The pandemic forced many people indoors and caused countless cancellations — of weekend excursions, long vacations, and all sorts of dive adventures. While some fortunate folks continued to dive thanks to access to local waters, many did not have that luxury and were forced to take time out of the water. Now it’s looking like returning to the water is just around the corner.
While scheduling and planning dive trips may be a welcome task, be prepared for those first few dives to feel tough. You may find yourself a bit rusty. Personal fitness levels may have waned; when communities were locked down, access to gyms evaporated, and unless a person made it a priority to exercise at home or outside, fitness may have deteriorated. Muscle memory will only get you so far, and ignoring your current fitness level could make for an uncomfortable or even unsafe first dive back.
It’s perfectly understandable that your fitness may have suffered over the last few months, and it’s important to consider that as you return to the water. Scuba diving can be quite a physical challenge when you consider lifting heavy tanks, swimming against currents and even staying warm. As a new dive season kicks off, here are a few factors to consider to ensure your safety.
Getting Fit for the Season
When enjoying a dive in calm, warm water, it can be really easy to forget the physical fitness required to stay safe in the water, thanks to a seemingly weightless environment. But even a relaxed dive can spike your heart rate and cause changes in blood flow. And something that divers must not forget is that an emergency will lead to even more physical exertion. Physical demands increase as equipment complexity, sea state, and entry and exit conditions intensify. This is why it’s important for divers to assess and maintain their physical fitness.
It’s generally recommended that divers perform about 30 to 60 minutes of exercise three to four times per week to ensure they are able to meet the demands of diving. Because the pandemic altered fitness regimes for many, plan weeks ahead of your first dive this year to rebuild your fitness levels. Just like a person who is gearing up for their first marathon won’t be able to run 26.2 miles right out of the gate, you’ll need to gradually build up the strength, stamina and endurance.
In those weeks before your dive, slowly crank up your fitness with a mix of both low- and high-intensity workouts — walking, running, yoga, lifting weights, cycling and swimming are all great options with their own benefits. Don’t anticipate your body being able to perform as it did this time last year. The aim is to first reestablish and then enhance endurance and cardiovascular fitness.
Timing Is Everything
As your workout regimen gets a boost, be mindful of exercise timing. Performing exercise too close to diving can be problematic. Increased physical activity may elevate the likelihood of bubble formation, potentially increasing your risk for decompression sickness (DCS). To reduce the risk of DCS, it is best to avoid strenuous exercise 24 hours before and after diving.
If you’re truly concerned about your upcoming dive and your current fitness level, consult your doctor. This is also a good idea for monitoring your overall personal health. For divers older than 45, a cardiac stress test is a good indicator of physical fitness and helps determine heart health.
Rust Is Natural
Anything can happen while diving, which makes it crucial to stay physically fit and maintain an exercise regimen. And while it may be tempting to brush this aspect off and go straight to the boat, don’t let your pride stand in the way of your personal safety. In addition to rebuilding physical fitness levels, be sure to check your gear — from snorkel down to fins — for any leaks, degradation or problems, and take a refresher course to ensure your skills are sharp. Remember you’re not alone in this: Other divers had to take time off, too. Lean on your local dive pros and experienced divers you trust for guidance and tips. While those first few dives may feel a bit rusty, take it easy and listen to your body, and you’ll be comfortably blowing bubbles again soon.