transfers into deep thinking skills, productivity and mental composure well suited for diving skills, fine motor activities underwater, and decision making with action when responding to unexpected situations.

Depending on the moment, focus can change, but most divers have one or two things above all others that garner their concentration while diving?

Question: What captures your concentration the most while diving?


#5 – FitDiver® 15: Eating well for diving and fitness – Peanut Butter and Banana (PB and B).

PB JMost divers love peanut butter and bananas but each can quickly add up to high calories and high sugar if consumed in excess. In fact, on strict weight loss programs bananas are often excluded. However, on diving and training days the combination may be the ideal surface interval or post workout snack.

During my competitive power lifting years, in my gym bag along with the gloves, wraps and weight belt, there was always one slice of whole grain bread folded in half and filled with peanut butter and banana (PB and B). The unique combination of protein, fat, carbohydrates and nutrients helped restore muscle glycogen and begin the repair process from intense training while stabilizing blood sugar until the next meal.

A teaspoon of peanut butter by itself is also a great option to fend off cravings and avoid over-eating carbohydrates and sweet treats. The protein and fat in the peanut butter helps satisfy the appetite. Some divers enjoy a dozen raw nuts such as almonds with the same but lower calorie appetite control. PB and B or raw nuts are great snacks to help control the post diving over-eating frenzy. Enjoy immediately after diving along with plenty of water and then wait an hour before eating a full meal.

Question: What is your favorite healthy snack between dives or after diving?

If divers are allergic to nuts a good alternative is apple butter without the banana combined with a low calorie whey protein drink (160 calories or less).


#6 – FitDiver® 15: The S.A.I.D. Principle

dolphinFor many years Dr. Glen Egstrom has been sharing The S.A.I.D. principle with divers. “Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands,” was one of the first principles of training I learned as a fitness professional. It is no surprise that it would cross over to scuba diving. Although diving is a recreational activity, it is important to train on dry land to develop overall strength, endurance and skill for the underwater environment.

The Dolphin is a modified hyperextension using a bench. I developed it in the 1990’s while training eco-adventure teams. At the time my clients made dolphin sounds and teased me about the name, but they became quiet once engaged in the exercise. The intensity may be modified by performing it one leg at a time. The results for progressively and synergistically strengthening the abdominals, low back, hamstrings and buttocks while in a simulated diving posture are profound. Here is a link to The Dolphin as presented in my Scuba Fitness column on Examiner along with a personal dolphin experience.

Question: How do you apply the S.A.I.D. Principle in your fitness for diving workout?


#7 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving Increases physical endurance and reduces fatigue.

Fitness4-300x294It’s no surprise that divers always want to dive more often, complete multiple dives in the same day, take dive vacations where they are in the water from several days to two weeks consecutively, and hopefully continue diving for many years to come. And how about those dive professionals that are in the water nearly every day for years at a time? Maintaining a good level of physical fitness for diving includes strength training, aerobic exercise and good nutrition which promotes endurance and reduces fatigue.

It is important that the diver’s body be able maintain the activities of diving for an extended period of time. With proper training, not only can divers dive day-after-day, but also feel great at the end of each day, rejuvenated the following morning and extremely comfortable underwater.

There are many studies that demonstrate how exercise reduces fatigue in both the well diver and those coping with physical illness or mental health challenges. Fatigue may be the result or symptom of many factors but all of them respond positively to regular exercise just a few times each week on a consistent basis. Exercise also helps regulate sleep patterns and reduce stress.

Exercising for endurance trains the systems of the body to utilize and transport oxygen, and fuel from eating and drinking, differently than when training solely for power and strength, (or being a couch potato). Benefits also include more natural expectations and responses to the physical and mental perceptions associated with the physical effort of diving activities. In fact, with a good physical fitness program, none of the aspects of diving activity should “feel” like exertion or be difficult to perform.

This workout (along with aerobic exercise) helps develop endurance with timed sets of one-minute. Rather than counting repetitions, divers use a timer or stopwatch and perform as many repetitions of each exercise as possible in 60 seconds. Beginners may start at 15 repetitions and progress to as many as 35 or 40 repetitions with proper form.

Here is a great ScubaFit ® endurance workout for legs which is published atCalifornia Diver Magazine:

Question: There are fun ways to develop physical endurance such as dancing classes, walking or running, and going for an extended bicycle ride. What new way will you help maintain your endurance for diving in 2015 and the years ahead?


#8 – FitDiver® 15: Don’t Smoke and Dive – Exercise helps prevent cancer.

don't smokeWe researched this topic and created the graphic many years ago and while it is always part of a one-on-one discussion, recently we decided to share it in a bigger way with divers. One of the main reasons we hesitated is that smoking is a tough thing to quit and for some a sensitive subject. If you are a diver that smokes, please take this post as positive encouragement to quit.

An excellent article about the adverse implications of smoking and diving can be found on theGlobal Underwater Explorers.

In addition to adding complications for the diver underwater, smoking, although it is not the only cause, is definitely linked to cancer. The main points of our research for divers related to cancer are:

1) exercise helps prevent cancer;
2) divers with cancer may be able to both exercise and dive during treatment after consulting with their physician;
3) many cancer survivors continue exercising and diving;
4) exercise helps reduce symptoms of depression in cancer survivors, and
5) exercise during treatment may help prevent heart disease later in life.

Here is a link to read more aboutCancer, Exercise and Diving.

Question: Are you a diver that quit smoking? What was your method of quitting? Please share as it may be helpful to others? If you are a diver with cancer or a cancer survivor please share anything that may be helpful to others.


#9 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving improves comfort and movement on the surface and underwater.

carry tankOne of the most common injuries, ranking high along with knees and low back, are injuries of the shoulders. This can be truly debilitating preventing divers from being able to perform the skills associated with safe and enjoyable scuba diving. Performing activities such as climbing boat ladders, donning and doffing gear and wetsuits, and reaching valves behind the head become difficult or maybe impossible without the assistance of other divers.

Further, even healthy shoulder joints require good range of motion and the shoulder muscles and connective tissue need to be strong enough to perform tasks in that extended range of motion. Here is an exercise to help you maintain and improve shoulder health, and hopefully avoid injury in the future.

Question: When wearing traditional scuba gear, are you able to reach behind your head and turn your air on and off at any time above or below the surface?

Healthy shoulders are vital to a positive scuba diving experience. The mobility of the shoulder joint exceeds every other joint in the human body….


#10 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving facilitates carrying less weight.

The diver’s body composition, i.e. how much muscle, body fat and water, is the most significant factor in determining buoyancy. All things being equal, a diver with more muscle is less buoyant than a diver with more body fat, and will typically carry less weight when diving than a diver with more body fat. One of the primary goals of fitness for diving is to reduce fat and increase muscle.

diverIn addition to the physical aspects of the diver, the type of protection from the environment the diver wears is a major factor. The varying thickness of neoprene and other wetsuit and dry suit materials affects buoyancy. The diver’s skill (or lack of skill) in the water may also change how much weight the diver carries.

It is a common observation that new divers are most often over-weighted, perhaps as a technique used by some instructors working at shallow depths to keep them from unsafely rising to the surface until they master their diving skills. However, the formulas for calculating how much weight a diver carries, which are based solely on body weight, typically result in over-weighting the diver.

In-the-water tests are the best way to determine how much weight a diver needs to carry. While it considers all of the buoyancy factors of gear and protection, most importantly it allows for the measure of the diver’s body composition. One of the best methods of estimating body composition and body fat percentage is performed in water. It is called Hydrostatic weighing and involves a complex formulation. Fortunately divers have their own method of measuring improvement – being able to carry less weight when diving.

Read more about gaining muscle and losing fat in this ScubaFit® article on Scuba Diving Resource.

Question: Has the amount of weight you carry changed over the years because of a change in your body, diving skills or experience?


#11 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving improves fin kick swimming.

Dive fins are designed with more surface area than the foot to allow divers more power and control through the water. Interestingly, fin manufacturers spend a great deal of time and money engineering fins that direct the flow of water in order to reduce the effort involved in fin kick swimming. The size, weight and rigidity of fins change their efficiency and comfort level. Intricate designs further change their performance. Ultimately, divers select a fin that fits comfortably – like buying shoes. Few have the opportunity to demo test fins in the water before making a purchase.

diver kickRegardless of the design aspects of fins, efficiency in the water depends primarily on the individual diver’s unique biomechanics, strengths and weaknesses. A simple muscle imbalance in the hips may cause a slight rotation of the leg and foot which can greatly diminish any special costly engineering. Divers may not have the strength to use rigid fins and opt for split fins or more flexible materials.

In this case strength absolutely equals power. While a diver’s comfort in the water is very gear related, let’s TRAIN UP to an efficient fin kick in any circumstance with any type of fin.

Question: What type of fins do you prefer for your diving activities and why?

My fin of choice is a light-weight rigid fin. Heavy fins seem to distract more from efficient performance than the fact that they are solid. I wear a full foot or warm water fin most of the time and always prefer light weight adjustable fins when wearing booties.

Follow this link to learn a new exercise to develop strength for fin kick swimming.


#12 – FitDiver® 15: Delicious and healthy recipes for divers. Yum Yum Yellow Squash

I love all types of squash, but one of my favorites is Spaghetti Squash. With its natural flavor it makes an excellent substitute for pasta. As the name suggests, you can enjoy Spaghetti Squash topped with almost anything, including your favorite sauce. It is easy to prepare and grow, and bursting with nutrients.

sqThe American Institute of Cancer Research (AICR) explains the high antioxidant content of squash helps fight cancer and protect eye health. Winter squash is a delicious source of complex carbohydrates and fiber. Nutrients include potassium, niacin, iron and beta carotene. I recommend Spaghetti Squash because in addition to its healthful properties, it is a great way to reduce calories and feel satisfied. One cup of winter squash has about 80 calories.

Start with a few simple ingredients for this recipe and then once you’ve mastered it, experiment with seasonings, herbs, sauces, Parmesan cheese (only a little bit), more vegetables and protein.

  – Spaghetti Squash

  – Fresh Basil

  – Tiny Grape Tomatoes

  – Olive Oil

  – Salt and Peppersq1

Cut the squash in half lengthwise, remove the seeds and pulp, lay it flat side down on a baking sheet with about one-half inch of water, and bake for about 30 minutes at 425°. The squash is finished baking when the outer skin is easily penetrat
ed with a fork. It may be necessary to replenish the water part way through the cooking time. I experimented with using the microwave and it works in much less time; about 15 minutes on high. Prepare and place the squash on a microwavable tray flat side down with water.

Once the squash is cooked use a fork to gently pull the fresh strands out of the shell. Toss the squashin a small amount of olive oil, add chopped fresh basil and tiny grape tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste. The tomatoes warm with the heat from the squash. Toss again and serve.

The produce for this dish was purchased from Jimbo’s market. The basil was grown by Archi’s Acres. Archi’s Acres partners with others in the community to teach veterens small scale organic growing. Archi’s Acres is located just a few miles from my home and I had the opportunity to meet Colin and Karen Archipleys while I was President of the Carlsbad Garden Club and through my work with the Carlsbad Community Gardens Collaborative. In 2007 the Archipleys developed a Veterans Sustainable Agriculture Training (VSAT) program and have since trained over 100 veterans.


#13 – FitDiver® 15: Stay hydrated for for diving and fitness.

We often think more about staying hydrated in warmer weather, but remember to drink plenty of fluids every day and especially in dry cold weather. Here are some guidelines for staying hydrated for diving and fitness.

diver in glassOn diving days it is recommended to drink 1/2 liter of cold water 2 to 3 hours before diving and continue to drink a 1 liter per hour during diving activities. Scuba divers lose additional fluids through increased respiratory water loss from breathing compressed air/gas and immersion diuresis. Compressed air/gas is dry when you inhale it and saturated when you exhale it. Immersion diuresis is an increased production of urine produced by the pressure of being at depth underwater and lower temperatures.

On workout days hydrate before, during and after the workout. For most adults it is recommended that men drink approximately 13 – 8 ounce glasses of water and women drink approximately 9 – 8 ounce glasses of water every day. Hydration ideally begins 2 to 3 hours before exercise. Sports drinks and electrolytes are recommended as a supplement to water if workouts are longer than 60 minutes. Replenishment is recommended with 16 to 30 ounces consumed over an hour.

Important. Exercise is not recommended 24 hours before or after scuba diving.


#14 – FitDiver® 15: Fitness for diving helps prevent, manage and reverse illness. Be a healthy diver!

The most ScubaFit-Diver-Course-Instructor-Manualcommon reported medical conditions by divers are heart disease, cardiovascular illness, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. By age 37, approximately 7% of divers have high blood pressure and it is estimated that as many as 50% of all divers have high blood pressure.

Exercise is the great equalizer. For many of the reasons we have explained in the FitDiver® 15 post of the past two weeks, divers benefit greatly from exercise. In particular, aerobic exercise is the highest priority for divers. By performing aerobic exercise from two to four times a week, divers can help prevent diseases associated with aging and inactivity as well as train the body for the stresses of the underwater environment. Practicing good nutrition to both fuel diving and maintain a healthy body composition is next on the list as many risks associated with illness relate to being overweight on dry land and only increase in the water. Maintaining muscle through strength training is important for diving performance and burning more calories even while at rest.

The ScubaFit® Diver Course is a complete fitness assessment, custom plan and workout for all divers of all fitness levels. Both the Diver course and the Instructor course are available online. The program is approved by both diving and fitness agencies, and is a PADI distinctive specialty. For more information or to register and complete the online course visit:


#15 – FitDiver® 15: Being Coachable.

Whether learning to scuba dive or accomplishing goals for scuba fitness; Being Coachable is a mature attitude of learning and collaboration essential to being a healthy and competent diver.

Sporty womanRecently I won a gift certificate for a month of fitness classes. As a fitness professional in high demand my schedule is usually booked. As a necessity my own workouts are typically self-trained sessions at unusually early and late hours. However, this time I had an opening in my schedule that matched an early morning fitness boot camp. It felt great to be coached through a workout for the first time in many years.

10 years ago while I was power lifting competitively I had the pleasure of training with both a coach and teammates. I later coached power lifting athletes more than twice my age. At the same time I owned a private fitness facility and mentored a team of eight personal trainers. Together we conducted 150 private fitness appointments and classes each week.

At monthly team meetings, in addition to discussing necessary day-to-day business like many companies, each trainer shared a list of business and personal goals; what was added to the list or accomplished since our last meeting. A common goal and requirement for employment was maintaining current credentials with continuing education; in other words learning something new. Since my personal trainers were well educated I knew they had the knowledge to bring the best fitness coaching to their clients. Beyond that, sharing our goals with each other helped us to get to know each other better and encourage each other. We made direct positive impact on each other’s success; such as client referrals or team training clients during alternating vacation schedules.

One of my mentors said, “Everyone needs a coach.” I changed it to “Everyone needs a coach sometimes,” because I believe we can each be self-motivated enough to make some improvements on our own. However, there is definitely a place for seeking out a professional to move beyond our own resources and limitations, and learning something new is often a requirement to reach high levels of performance. It is important to choose coaches carefully. Both dive instructors and fitness professionals need to carry current and proper credentials. Divers will often find the most committed and successful instructors are those with regular and consistent continuing education. Good instructors and coaches will respect that an individual is reaching out to them for their expertise and inspiration, and be certain not to exploit or take negative advantage of their position in the relationship. Good students will bring their personal best all the time – physically, mentally and emotionally.

In the book “Awakening the Olympian Within” compiled by Jim Naber, Olympic Gold Medalist Nancy Hogshead, the most decorated swimmer in the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, wrote, “Success is a Learned Skill.” About Being Coachable, she said:


“Everyone talks about finding a mentor or mentoring others, but few talk about the skills needed to be mentorable, to be coachable. I define being coachable as giving another person permission to demand the very best of you. I don’t mean following someone blindly, ignoring your ideas or principles. I’m talking about having a goal big enough that you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone – in your relationships with others – and to allow someone else to contribute.”


Fitness boot camp was a lot of fun and I am going again tomorrow…and I did learn something new.

I will personally be available to assist you during the course and am available for private consultation and individual personal training, in person or via computer communication methods.

Question: What health challenges are keeping you from diving or diving more often? How do you plan to improve your health?




All content provided on this “Scuba Diving Resource” blogs or website is for informational purposes only. Any comments, opinions that may be found here at Scuba Diving Resource are the express opinions and or the property of their individual authors.
Scuba Diving Resource makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site. Please note that regulations and information can change at any time.

April 19, 2016 |

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