This Is Why Scuba Diving is an Amazing Workout

Scuba diving might not be one of the first activities people think of when they think of outdoor fitness, but it is a surprisingly balanced way to get a workout from head to toe. Not only do people exert more energy moving through water than they do through the air, but the reduced-gravity environment is also a terrific choice for those with joint or mobility issues to achieve cardiovascular and muscular fitness. 

Scuba diving is great exercise. It combines cardiovascular resistance training with overall muscular toning in the arms, legs, and core muscles. There are also mental health benefits due to release of endorphins and the relaxing nature of floating weightless while exercising. 

If you’ve never considered scuba diving as exercise, there are many reasons why you should give it a chance. Keep reading to find out more about why scuba diving is such a fantastic workout. 

Advantages of a Scuba Diving Workout

There are many benefits that scuba diving offers as an exercise in comparison to other kinds of exercise and workouts that a person can undertake. Here are some of the things that make scuba diving an excellent choice for working out: 

  • Scuba diving is fun: There is a reason why scuba diving is one of the more popular recreational activities undertaken by oceanside tourists every year. Scuba diving gives you the chance to get up close and personal with marine wildlife you would never have the chance to encounter otherwise in a beautiful environment. 
  • Scuba diving is practical: While there might not be many situations where you’ll be called on to use your scuba diving skills in an emergency, the swimming skills you learn as a scuba diving carrying around heavy equipment and increasing your skill as a swimmer can serve you well if you ever have to attempt to rescue someone from the water (including yourself).
  • Scuba diving is ergonomic:  For people with arthritis or those who are susceptible to sports-related injuries, scuba diving can act as a way to stay in shape while also respecting the limitations of weakened bones and joints. Scuba diving is a great low-impact activity for older people who find it challenging to get into a gym because of increased aches and pains.  
  • Scuba diving is suitable for groups: If you are looking for an outdoor exercise that involves team cooperation and a group effort but is not a competition, scuba diving can offer a great way to experience comradery without having to join a team sport. Whether you are trying to get into diving with friends or you are looking to meet new ones, scuba diving is excellent as a social activity. 
  • Scuba diving can increase your time outdoors: Outdoor activities are associated with decreased levels of depression and anxiety in scientific studies by Harvard University, so scuba diving is fantastic for your body and soul. 
  • Scuba diving is a growing sport: If you are someone who is motivated by ongoing improvement in your workouts, scuba diving provides plenty of measurements and certifications to help you record and visualize your progress as a diver. It is very satisfying to move from indoor poolside scuba lessons to scuba diving over a reef in the open ocean. 
  • Scuba diving is mentally stimulating: Scuba diving does not just exercise your body; it exercises your brain. The monitoring activities, hand-eye coordination, and technical knowledge necessary to scuba dive successfully make diving as much of a mental exercise as it is a physical one. Scuba diving also exercises all of your senses, making it a truly visceral experience every time. 
  • Scuba diving is motivating exercise: Many people dread going to the gym, and it is standard advice to choose an activity you enjoy when it comes to setting up a regular exercise schedule. Scuba diving is so enjoyable you might forget you initially intended to get a workout. Unlike a grueling gym schedule, a diving trip will make you want to exercise. 
  • Scuba diving can be a lucrative skill: Scuba diving turns into a passion for many people, and you could potentially find yourself looking at certification as a dive instructor. Because certified instruction is a skill that is in somewhat high demand, it is an excellent way to get into a routine of doing a workout you enjoy.  
  • Scuba diving is great for animal lovers: Like hiking, scuba diving is a way to get up close and personal with wildlife in its natural environment, which is perfect for people who want to use scuba diving as an excuse to get closer to marine wildlife icons like reef sharks or dolphins. Scuba diving is also a great extension of the tropical fishkeeping hobby. 
  • Scuba diving is therapeutic: While just the act of swimming underwater can have positive effects on the mind and emotional state of a person, the act of scuba diving is so helpful that it is even used to help treat patients with post-traumatic stress disorder (University of South Florida.) Since it is also recreational in nature and useful exercise to boot, you will not be able to find a more well-rounded activity. 

Scuba diving offers plenty of benefits that are exercise-specific, but there are also plenty of advantages to scuba diving that don’t involve getting a workout. Therefore, scuba diving is an excellent addition to your lifestyle on multiple levels, even if you are looking for a hobby or a way to make new friends. Either way, the fantastic workout is the icing on the cake.

When you are ready to take the plunge, head to our article covering some of the best equipment available for online purchase. You can find that in this article on the expenses of scuba diving.

While the exercise benefits of scuba diving are numerous, the fact that it can have a positive effect on so many other aspects of your life is what makes scuba diving such a good workout. 

Scuba offers mental health benefits

Underwater Conditions and Fitness 

One of the best things about scuba diving as a workout (and hydrotherapy in general) is that it involves underwater resistance. Unlike gravity-based resistance, which can lead to impact injuries such as shin splints or knee problems, underwater resistance is softened by a reduced gravity effect that allows the muscles to work harder while simultaneously protecting the body from injury

Even though scuba divers feel relatively weightless under the surface of the water, they still encounter a lot of resistance in the water from the water against their swim fins when they move to the weight of shifting around their oxygen tank and other scuba gear. 

Here are some of the advantages of underwater conditions when it comes to getting a good workout: 

  • Core engagement: Because of the physics of water, swimmers are forced to use their core muscles (such as their abdominal obliques) far more than someone who is doing a form of ground-based exercise. These are muscles that can sometimes be more difficult to tone using conventional exercises. 
  • Increased tolerance of lactate and CO2 levels: Scuba diving teaches you to train your respiratory system to take in the minimum amount of oxygen while simultaneously exercising, and this can have a positive conditioning effect on both your muscular and cardiovascular systems. 
  • Increased cognitive performance: There are lots of things to keep track of simultaneously while scuba diving and these kinds of mental tasks performed while doing an exercise such as swimming have been shown to improve cognitive performance in the linked NIH article.
  • Muscle tone and endurance: Aquatic exercise allows a person to build up muscle and cardiovascular endurance (University of Wisconsin) without also subjecting them to impact injuries or overheating, two environmental factors that keep many older individuals from exercising regularly. 

The fact that scuba diving is one of the few exercises that take place in a submerged underwater environment means it provides some fitness benefits that you simply cannot get from exercising in 
other ways. 

Scuba Diving Allows You to Integrate Fitness and Recreation

A significant factor of whether people can get regular exercise is whether they are able to integrate it into their daily lives. One of the largest pieces of mental resistance to working out regularly is that the time spent in a gym is taking away from time that could be spent hanging out with friends or otherwise having fun. 

Scuba diving is thriving as a workout because it allows you to enjoy yourself and the great outdoors while you are exercising. If you are trying to address your mental health, physical health, and emotional health, all while balancing a job and other aspects of your life, scuba diving can be a way to check three of those boxes at once. 

Scuba diving is terrific because it is a workout that lets you incorporate so many other aspects that you probably need more of in your life. Did you make a New Year’s resolution to hang out with new people? Scuba diving can allow for that. Want to travel to a few new places that have been hanging out on your bucket list? A scuba diving hobby offers the perfect reason to vacation in exotic new locales and go diving there. 

Scuba diving is an excellent source of exercise that can help you tone your muscles, lose weight, and generally get in shape, but it’s also an activity that is so inspiring and fun to participate in that you almost don’t notice you’re getting a workout in while you do it. 

Scuba also encourages you to stay fit between dives

Scuba Diving Is a Good Cardiovascular Workout

One of the reasons scuba diving is such a fantastic workout is that it is so beneficial to the cardiovascular system. Not only does scuba diving increase your respiratory capacity and your ability to exercise harder on less oxygen, but it also helps your heart to pump more efficiently. 

Cardiovascular fitness is the ability of the body to transport blood throughout its systems and is aided by the respiratory system in the transport of oxygen for cellular energy. Wearing just a single oxygen tank forces a diver to exert 25% more energy according to DAN than a diver wearing none, and that a diver wearing a drysuit exerts 25% more energy than one who doesn’t. 

Since scuba diving can put a strain on the cardiovascular system, all certified SCUBA instructors must get a medical screening (National Library of Medicine and NIH) to receive a clean bill of health for diving. For those who intend to take up scuba diving regularly, it is advisable also to take up an additional form of cardiovascular conditioning such as high-intensity interval training (HIIT) (#divestrong) to improve diving performance. 

While the environmental pressures that diving puts a person under, such as temperature drops, water pressure, and decreased oxygen input, cause the cardiovascular system to work harder, these same stressors can help make a cardiovascular system stronger and more resilient over time. 

How Many Calories Does Scuba Diving Burn?

The number of calories that are burned while scuba diving varies pretty wildly from dive to dive, depending on several different factors, such as: 

  • Environment: A tourist taking a leisurely dive in the Bahamas is going to be burning significantly fewer calories than a diver who is in cold or turbulent waters. Thermoregulation makes a big difference in how many calories a diver burns, so a diver in cold waters will burn significantly more than a diver in warm waters. 
  • Gear: Divers who wear heavier gear (such as wetsuits and oxygen tanks) are subject to higher levels of drag beneath the water and will expend more energy hauling their gear than divers who carried less. 
  • Metabolic rate: Those divers with a higher metabolic rate will burn more calories than those who have a slower metabolic rate. However, those who have a toned cardiovascular system have to exercise more intensely to achieve the same high heart rates associated with cardiovascular conditioning. 
  • Length of dive: The longer your dive session, the longer you will be exercising with an elevated heart rate, and the more calories you’ll burn. 

On average, the Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI) estimates that a diver burns around 600 calories an hour while diving. This is roughly equivalent to the calories burned while jogging. For those who want to get into a moderate level of fitness but can’t deal with the impact involved in jogging activities, scuba diving can be a great source of alternative workouts. 

For those who are looking to burn calories to lose weight, scuba diving can be a great way to painlessly interject more cardiovascular exercise into your weekly regimen without feeling like you are punishing yourself with an extra trip on the treadmill. Keep in mind though that it is a good idea to be in relatively good health on a cardiovascular level before undertaking a scuba diving lesson. 

Depending on where you go scuba diving, you will be having so much fun you might forget you are exercising at all! 

Scuba Diving Is a Good Muscular Workout

On top of the benefits that it provides for the human cardiovascular and respiratory systems, diving also provides a great full-body workout for the muscular system as well. Since diving involves both directional and stabilizing movements in a resistance environment, it is capable of working out pretty much every major muscle group in the body. 

Another significant advantage of scuba diving for the muscular system is that the gear involved in scuba diving provides a built-in weight-based workout. Nothing says “pumping iron” like hauling multiple 30-pound air tanks ( onto a boat for a diving expedition. 

What Muscles Does Scuba Diving Work Out?

The muscular groups that get the most intense workout from scuba diving are the legs and core muscles since these are the muscles that are responsible for:

  • propelling the diver forward through the water, and 
  • stabilizing the diver while submerged. 

Swim fins used while scuba diving create considerable drag for the swimmer, and this, in turn, provides a strenuous leg workout from the hips down. This is also a suitable choice for reinforcing ankle strength for those who have weak ankles. 

Scuba diving is also an excellent option for exercising your core muscles. These muscles not only affect how much excess weight you carry around your midsection, but they also affect your ability to balance both in and out of the water effectively. 

Here are some of the muscle groups that receive an intense workout while scuba diving: 

  • Quads
  • Hamstrings
  • Hip flexors
  • Ankles
  • Shoulders
  • Pectoral (chest) muscles

The muscular group that is least affected by scuba diving is the arm muscles since most of the work that goes into diving is performed by your legs and trunk. However, your arms are sure to get a workout in the activities leading up to and after a scuba diving trip. Between hauling gear and pulling yourself up and down off the deck of a boat, your arms are sure to be sore afterward. 

Scuba Diving Is a Triple Threat

As a fitness activity, scuba diving has it all—it is a fantastic workout, it’s an incredible source of recreation, and it’s a terrific source of self-care and mental health. Once you are trained as a scuba diver, you can either use it as a recreational hobby or even pursue volunteer work as a rescue diver if you discover you have a passion for the sport. 


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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Scuba is a surprisingly balanced way to get a total-body-workout.  Diving combines cardiovascular and resistance training for head-to-toe muscular toning.