FITDIVER® Blogging Above and Below

FITDIVER® Blogging Above and Below

Gretchen M. Ashton, CFT, SFT, SFN, NBFE

Winter Warm Up for Scuba Divers


It is bracing cold outside and time for a zero dark thirty workout.  Like most mornings my training buddy and I are the first to arrive. We converge at the fitness center entrance without words, grab a half cup of black coffee from the courtesy table and bolt for the sauna.  Still bundled up in coats, hats and gloves we defrost for a few minutes on the inside and outside before peeling off layers and making our way to the gym floor.  Although we are now acclimated to moderate indoor temperatures, the sauna is an unconventional first stop, not recommended for everyone, and definitely not a complete warm up.  We move on to the treadmills where this winter warm up for divers begins with aerobic exercise focusing on the areas of the body to be trained.


All warm ups should begin low and slow gradually working up to increases in breathing and heart rate over a period of 10 to 15 minutes.  The easiest way to accomplish this is to walk beginning at a pace of 1.5 miles per hour and increasing to 3.0 miles per hour.  Warming up prepares the body (including the heart, blood vessels, lungs and muscles) for the more intense exercise of the workout session, helps to prevent injury during exercise, and reduce soreness that some divers may experience after exercise. 


More specifically, according to the American College of Sports Medicine, moving the body through a gradual progression utilizing large muscles increases blood flow to muscles, increases the speed of nerve impulses, enhances the flow of oxygen to muscles and removal of waste products.  This preparation of the body enhances performance during the workout. Also during this warm up synovial fluid (an oily substance in the joints) changes in response to exercise lubricating the joints. Divers with respiratory conditions or allergies may find a longer warm up helps prevent exercise induced asthma.


Divers who participate in group exercise may be accustomed to warm ups consisting of a low intensity sampling of the same movements that will be performed during the class. During strength training workouts, even after a pre-workout warm up, it is recommended that the first set of each exercise be performed with less weight before performing working sets at higher intensity.  Stretching by itself is not a warm up, but may be performed afterward. 


A cool down period of gradually decreasing exercise is just as important as the warm up.  Again, aerobic exercise at a low intensity works well.  This is also a great time to stretch, mediate and then perhaps enjoy a short sauna. Remember to bundle up if it is cold outside.  Leaving the gym sweaty makes the body work harder to maintain its normal temperature. 


Exercising Outdoors in Cold Temperatures. It is even more important to warm up before exercising outdoors in cold temperatures. Begin with a walk or gentle calisthenics before running, cross country skiing or other winter sports activities.  Never stretch when the body is cold. Divers who enjoy snowboarding and downhill skiing may have the option of warming up in a resort fitness facility before hitting the slopes. Stay as warm as possible without overheating before, during and after these activities.  Stay well hydrated before, during and after exercise and recreational activities in cold weather.  


Dress in layers with a quick dry base close to the body.  Protect hands, head, feet and face from the extreme temperatures.  Exercising in cold temperatures may not be recommended for divers with heart and respiratory conditions. 


Remember diving is not a workout.  Ice diving (as shown in this cool photograph) requires special protection from the elements and unique safety protocols.   It is highly recommended that divers who enjoy diving in extreme environments achieve and maintain a high level of physical fitness.


Calories Burned in Cold Temperatures. The body utilizes slightly more energy to regulate normal body temperature in cold environments such as diving in cold water.  However the additional calories from temperature are negligible. Exercise exertion, which during diving is to be avoided as much as possible, is what produces higher calorie burn.  Generically speaking, a diver utilizes approximately 300 calories during a typical dive – about the same as going for a moderate to fast walk for an hour.




10-Minute Sand Dollar

Tiny sand dollar found during my beach walk.


Years ago, during one of my open water certification dives in La Jolla, California, I remember seeing my first field of sand dollars.  Hundreds of dives later, I still enjoy seeing them underwater or on the beach.  I affectionately call them glory dollars and think of them as gifts from the sea.  Imagine my surprise when during a recent beach walk I found this tiny sand dollar.  Amazing!


On this particular day I did not have time for my usual long beach walk.  This tiny sand dollar reminded me that every little bit counts.  Studies show that exercise bouts of just 10 minutes in duration are beneficial for overall health and reducing the risk of illness and disease. Ideal short-term exercise sessions for example include walking a mile in 12 to 20-minutes. For weight loss, longer exercise sessions at slightly higher intensity are recommended.


Even if divers cannot get outdoors for a walk, opportunities to increase physical activity can be incorporated into a daily routine by taking the stairs instead of an elevator or parking as far from entrances as possible.  One of my fitness clients has just started to ride his bike to work.  It is only 15-minutes each way, but this increases his physical activity by 30-minutes five days a week in addition to our training sessions together.


And there is even better news.  The more divers exercise the greater the benefits.  Health is no small matter, exercise is the great equalizer and the results are Amazing! 

Fitness Confidentiality for Divers


It is always a pleasure to present at dive shows and dive centers.  I usually open my presentations with an invitation to divers to ask questions.  This helps me get to know individual divers and provide meaningful information.  To get the conversation started I often remind divers that we are all in this together. Diving is one of my personal motivations for maintaining and improving health and fitness. 


Although we are all in this together, this doesn't mean that divers want everybody to know every detail of their personal health. Beyond their personal physician who can divers trust with questions about health and physical fitness for diving?  


I receive calls and emails from divers around the world asking fitness, nutrition and related health questions. My policy of confidentiality allows divers to gain trusted information on many topics.  I offer advice within my scope of professional expertise for all ages relating to more than 30 medical conditions including fitness therapy, nutrition, sports performance, general fitness and fitness for diving, surfing, paddling and golf. My one-on-one training portfolio includes over 50,000 hours of private and small group training. 


Confidential consultations are fee-based in 30, 60 and 90-minute increments. Complete fitness and nutrition programs include health and fitness assessments, nutrition recommendations and individualized workouts with exercise illustrations for independent programming.  Private personal training sessions range from 30 minutes to 75 minutes.  Divers may contact me directly by telephone at (760) 271-6069 or by email at


In confidence,

Gretchen M. Ashton, CFT, SFT, SFN, NBFE


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Aerobic Exercise Improves Mental Performance for Divers

The "runner's high," a "feel better" sensation often experienced by long-distance runners, is generally attributed to high levels of endorphins in the the brain.  Researchers have known for some time that exercise increases endorphin production. In addition to improving the efficiency of the heart, lungs and vascular system, aerobic training can actually produce an anti-depressant type of effect including improvements in emotional and intellectual health. 


Aerobic exercise improves mood stability often allowing those under a doctor's care to reduce anti-depressant and anxiety medications.  Improvements in self-esteem, increased confidence, and a more positive outlook for the future are also benefits of the effects of physical activity on brain chemistry.


Studies indicate that aerobic exercise improves mental acuity resulting in better concentration, enhanced ability to direct thoughts, and improved memory, all important mental performance activities for divers. Further neurophysicological advantages include a reduction in the symptoms of diseases such as Parkinson's, improved sleep patterns, and diminishing the craving responses during smoking cessation.


Cardiorespiratory fitness is essential for scuba diving.  Incorporating aerobic exercise in the diver's daily routine is definitely not a "no-brainer" but it isn't difficult to achieve.  The results of the above-mentioned studies were accomplished in only five weeks with 30 to 60 minutes of exercise three times a week.  


Examples of aerobic exercise are walking, jogging, running, swimming, rowing, cycling, jumping rope, aerobics classes, and dancing.  Fitness centers and home gyms provide equipment such as treadmills, stairclimbers, ellipiticals and exercise bikes. Aerobic exercise may also be performed outdoors almost anywhere and can be a family activity, social time for moms while children are at school, or tranquil time alone.  


Scuba Fitness: Labor Day is a great time for a lagoon outdoor workout



Exercise is NOT recommended 24 hours before or after scuba diving making it challenging for divers to both dive and exercise during traditional two-day weekends. The three-day Labor Day weekend  however affords divers an opportunity to dive several times and still enjoy a scuba fitness workout. Long weekends also provide opportunities for extended exercise sessions, family fitness and fitness as part of outdoor recreation.


While scuba diving itself is not a workout, activities on or near the water that may be interesting to divers include stand-up paddle boardingsurfingkayakingcyclingbeach walking and hiking.



Many of our local lagoons are undiscovered playgrounds for the entire family. The Aqua Hedionda Lagoon in the City of Carlsbad, the location of the North Coast YMCA Aquatic Park, even allows swimming and boating. All vessels require day or annual use permits, so plan in advance. The Batiquitos Lagoon Foundation is hosting its 7th Annual Lagoon Clean Up in October.  The clean up offers participants a two-hour kayak tour of the area.  Buena Vista Lagoon is a favorite of fisherman.  All the lagoons offer amazing opportunities for bird watchers and naturalists.


Once of the best forms of outdoor exercise for scuba divers is walking on the beach. South Carlsbad State Beach offers a 3.9 mile stretch of beach with moderate terrain for most ages and abilities.  Depending on the diver's fitness level, the sand and surf, set a pace of between 12 and 20-minutes per mile. Check the tides before heading out.  Low tides for Labor Day are extremely low in the early morning and evening.  Early-to-mid morning and mid-to-late afternoon appear to be the best times for walking this weekend.  


Remember to use sun protection, wear comfortable clothes and athletic shoes, and bring a small snack and water.  Enjoy the long weekend.




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