10 Great Exercises to Prepare for Scuba Diving

Scuba diving is a peaceful, relaxing sport. But to enjoy it fully, you must prepare physically. Finning for 45 minutes takes leg and core strength. It also requires endurance. Carrying around heavy tanks and gear will take some serious muscle power too.

So, what exercises should I do to prepare for scuba diving? There are five main categories of exercises that you should do to get ready for diving:

  1. Feet and calf strengtheners
  2. Core work
  3. Leg work
  4. Shoulders and back exercises
  5. Yoga and cardio

Today we are going to give you ten excellent exercises that will prepare you for scuba diving. We recommend doing all ten of them at least twice a week. But before we get to the tasks, let’s go through some of the ways that diving affects your body.

Ways That Scuba Diving Affects Your Body

There are many outstanding reasons why you should take up scuba diving. It’s a relaxing, peaceful, and beautiful sport. There are also several health benefits to the practice. These benefits are only strengthened when you exercise to prepare.

Overall Toning

One of the wonderful things about scuba diving is that it is an overall body toner. Because you are moving in the water, which is heavier than air, your muscles are facing continuous resistance. You also don’t have to worry about jolting your joints as you do with running on pavement, for example.

Scuba diving is so gentle on the body that you may be tempted to think that you’re not really getting a workout, but believe me, as we’ve previously posted, you are. You are using all the major muscle groups to swim through the water.

It also takes considerable strength to carry around tanks and diving gear when you are out of the water. When you consider the fact that a full tank weighs around 40 pounds and the rest of your gear can weigh another 20 pounds, you can see how just the preparation for a dive a workout can be in itself.

To get stronger, you must do additional resistance training beyond your dive day activities. In a minute, we will go over several great exercises that you can do to prepare for scuba diving. We will help you to work your upper body to make it easier to carry your gear. And we will work your lower body to give you the strength and endurance you need to fin for extended periods.

Calorie Burning

Scuba diving also burns plenty of calories. Most diving outings last around 45 minutes. In that time you can easily burn up 500 calories swimming (source.) The exact number of calories that you burn will depend on your fitness level, weight, the intensity of the dive, and the strength of the current.

If you are doing multiple dives in one day, you must hydrate and eat small snacks in between dives.

Improved Breathing

One of the number one rules of scuba diving is that you never hold your breath. Instead, you want to breathe slow and deep when you are underwater. This will reduce the risk of lung-expansion injury.

The breathing techniques that you use in diving offer several benefits. They strengthen your respiratory system and increase your lung capacity. Researchers also believe that the deep belly breathing that you do in diving can reduce your risk of developing lung diseases.

According to Harvard Medical School, the breathing techniques that you use with scuba diving, which allow you to release more carbon dioxide and take in more oxygen, can lower your blood pressure and reduce the effects of anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders.

You can strengthen the lungs and respiratory system even further by preparing for diving with yoga breathing and cardio training. We will go into this further in a minute.

Reduced Stress

Between the gorgeous underwater scenery, the deep breathing, and the swimming, your body releases a lot of endorphins while you’re diving. The truth is scuba diving makes you less stressed out.

Research shows (physiology journal) that diving reduces stress. Part of that is breathing. Part of it is physical exercise. And it is also helpful that diving reduces your sensory input. All the sounds are quieter, and the motions are slower. It’s generally more peaceful underwater.

All that boils down to divers having less stress and fewer chronic stress-related illnesses.

Improved Self Esteem

Scuba diving can also improve your self-esteem and give you more confidence. Getting into a better physical shape generally makes you feel better about yourself, even beyond the overall health benefits.

Divers who can handle monitoring equipment, navigating underwater life, swimming into the current, and dealing with conditions on the surface typically handle challenges out of the water more efficiently.

Preparing for diving with exercises we are about to go over will make you more confident when you’re diving. Increased confidence in the water leads to higher self-esteem out of the water.

The Scuba Benefits of Increasing Lean Muscle

By doing the exercises that we have listed, you will be increasing your lean muscle mass. I am not talking about packing on tons of beefy muscle all over your body. I’m more talking about toning your muscles, giving you a long, lean look perfect for diving.

The United States Physical Activity Guidelines say that you should work every muscle group in your body at least twice every week.

You can do resistance training to gain muscle using just your body weight, or you can use gym machines, free weights, or resistance bands.

How much muscle you can put on and how fast you can do it depend on several factors (Ace Fitness), including hormone levels, diet, workout routine, and genetics. Men usually have more muscle mass than women because they have more testosterone.

Strengthening your muscles offers several benefits to divers. Some of those include:

  • Makes you physically stronger
  • Increases your metabolism
  • Reduces risk of injury
  • Improves your ability to do everyday tasks
  • Improves your endurance
  • Increases energy levels
  • You look better
  • You feel better
  • Increases bone density
  • Improves balance
Building muscle like this man can help make scuba diving easier
Build muscle to make diving easier plus help open jars

The Scuba Benefits of Doing Cardio

The Exercise Guidelines of America say that you should do at least 150 to 300 minutes of aerobic activity every week. You do get some aerobic effects from swimming and finning. But you are going to want to do extra cardio to prepare for diving.

Some of the benefits of doing cardio according to Mayo Clinic include:

  • Strengthening your heart
  • Strengthening your lungs
  • Burns calories
  • Burns body fat
  • Increases energy
  • Improves endurance
  • Helps to control your appetite
  • Releases endorphins which make you feel better
  • Reduces anxiety and depression
  • Helps you sleep better
  • Increases your oxygen capacity
  • Reduces chronic pain and joint stiffness
  • Helps to manage heart disease, blood pressure, and diabetes

The Scuba Benefits of Doing Yoga

Scuba diving and yoga are quite similar. They both help you to relax and connect your mind, body, and spirit. The breathing techniques used in yoga are incredibly beneficial to scuba diving. They help you to breathe deeper and more fully exhale.

If you do yoga to prepare for diving, you will use your oxygen at a slower rate. That means more time underwater.

Some of the other benefits of doing yoga include:

  • Helps you to focus
  • Brings inner peace
  • Strengthens the body
  • Strengthens the lungs
  • Improves flexibility
  • Improves balance
  • Increases metabolism
  • Strengthens the bones
  • Encourages a calm, composed mind
  • Heightens awareness
  • Creates a peaceful state of being

10 Great Exercises to Do to Prepare for Scuba Diving

We recommend doing all 10 of these exercises a couple of times a week to prepare for scuba diving.

For Cramping Toes and Calves

Finning for long periods can cause cramping in your toes and calves if your muscles are not strong enough. So let’s go over two exercises that you can do to strengthen your feet and calves.

1. Monkey Toes Exercise

One of the issues that scuba divers face is cramping toes. When you are wearing fins, your toes are forced into a pointed position, which can get uncomfortable after an extended time. It can get particularly painful if the arches of your feet aren’t strong enough.

That’s where this exercise comes in. This monkey toes exercise will strengthen your feet. That means less cramping when you are finning.

To do this exercise, you will use your toes to pick up a pen. Grip the pen with your toes and then hold it for 30 seconds to one minute. If you have trouble picking up the pen, you can also use a sock, which is considerably easier.

You should do this exercise three to five times on each foot. And you should repeat this twice a week.

2. Calf Raises

Another area that gets cramped up for many divers is the calves. Again, this happens because of the position of your feet in the fins. If you strengthen the calves, then you will be much less likely to cramp.

To do calf raises, you can use just your own body weight for resistance, or you can add dumbbells or kettlebells to make the exercise more challenging.

Start by standing with your feet a couple of inches apart. Then slowly lift your heels and stand on the balls of your feet, squeezing the calf muscles. Hold for a moment and then lower back to the starting position.

For one set, you should do 15 to 20 calf raises. You should do three sets in total. And repeat up to three times per week.

You can make this exercise more challenging by doing it on a step or the stairs. By doing calf raises on the stairs, you can get a fuller range of motion. Stand on the step with just the balls of your feet and then raise your heels. Squeeze your calves for a moment, and then let your heels lower below the step to get a bigger stretch.

As you do this exercise, be sure that you keep your shoulders down and your core tight. Keep the movement slow and controlled. You don’t want to let momentum take over. 

Core Work

For swimming and carrying heavy scuba gear, you will need a strong core. Your core includes your stomach and your back. You need a strong core to do almost every movement throughout the day. Strengthening your core will also reduce lower back pain.

You don’t need any special additional equipment to do planks or superman. You will just use your own body weight.

3. Planks

I love planks because they work every muscle in the front of your body, especially your abs.

You can either do high planks or low planks. For a high plank, you will balance on your hands and toes in a push-up position. The idea is to make your body into a straight plank of wood. Your hands should be lined up directly below your shoulders.

While you plank, you should hold your stomach in tight and breathe deeply.

For a low plank, you will balance on your forearms and toes. In a low plank position, you want your elbows directly beneath your shoulders.

Whether you do a high or low plank, you should keep your body in a straight line from your heels to the top of your head. Don’t let your hips drop, and don’t raise them up too high either.

Planks are a great way for divers to build core strength

4. Superman

While planks work all the muscles in the front of your body, the superman works all the muscles in the back of your body, especially your back.

To do the superman, you will start by laying on your stomach with your arms extended overhead. Then slowly lift your arms and legs off the ground at the same time. You should feel the muscles in your back tightening.

Hold the position for a beat or two and then lower back to the ground.

You can make this exercise a little easier by lifting one arm and the opposite leg at the same time—alternate sides.

As you squeeze the backside of your body, make sure that you do not hold your breath. Keep your breathing slow and controlled, just like you do when you’re scuba diving.

Do 10 to 15 reps per each set for up to three sets. And you should do this exercise two to three times per week.

Build up core for diving using Superman

Legs

In scuba diving, you need strong legs for finning. You need strong legs to climb up and down the steps getting in and out of the boat while carrying heavy gear too.

You can do both the lunges and deadlifts using dumbbells. Or you can use just your body weight for resistance.

5. Lunges

Lunges primarily work the front of your thighs. But they also work your glutes.

Start by standing with your feet together, holding your weights by your side. Take a large lunge forward with your right foot and bend both knees. Then push off your right foot and step back to the starting position before you repeat on the other leg.

You must keep your core tight throughout this exercise to protect your lower back. It’s also essential that you protect your knees. So make sure that you don’t bend your front knee beyond 90 degrees.

When you’re in the lunge position, you want your front knee to be lined up directly above your ankle. Do not let your toes go forward of your knee.

Balancing can be a bit tricky with this exercise. If you have any trouble with the balance, you can hold onto the wall or a chair for support.

Lunging will get your heart rate up, so make sure that you focus on keeping your breathing slow and deep.

You should do 10 to 15 lunges on each leg per set for a total of three sets. Repeat this exercise several times per week.

Using power lunges for Scuba leg strength

6. Single-Leg Deadlift

Because you just worked the front of your thighs, it’s important for a muscular balance that you also work the back of the thigh or your hamstrings. Single-leg deadlifts will do just that.

You can hold kettlebells or dumbbells for this exercise, or you can do it using just your body weight for resistance.

To do the single-leg deadlift, you will start by shifting your weight so that you are balanced on your right foot. Keeping your core squeezed tight and your back straight, hinge forward at the hip joint and let your hands or weights reach down toward the floor as your left leg raises behind you.

You should feel an excellent stretch in your right hamstring. Keep your breathing slow and controlled. And then stand back up to the beginning position.

Repeat this exercise 10 to 15 times on each leg per set and do a total of three sets. Like the other exercises that we’re going over today, you should do the deadlifts two to three times per week.

Proper technique for the single-leg deadlift.

Shoulders and Back

To lift and carry your tanks and gear, you will need strong shoulders and back muscles. To do these next two exercises, you will use resistance bands like these on Amazon. You can also use weights if you don’t have bands.

7. Overhead Press

The overhead press is the next exercise on our list today. To do this exercise, start by stepping in the middle of your resistance band. If you stand on it with one foot, you will have the least amount of resistance. If you want to make it harder, step on the band with both feet. 

Holding the handles of the band, bring your hands up above your shoulders. You want your elbow to be at about a 90-degree angle. Take a long, deep, and slow breath in, then exhale as you extend your arms straight up toward the ceiling. Then slowly return to the starting position.

To protect your lower back, you must keep your core tight.

You should do 10 to 15 reps per set for three sets. And you should do this exercise twice a week.

How to use the above bands

8. Lat Pull-Down

The lat pull-down works the upper back. You will need a door anchor for your resistance band with this one.

You can sit on a chair or a stability ball from Amazon for this exercise. Keep your core squeezed tight and your back straight as you lean back slightly. Then pull on the handles as you bring your elbows straight back and squeeze your shoulder blades together.

You can do this exercise as a combination. Alternate between lat pull-downs and seated rows. When you do the rows, you will keep your elbows tucked in close to your body.

Be sure that you keep the movements and your breathing slow and controlled.

You will do 10 to 15 reps per set for three sets. Repeat this exercise two times per week.

Yoga and Cardio

The final two exercises on our list this year are perhaps the most important of all. They are yoga and cardio. Both will get you into better physical shape, which means that you will have an easier time with scuba diving, not to mention you will look hot in your wet suit.

Yoga is remarkably similar to diving. Both are focused on the breath, and they both bring a sense of peace and relaxation. Don’t dismiss yoga if you’ve never tried it. I had difficulty recovering major back surgery several years ago. Traditional physical therapy wasn’t helping. I found a power yoga program, and 6 months later I was pain-free.

When you practice yoga, you learn how to master proper inhalation and exhalation. The pranayama or breathing techniques in yoga are essential to make the connection between body and mind. That same breathing is just as important for scuba diving, where you learn how to relax your body and mind through slow and steady breaths.

The breathing techniques used in yoga encourage your body to use the lung’s full capacity. They also help you to absorb and use oxygen more efficiently. That means a longer time underwater.

Like yoga, cardio will make you more physically fit. But it does more than that. Cardio will also get your heart and lungs into better shape. And it will improve your stamina and energy levels.

If you don’t do cardio, you are more likely to experience fatigue on your dive. It can even put you in danger of cutting down on your air supply. This can cause unwanted stress or panic, and that increases your chance of decompression illness.

Believe it or not, using cardio to get into better shape can improve your underwater performance. And it can improve it by a lot.

9. Sun Salutations

Doing any type of yoga will help with flexibility, strength, stamina, and breathing. Sun Salutation is just one yoga posture that you can practice. It’s actually a series of asanas. Sun Salutation is a great way to warm up, either for a yoga session or a dive.

You begin Sun Salutation by standing up tall in mountain pose. Take a deep inhale and then exhale slowly as you feel your body elongating. Then inhale as you bring your arms up toward the ceiling and palms together overhead.

Exhale fully as you go into a forward bend, and then inhale as you extend the spine into a flat back, lifting your head up.

Next, you will step or jump your feet back into a plank position as you exhale. Holding the plank, take a deep inhale and then exhale as you lower to your knees, chest, and chin (or chaturanga dandasana).

From there, you will inhale and lift your chest into a low cobra or upward-facing dog. Then exhale as you move to a downward-facing dog.

Walk or jump your feet closer to your hands and go back into a forward bend. Inhale as you flatten the back and lift the head.

And then finish your Sun Salutation by standing back up into mountain pose with your palms together over your heart as you exhale.

Here are some other yoga pranayama exercises that you can practice.

You should practice yoga three times per week. And you can do your breathing exercises every day.

10. HIIT

You can do any type of cardio to prepare for scuba diving. That can include walking, biking, rowing, swimming, running, or even HIIT.

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training (NLM). And it is one of the most efficient ways to do cardio.

If you do not want to spend all day at the gym, then you should try a HIIT workout. They are shorter in duration, and they provide just as many incredible health benefits as traditional endurance training.

HIIT workouts combine quick bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower intensity exercises.

The benefits of doing a HIIT workout include:

  • You burn a whole lot of calories with HIIT. Researchers have found that HIIT burns 30 percent more calories than other forms of cardio.
  • HIIT increases your metabolic rate, even hours after you finish exercising. In fact, just two minutes of HIIT can increase your metabolism as much as 30 minutes of running.
  • You burn more body fat in a short period of time. 
  • You will increase your lean muscle mass.
  • HIIT improves oxygen consumption just as much as regular endurance training in about half the time.
  • HIIT training reduces your resting heart rate and blood pressure.
  • This type of training is particularly beneficial if you need to reduce your blood sugar levels and insulin resistance.

Here is a short HIIT workout that you can do at home to prepare for scuba diving. You should do your HIIT training three times per week.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line of all of this is that you will have a much better diving experience if you prepare by getting into shape. Both PADI and DAN agree. That means strengthening your muscles, heart, and lungs. Scuba diving will provide some of that all on its own. But you will be doing yourself a huge favor if you do some simple exercises to prepare.

Happy diving!


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Tim Conner, M.D.

Tim Conner, M.D. started boating in 1974. He has been involved in recreational boating continuously since then. Dr. Conner has been active in boating and watersports safety education for decades. He rode his first jet ski in 1997, and rejoined the personal watercraft arena in 2012 with a Sea-Doo GTX 155, followed by 2 supercharged SeaDoos. Scuba certification came in 1988, and he and the family have traveled the world snorkeling and scuba diving for decades. The family has recently taken up paddle boarding. Click the photo for a lot more.

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