When I used to teach diving I would often get asked, “What is the best way to get into shape for diving?” I would look through my NAUI Instructor manual and read the answer, “By diving!” And the old standby answer was, “Swimming with mask, snorkel, and fins is a good second choice.”
Diving can be a strenuous exercise. Carrying a full load of equipment, wearing a wetsuit while walking down the beach under the hot sun can make you sweat pretty hard, and swimming out to a dive site can burn some calories. Also the body’s attempt to keep you warm underwater is sure to increase your metabolism. But how effective is this in obtaining overall fitness that leads to better diving techniques?
Recently, I have taken the plunge and got involved with what I consider to be the greatest exercise to get into shape for diving. I joined the Masters Swim program. The Masters swim is a 37,000 member strong organization that promotes swimming fitness through coached workouts. It provides an outlet for former collegiate swimmers, triatheletes, and swimmers who wish to stay in shape.
Most programs will offer different schedules to accommodate a wide variety of times to work out. The usual schedule is a morning swim from 5-7 a.m. and a similar workout session in the evening five days a week and once on the weekend.
Typically the swims will be held at a university or recreation center with an olympic-size pool. The pool usually has a 25 meters wide section and a 50 meter long section. The pool will switch up the pool lane lines to a short or long course to vary the workout and allow you to swim either a 25-yard length or 50-yard length. This mixes up the workout to give a wide variety of options and maximize your workout.
The workout is coached according to the participants. A large amount of triatheletes use the Masters swim to get into shape for open-ocean swims. Many participants are getting into shape for swim meets and have no intention of swimming in open water. Others are just getting fit swimming. The coach will vary the workout to increase swim speed and maximize endurance.
The workout will generally incorporate a warm-up set of laps. Then you will do two sets of strenuous swimming exercises. This is followed by a cool-down set. The entire session generally lasts about two hours.
The Masters swim is great for divers who wish to get into shape and also increase their diving skill. Two solid hours of cardiovascular exercise will increase the amount of blood that your heart pumps through your body, train your body to effectively use the amount of oxygen in you lungs, and also cause your resting heart rate to decrease. You will also achieve an overall level of fitness and decrease body fat.
In doing this you will decrease your risk of decompression illness.
The kickboard exercises will isolate and strengthen the same leg muscles that you use to swim with fins. Your body will adapt to the increased level of fitness and you will notice that your air consumption will decrease on dives. Plus the increased muscle strength will allow you to carry your gear much easier than before.
Aside from the physical benefits, there are many psychological benefits as well. Being in the water on a day-to-day basis will increase your comfort level when you are scuba diving. You will also become aware of the drag associated with moving through the water and make adjustments to your gear and technique once you learn to move through the water effectively.
It is pretty easy to join. The Masters Program has a web site at www.usms.org that contains all the information you need to get started. You should check with your physician before undertaking this program to make sure you body can handle it. Then, just show up. It takes about six weeks to get into swimming shape, so don’t get discouraged the first couple weeks.
It is a very inexpensive way to stay fit and increase your enjoyment of diving and also, your quality of life.