All scuba divers have “wash board abs” – some just have a load or two of laundry resting on top.
Whether they are visible or not, abdominal muscles are essential in supporting the back and stabilizing the body through complex movements associated with scuba diving. Without question a balanced abdominal strengthening program is an important component of scuba fitness and should be developed in conjunction with back strengthening and flexibility early in an exercise program. The challenge is finding the best method for individual divers to strengthen the abdominal muscles without creating or aggravating certain back conditions. While the basic crunch is considered the most effective abdominal exercise, it is not necessarily an option for divers with upper back, neck and shoulder conditions or weakness. Divers with bulging discs and/or low back complications may also find ball exercises difficult or contraindicated to their condition. Contrary to popular belief, it is never appropriate to place an unstable torso on an unstable apparatus. Numerous studies demonstrate, with the exception of the Oblique Abdominal Muscles, all muscles of the abdominal walls are engaged at a greater intensity performing exercises on benches or solid surfaces rather than an on exercise balls. Maladies of the back include misalignment from accident or injury, skeletal deviations such as scoliosis, degeneration and disease such as arthritis, and pain from tight hamstrings, lack of physical activity, and/or muscle imbalances. With a few modifications to the basic crunch and a variety of efficient abdominal exercises that also strengthen the back, divers can protect and work around maladies of the spine improving the overall condition of the back while safely advancing abdominal training to a more intense level.
Remember, strengthening the abdominal muscles and reducing body fat around the torso are distinctly different types of training. Aerobic exercise is the key to leaning out the waistline while resistance training strengthens the abdominal muscles.
Performing the basic crunch in this fashion reduces recruitment of the hip flexors and allows more focus on the anterior abdominals. Begin with a natural position of the spine. If needed a small folded towel or pad may be placed under the low back for added support. Contract the abdominals (pull the belly button toward the spine), place hands behind the head for gentle support, lift the chin upward and inhale deeply through the nose. Exhale while continuing to pull the belly button toward the spine and lifting the upper body as shown until the curve of the low back flattens against the floor or pad. Increasing the lift of the upper body any further would involve enough other muscles to become less efficient and increase risk of injury. Inhale while maintaining the abdominal contraction and lowering the upper body to the starting position and repeat.
Modification: Divers with precluding conditions of the upper spine, neck and shoulders may perform the abdominal contraction portion of this exercise for repetitions without raising the upper body and with a pad under the neck.
For a complete torso strengthening workout for scuba diving purchase FitDiver® Abs Mobile App at Google Play and App Store on iTunes.
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During my years as a competitive power lifter I utilized cross training to enhance my performance. Each summer I selected a completely different activity from my usual training to stimulate mind, body and spirit. One of my most memorable experiences was the season when I took instruction in Goju Ryu, an Okinawan style of Karate.
Goju Ryu is a close contact encounter with hard and soft techniques. Although Goju Ryu includes kicks, takedowns and throws, most of my training was centered on grappling, circular hand motions, breathing and concentration.
My favorite workouts were at the beach practicing Katas. Katas are prearranged sequenced movements for exercise and training used widely among the martial arts. Other exercises included the low and very wide stance generally referred to as a “sumo stance” which was incredibly effective leg training for the big lifts of the squat and dead lift. My Sensei seemed to float across the sand and my task was to simply stay face-to-face with him while in this sumo stance position. At the time it seemed impossible but I did my best and experienced improvement.
The breathing technique was amazing! Beginning with an inhale through the nose I was told to imagine the air flowing down into my abdomen curling around in a constant flow. The inhale, and the exhale which was a reversal of the process, was practiced with a goal of lasting as long as possible and timed with specific body movements. I continue to practice and benefit from this breathing technique, especially for exercise and scuba diving. My Sensei also taught me to listen to the breathing of others; valuable awareness when presented with an opponent, but for me especially helpful when training fitness clients.
While walking at the beach I sometimes stop and try to perform the Sanchin Kata as I did that Summer; standing in knee-deep surf, focusing on the horizon, with the sand gradually washing away beneath my feet. Arigato Goju Master.
Blowing raspberries is very different than blowing bubbles while scuba diving but can still be a lot of fun. Most of us probably don’t remember the first time we blew a raspberry as part of discovering our mouth at the age of just four to five months old. We most often blow raspberries to make others laugh because of the sound and the tickling sensation. It is usually an intimate gesture as it involves using the lips and tongue on another person’s belly to make a “pbbbt” sound. Although it originated in cockney slang, blowing a raspberry is widely and cross-culturally understood and practiced.
Similar breathing techniques are practiced during childbirth, by woodwind and brass musicians, yoga enthusiasts, and to help relieve shortness of breath. It is sometimes referred to as circular breathing. It requires breathing in through the nose and controlling the breath that is stored in the cheeks as it passes through pursed lips. In fact, this technique is used when playing the Digeridoo which might come in handy for divers visiting Australia. Blowing raspberries is often used to warm up for vocal performances such as singing and public speaking.
During SCUBA activities when divers are mouth breathing, circular breathing by inhaling through the nose is not possible and blowing raspberries into a regulator isn’t necessary. However, on dry land the technique may be one more way divers can develop breath control for relaxation underwater and optimizing use of air while diving.
The term blowing raspberries also references a raspberry tart and a sound of derision. But there is nothing condescending about the raspberry. It is an excellent source of good nutrition. Although a leaner belly may diminish the sound of blowing raspberries, eating raspberries may help divers maintain a trim waistline. One cup of raspberries has only 65 calories, 5 grams of sugar, 15 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of protein, 0.8 grams of fat, 8 grams of fiber, 186 grams of potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, Iron and Vitamin C. Nutritional properties of raspberries are also thought to help prevent cardiovascular diseases and inhibit the growth of cancer cells.
Divers can stay healthy and have fun eating and blowing raspberries.