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Scuba Diving as Exercise on Vacation

Winter Break: Work Out on Vacation by Learning to Scuba Dive

With chilly weather for the next few months, more than a few of us are dreaming of spending a long weekend away from the snow. If you're planning a mid-Winter beach holiday, then you're probably looking forward to relaxing on the sands with a tropical cocktail in hand. But while a warm-weather vacation should be a time to kick back, it shouldn't mean you undo all the hard work you've put in during the year. When it comes to staying fit on vacation, you don't have to stick to your hotel's stuffy fitness center. Incorporating activities like scuba diving can help you enjoy the outdoors while saving you calories, too.

Underwater Workout

I never thought of diving as exercise — that is, until I experienced a weekend of it while becoming certified as an Open Water Diver, courtesy of the Professional Association of Diving Instructors (PADI). While you may feel weightless in the water, it's a different story on land — lugging 20-pound air tanks and swimming on the water's surface require a fair amount of total-body strength. "You don't do a lot with your upper body when you're in the water diving, but you do a lot just in getting prepared to go diving, putting the equipment on, getting in and out," says Kelly Rockwood, a training consultant, course director, and instructor for PADI Americas. "You're going to get more fit if you're an active diver, even if you do nothing else as far as fitness goes."

Once you're in the water, however, your calorie burn takes on a whole different aspect. "Diving is a great workout for anybody, simply because you are in a very — for the most part — low-impact environment. You work your leg muscles, and you're working on your cardio. Overall, it's a pretty balanced workout," Kelly explains. And then there's something else that diving brings to your fitness world: body awareness and breath control. The fitness skills required are much like those you call on in yoga class, except the difference is immediately apparent; I found that while in yoga class, my mind often drifts away from controlling my breathing, under water it becomes second nature. When you breathe slowly, your body relaxes and stays buoyant; seeing the immediate effect of proper breath control helped me stick with it more than I sometimes do in yoga class.

Stress Relief

Diving requires you to release worry and tension while methodically working your body. And similar to yoga, it also requires silence; not being able to talk to your companions under water forces you to focus on your surroundings as well as your thoughts; that practice alone can help your mind and body relax. One reason why Kelly became so devoted to the sport, she says, is because it helped her escape from the stress of her then-job. "I worked in the legal field and had a huge amount of job stress, and I was sick all the time. When I learned to dive, all those medical issues went away, because no matter how stressed I was when I got in the water, even if it was in a swimming pool, my stress left me," she says.

Feel like working out underwater for your next vacation? Read on for some of Kelly's tips for making diving an effective calorie-burning adventure.

Make It Effective

  • Practice breath control: "I tell my students to breathe in as quickly as you want to, whatever feels good to you on the inhale, and then hesitate, and on the exhale count to eight; exhale that breathe while you count to seven or eight and then inhale again," Kelly says. This not only helps you relax, but it also helps you have a better (and longer) time underwater.
  • Learn finning techniques: "Different finning techniques use different muscles in your legs so you can pretty much work all of your leg muscles during a dive just by changing your finning technique," Kelly says. Ask your instructor to show you a few techniques you can do while you swim once you are comfortable in the water.
  • Strengthen your muscles: Conditioning your muscles can make you a better and stronger diver. Incorporate all-around strength-training with squats, lunges, and arm-strengthening into your routine, if you don't already, to ensure you're at your peak.
  • Warm up and cool down: While it may not be as strenuous as your normal gym routine, you should prep for diving like any workout. Kelly recommends lateral squats and the Pigeon Pose to warm up hamstrings, calves, and core muscles. When done, remember to stretch out your calves especially. "You give your calves an amazing work out when you dive so if you don't stretch them, sometimes they'll tend to want to cramp. Stretch them when you're done [to help] relieve the exercise that you've just done with them," Kelly recommends.

Have you ever been scuba diving?

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