Few of us pay as much attention to our diving health and fitness as we should. I made this discovery while looking into a dive shop window recently.
With my nose pressed to the glass – and oblivious to everything other than the exciting new gizmos and gadgets on display – I suddenly became aware that the owner was staring back at me and making shooing signs with his hands. (Apparently I was smudging his windowpane and frightening away the customers.)
Stepping back from the window, I noticed that the same store owner, (a person whom I’d always considered to be, ‘well padded’), was standing framed entirely within the outline of my own reflection – with plenty of room to spare.
It came as a rude shock to realise that the discomfort I’ve been experiencing squeezing into my wetsuit had more to do with my ‘few’ extra pounds in weight gain rather than because – as I’d been claiming – the neoprene was shrinking!
“Not that there’s anything wrong with having a few additional layers of thermal insulation.” I told people. (In a vain attempt to justify a physique that had become increasingly in need of a good makeover.) “Take whales, for example. Their land-based ancestors were probably scrawny critters with a liking for fish who managed to evolve into creatures perfectly adapted to staying warm in the cold aquatic environment. And look at the trade-off for carting around a ton or two of surplus blubber: the ability to dive to incredible depths for extended periods of time; an underwater speed and grace that belies their bulk; and enormously popular with underwater photographers.”
(For those folk who appreciate the difference in physiology between people and whales, the flaws in this comparison are obvious. To the best of my knowledge there has never been one recorded instance of a fat whale contracting decompression illness – and overweight divers never feature in underwater photographs.)
It’s something of a paradox that despite our better understanding of underwater physics and physiology since diving pioneers like Gilpatric, Cousteau, Hass and Tailliez, first wrote about their exploits, the general attitude towards diving health and fitness is one of apathy.
Without exception all of the photographs from those early books showed divers who looked, by today’s standards, almost painfully thin and undernourished. And while being overweight is only one aspect of whether or not we’re as fit for diving as we should be, it’s certainly one of the most obvious.
Quite apart from the additional strain on the heart and lungs imposed by all that excess weight, there’s a greater susceptibility to decompression sickness and a real need to dramatically reduce bottom times in line with the degree of obesity. (Not a good thing if you want to keep your diving buddies happy.)
In fact it’s often been suggested that for recreational diving purposes a person should be no greater than 20% above the average ideal weight when taking into consideration age, height and build. Generally speaking this is something that’s within our power to remedy through appropriate exercise and proper diet – but preferably accomplished in consultation with a diving physician.
Don’t do as I did and rely on advice from a friend. Knowing that I wanted to achieve my physical peak, Krabbmann suggested that I might like to adopt the same training regimen and balanced diet programme as followed by the U.S. Navy SEALS.
I wasn’t aware that the U.S. Navy actually had anything to do with training pinnipeds, but as the nearest ones that I knew of were at the local zoo, I went there to watch and take notes.
As far as I could make out the seal training seemed to consist of nothing more than remaining poised on one flipper while balancing a ball on the end of the nose. Although that, in itself, was difficult enough to master, it was the rigid diet that almost caused me to give up on the idea: Just one plastic bucketful of dead pilchards a day.
However, after only three weeks, I’m now able to fit comfortably back into my wetsuit. Not only that, but my hair has become all glossy and shiny and I’m a hit with photographers who keep asking me to pose with a ball on the end of my nose.
It would seem that those Navy SEALS really do know a thing or two.
(The above article first appeared in the June 1999 issue of Asian Diver Magazine.)
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