Fitness for Diving

Physical Exercise Before, During & After Your Dive.

5 June 2021

Article by Danel Wentzel

Images by Callum Evans

As divers, before even starting our in water training, it is required to complete a medical statement determining whether we are “fit to dive”. But what does fitness have to do with diving? And how can we improve our fitness to get the most out of our dives.

Let's explore the relationship between fitness and scuba diving by seeing how physical conditioning and diving, just like dive buddies, work better when they're paired up. Good physical conditioning is invaluable to us as scuba divers – and, quite simply, as human beings. The truth is, when we feel good, we perform well, no matter what we’re doing. And the way we feel – both physically and mentally – may directly affect us when we dive.

Why fitness is important for diving.

How much time and money do you invest in choosing and purchasing the right dive equipment? Now ask yourself: are you really making the most of it?

Most of us tend to forget what actually is the most important piece of our dive equipment: ourselves.

In fact, your experience in and out of the water would be greatly enhanced if you were to improve your fitness.

Now what do we mean by physical fitness? Very simply: It is endurance or aerobic capacity measured by your response in oxygen consumption to an increasing workload. Your fitness level is determined mainly by your cardiovascular system (this is your heart and blood vessels). It is possible to have great musculoskeletal strength (like that of a bodybuilder) but still have a poor cardiovascular reserve.

Near the age of 30, both our physical strength and exercise capacity begins to decline, which continues throughout the remainder of our life. The body’s ability to achieve maximum use of oxygen in energy production reaches a peak in the late 20s and then starts to decline. This de-conditioning is the result of a few causes. Some are fundamental changes in physiology that come with aging. And if you follow an inactive lifestyle, these changes may be accelerated.

The different types of exercise.

Fitness has three main components: flexibility, strength, and endurance. It is important to develop all three of these to be a great diver. Flexibility is the limit to which you can stretch your body without damaging your tendons. A flexible body will help you in diving because it will decrease the chances that you will suffer from a muscle pull or aching joints.

Strength is the force that you can exert to lift or move an object. Endurance is your ability to continuously exert force and push yourself to your maximum limits for prolonged periods.

You can develop flexibility and strength through appropriate stretches and exercises. As for endurance, you can increase it with cardio-respitory training such as running. Let’s take a look at these three components in more detail.


Cardio-respiratory training is very important for every diver, as it creates a stronger and more efficient oxygen delivery system, which, in turn, helps to be more relaxed during each dive, decreases fatigue and allows to respond to challenging conditions faster and more effectively.

You can improve your cardiovascular endurance by exercising in an aerobic training zone that elevates your heart rate to 60-80 percent of your maximum heart rate. The most common forms of cardio training include walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, and stair climbing.


Strength training for diving is not any different from general muscle development and can be done in your gym, at home or even on a beach during your vacation.

Five basic exercises that require minimal equipment and allow you to work all major muscle groups are; Squats, lunges, push-ups, planking & tricep dips.


As scuba divers, a daily stretch contributes to good flexibility, which is important not only for diving, but for everyday activity. Flexibility translates into freedom of movement, helping to prevent injuries, and improves a diver’s performance and comfort above and below the surface.

Several studies indicate that stretching before certain exercises can cause injury and reduce performance, but stretching after exercise may help reduce muscle soreness from an intense workout.

The most common type of solo stretching is called “static stretching,” which is safer than other forms of stretching because it occurs slowly and gradually. Once in position, hold the stretch from 10 to 30 seconds with a sensation of pliability — never pull or push through pain. Inhale and exhale deeply while stretching and relax further with each exhale. Perform each stretch twice. Studies show that additional repetitions don’t seem to greatly enhance flexibility as much as frequency, so stretch every day and develop flexibility gradually as part of a fitness program.

I added a free stretch program to help you get started.

Safety, diving & exercise.

During your open water course, you were most likely told to not partake in any rigorous form of exercise within 24 hours of diving. Now the question is if divers, especially dive professionals, are supposed to stay fit for diving how would exercising be possible when we are advised to avoid vigorous training when diving.

There is unfortunately no easy solution to this question, and a compromise is always required. DAN Southern Africa recommends that high-intensity exercise be separated from diving, especially deeper dives. For some runners, who train everyday, the first word of advice is to dive “conservatively”. Always plan your dive and never go beyond your limits.

The reason why we should be conservative is because exercise is a potential risk factor for decompression illness (DCI). I have highlighted some of the guidelines provided by DAN Southern Africa:

  • General: Physical fitness is regarded as an essential requirement for the recreational diver to ensure the safety and enjoyment of the activity as well as to assist in protecting against DCI.

  • Type of exercise: Moderate aerobic exercise that does not involve heavy straining of the muscles and joints is preferred.

  • Exercise before and after diving: In general, the consensus amongst researchers is that exercise should be avoided within four to six hours before and after diving. Previously, this was set at 24 hours.

  • Exercise during diving: The objective is to minimise gas uptake and optimise outgassing under conditions least likely to precipitate bubble formation. With this in mind, minimum exercise should be performed during the on-gassing period of a dive (that is during descent and bottom time).

  • Exercise between dives: Stay warm and maintain low-grade activity in between and after dives. This will facilitate ongoing gas elimination without provoking bubble-formation.

Then, having said all this, surely a dive trip is meant to be relaxing! So, by all means, maintain the rigorous exercise programme prior to the dive trip. But when diving, wait at least four hours after a dive (based on the known peak appearance of venous gas bubbles after diving).

So, get out your running shorts, fill up your water bottles and head out into the fresh air to ensure that you are perfectly pre-conditioned before your next dive trip!