Fit not fat
Improving your fitness can improve the quality of your diving, your health and your sex life. OK, we made the last bit up, but if you need to get in shape for the new season, who better than ex-Olympic Gold cyclist turned Diver correspondent Chris Boardman to advise It seems hes been having fitness concerns himself...

WHEN I WAS A PROFESSIONAL SPORTSMAN, I took fitness and a low body weight for granted, as unavoidable side-effects of the job. I have been retired from that line of work for more than a year now and am facing up to the new challenge of having to think actively about my condition.
Thats a considerable undertaking when you understand that I hate exercising and am fundamentally lazy. Imagine my horror when I discovered that, without enforced regular training, beer and chips make you fat!
I quickly realised that being fit was advantageous in diving (I have yet to find an advantage to being overweight and unfit, though I keep looking). I know that many divers rely on diving itself to stay in shape, but as the sports principle requirements are to sink and not get breathless, sadly I realised that such an approach would not do.
If asked, most of us would rather be lean, mean diving machines than excessively buoyant and breathless. I am not in the latter category yet, but I could see it coming. So I decided that, before I required enough lead to sink a small fishing boat, I should do something about it.
And having been through the process, I feel empowered to preach to all you divers who are still in denial.
Consider these six reasons for dragging yourselves out of the pub, renouncing McDonalds and all its works and making your body do something that, given a choice, it wouldnt:

  • The ability to tackle (and enjoy) more demanding dives
  • Reduced chance of DCS
  • Predictable gas consumption
  • Fewer aches and strains
  • Increased ability to deal with an emergency situation
  • Enhanced chick/stud appeal (perhaps this should feature in a different type of article, but its perfectly valid!)

I also considered the four main reasons (excuses) we come up with for not improving our fitness:

  • Perceived lack of time
  • Setting of unreasonable objectives and failure to achieve them
  • It isnt fun, it hurts
  • My local pub and kebab shop will close without my personal support

To make a change, answers to the objections have to be found. So it seems that if we are to make exercise a regular part of our daily lives, we have to make it social, integrate it into our lifestyles and keep it fun, even if that seems at first to be a contradiction in terms.
Do we need the fitness of an athlete to participate in diving Thankfully, no.
I had only 5% body fat when I took up diving (the average for men is 20-25%, for women the figure is higher). I needed little lead to sink but I got cold very quickly, and when it came to treading water at my first pool session, I had ridden up alpine passes in France with less difficulty.
The broad objective for divers should be to increase our strength to a level at which diving equipment poses no great problem and doesnt put our backs out; to be able to fin strongly for sustained periods and consider diving in a current fun; and to be able to climb back on the boat with some degree of dignity.

fitting fitness in
Start with an appropriate level of exercise. If, like many divers I know, you smoke and exhibit advanced buoyancy characteristics, you wont want to go straight into jogging sessions. Instead, walk the dog three times a week, stop using escalators and lifts as a matter of habit and give up smoking! These are applicable, challenging and achievable goals.
I decided that four weekly sessions of 20-30 minutes would cover my aerobic needs and three short gym sessions the strength. I also decided to do some basic stretching/mobility exercises so that I could reach all my cylinder valves when twin-set diving and be less likely to get cramp.
Combined, this program seems to give me the level of fitness I want for my general diving, with a realistic time commitment.
The other main element in losing weight and getting fit is diet. I dont advocate dieting, because it requires you to do something that is not sustainable. Its better to set rules for yourself, such as x number of pints a week, fast food only once a week and x pieces of fruit a day. I have avoided specific figures because the level of change is up to you.
To give you some examples of how I apply these rules to my life, when working from home I like to take the kids to school and then go straight out for a run with the dog for about 30 minutes. This means I have a reason to get out in the morning, the dog stretches its legs and I can be at my desk having done my daily exercise by 9.45am.
I find it very difficult to come in of an evening, get warm, and then go back out to exercise. I have to get it done early or it doesnt happen.
Thursday nights are dive-club nights. The pool is available for an hour, and if there is no training to be done, I use the time for a 20-minute hard swim, often with fins, before heading to the bar for a pint of diet bitter. On rare occasions I even go for a bike ride, but only if I can get some company.
Transport can provide an excellent marriage of needs, too. Bikes are great for this, as even large people can cycle comfortably (you cant free-wheel when youre jogging).
Consider jogging or riding a bike to work. You will be addressing the aerobic part of your fitness using otherwise dead time, as well as saving a few quid in motoring costs.
The hardest bit about adopting a transport strategy is getting it organised - finding a shower you can use at work, getting spare clothing set up and so on. But you dont have to do it every day. Perhaps aim for two or three days a week, depending on the distance and the weather.
If you can team up with a colleague, so much the better. This gives you an added incentive to be in a set place at a set time while making it a sociable activity.
It is crucial that you find a way to fit the exercise into your day rather than bolting it on as an extra. Always try to find more than one reason to exercise.

garage or health club
When it comes to weight-training, some of us have the self-motivation to do it in the garage or spare room, others will prefer a health club, gym or local leisure centre. It makes little difference as long as you get the right exercises done regularly, but I favour the health club/gym route for several reasons:

  • All the facilities for a good work-out are provided, including a pool
  • The journey helps cover my aerobic needs
  • I have company
  • Qualified staff can help newcomers get started
  • The bar is often within 30m of the changing rooms

The home-based option has its own advantages, however, especially for those who are experienced in weight-training and are self-motivated:

  • Its easy to get to
  • The room can be customised to your needs
  • It fits in with your availability
  • If you have weights, its cheaper

If you prefer training at home, you will need a well-ventilated room for anything aerobic, but one thats warm enough in the colder months so you wont be put off doing it. Try to set up your weights/exercise bikes and other paraphernalia where it can be left, because continuous assembling and dismantling of equipment gets tedious.
Whichever route you take, standing in the gym is a good place to start constructing your weights program, as this is where you can see your options.
Visualise the actions you perform as a diver. Split each action into its component parts and select the machines that mimic these movements. As well as these specific exercises, I like to incorporate some general ones that address my back (often a source of complaint in divers) and stomach.
If using a professional gym, you will probably have to undergo an induction session for insurance purposes. A member of staff will demonstrate each machine and the correct technique to use.
He or she will often put together an exercise programme for you, so take the opportunity to explain why you are there and what you are trying to achieve. You will then be shown the facilities that are most applicable to your needs.
The session also gives you the chance to find out what kind of weights you are able to lift. Dont forget to write everything down.
Its also helpful to arrange for a member of staff to go around with you for the first few visits. That way you are more likely to avoid injury, develop the right technique and select the appropriate weights. At home, too, always have someone around in case of accident - this also helps your motivation.
To develop just enough strength to hump kit around and reduce the risk of back and shoulder strains, for the first two weeks (or five sessions) you should aim to do two sets of each exercise and about 15 repetitions in each set.
Select a weight that causes your muscles to burn a little by the end of each set, but not weights so heavy that you cant complete the desired number.
After this running-in period, things should start to feel easier. Increase the number of sets to three, but do another few sessions before making any decision to increase the weight.
You might find you need to increase the size of certain muscles to achieve your goals, and the simple way to do this is by reducing the number of repetitions in a set and increasing the load. Ask the staff at the gym if you are in any doubt.
Vary the exercises, perhaps every other week. Dont let your exercising become a chore. The hardest part of getting into shape is getting off your arse and starting, but the second hardest part is keeping it going. The answer to both problems is company.
If you have bothered to read this far, you are either extremely bored or at least keen enough to give the idea of getting fit 10 minutes consideration.
If you can get a couple of other people interested, either from work or your diving club, youre halfway there. A group of three or more is ideal, because if one person cant make it, you will still have a commitment to the others to turn up.

Weight-training at home or in the gym can help prevent strain injuries
Make sure you understand the correct technique for using gym equipment or you could do your body more harm than good
Dog-walking is useful for exercising the owner as well as the pooch.
Vary the weight-training exercises at least every other week to stop them becoming a chore

ONE Make it sociable - get someone to exercise with you
TWO Exercise should dovetail with your lifestyle, not be a bolt-on extra
THREE Dont exercise for too long. Little and often is better
FOUR Find more than one reason to exercise
FIVE Vary your exercise regularly to avoid getting stale

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