FOR MOST DIVERS, the concept of “warming up” means donning a woolly jumper or pouring hot water into their wetsuit. We don’t see scuba as a sport, so the usual advice we’d take before and after a run or cycle doesn’t apply. Stretching is reserved for people in leggings at the gym, right
But if it could get you longer bottom times, less stiffness and reduced cramp, would you try Making time to warm up and cool down can bring benefits for body, breathing and the mind.
A year ago, an Internet search on “stretching” and “scuba” would have left you with more posts about neck-seals than muscles. But now we have a PADI speciality in dive fitness and yoga for diving holidays.
Freediving is leading the crossover from the gym and yoga studio to the lakeside and liveaboard. With just one breath to use at a time, freedivers know the benefits of being relaxed and effortless in the water.
Much as you might like to think of scuba as floating effortlessly in your back-pack and tank combo of choice, your body is working hard before, during and after your dive.
For starters, we’re generally buckling under the weight of all that gear onshore, muttering expletives at the freedivers leaping into the water with just a mask and fins.
Finning uses the thighs, buttocks and calf muscles for propulsion, which gives rise to cramp if these are not regularly exercised and kept supple. Even if you use a “lazy” frog kick, you’ll no doubt feel twinges in the knee or hips at the end of a long or strenuous dive.
Post-dive, many of us are left feeling stiff in the neck, shoulders and lower back from holding a horizontal pose.
All of these physical drawbacks can be overcome with some dive preparation. The idea is to mobilise and move before your dive; stretch and snooze afterwards.
To get the most out of your diving body, you need to keep your joints moving daily. As the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”.
You’re not going to be able to reach behind for your tank-valve unless you do that same movement regularly.

THE BEST ADVICE for any warm-up is to mimic the activity you’re about to do, so
for running it’s a light jog. For diving it’s a bit more complicated, as you’ll need to
do this on dry land.
My warm-up routine involves circles – let’s call them bubbles, as we’re all divers here.
Starting at the top of the body, I move my head and neck, then shoulders, elbows and wrists in slow circles, in both directions. Then I move to the waist and base of the spine, hip joints, knees and ankles using the same motion.
This takes about five minutes, helps to focus the mind (and invariably reminds you of something you’ve left in the car!) and when done with a steady breath can help you relax.
I normally add five to 10 squats to warm up my thighs, calves and ankles for finning, and
I’m good to go.
Freedivers will add a breathe-up to their pre-dive routine in anticipation of holding
their breath. For scuba-divers, breath awareness and control is the key to fine-tuned buoyancy, relaxation and efficient air use.
Think of your lungs as three sections: the base, middle and top corresponding to belly, chest and collarbone.
Start off with breathing deep into the lungs, so the belly rises with the inhale and falls with the exhale. Once this feels comfortable, take your breath up into the chest. This stretches the muscles in the rib-cage and back, giving your lungs a bigger space into which to expand.
Linking the two creates a long breath – belly first, then chest and, breathing out, let the chest fall and then the belly. With practice you can take a full inhale all the way up to the collarbone, before releasing out in one long exhale.
Five minutes of preparation like this, perhaps on the boat out to the dive-site, will not only smooth out your breathing but also any nerves.
If nerves are a feature of your diving experience, try visualising the dive you’re about to do. You might think this makes you more anxious, but actually the subconscious mind doesn’t know the difference between something we’ve done and something imagined.

FREEDIVERS WILL BRING TO MIND every pull, turn and fin-stroke of a dive, and may even imagine problems arising, and then solving them effortlessly. Combined with deep, slow breathing, you can convince your body and mind that you’re ready for the dive to come.
The effort you put in before hitting the water will pay out during the dive. Staying aware of the noisy suck and flow of bubbles with each breath can be quite meditative. An even in and out breath will optimise your air usage. The more relaxed and effortless your movement, the more you’ll get from each breath – as freedivers know only too well.
Although it creates more effort in the thighs, kicking a flutter with straight legs will get you further. “Cycle-finning” with bent knees uses the hamstrings and takes more effort in the calves, leading to cramp and tiredness.
Try to relax the neck and shoulders, pivoting the body to look up instead of straining the neck.
Once the dive-kit is off and packed up, don’t rush off to the pub without some cool-down. Stretching muscles helps to relax them, releases lactic acid that builds up during exercise, and improves tone for better posture.
If done frequently, this will help to avoid cramps while diving and ease tension out of the body after lifting heavy equipment or a tough swim. It’s best done after exercise, and involves holding each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds.
Don’t hold your stretches before a dive, because this reduces muscle power. You might feel really relaxed, but you won’t get as much power through your fin-kick.
Start at the feet and stretch the ankles by pointing and flexing the toes. Stretch out the calf muscles and quads using a few lunges. The lower back is likely to be tense from your swimming posture, so a long-held backbend can be very pleasing after a day of diving.
The upper back, chest and shoulders can feel tight from carrying heavy gear, so stretch the arms out in front of the chest, above the head and behind the back.
Finish off with gentle neck-stretches to the sides, front and back. Wait several hours before you exercise any more strenuously than this, as it can increase the risk of DCI.
Fitting this into your diving day will help your dive experience to be smoother and more relaxing. Fitting this into your daily routine will bring longer-term benefits in the form of better flexibility (for reaching tank-valves and toes), less risk of injury and an increased sense of well-being.

The Bubble Warm-up described here is available as a video and print-out at www.omdiver.co.uk.

KEY POINTS
* Warm up by moving before your dive
* Cool down by stretching after your dive
* Do both and you’re likely to have fewer injuries, feel more relaxed and get more power out of your muscles when you need it
* Stretch to the point of discomfort only – aggressive stretching reduces flexibility
* Do it daily!