Scuba Diving After Childbirth

A DiveFit® guide to getting back in the water –

The average age of female divers getting certified to SCUBA dive is about the same as the average age of women giving birth for the first time; between ages 26 and 27. In the United States, women are waiting a bit longer to have children (into the 40s) and are having more children. Having a family and SCUBA diving is nothing new. About 24 percent of all divers have children between the ages of 11 and 17 and many of these children and teens enjoy diving alongside their parents. Women divers looking to start a family won’t be diving during pregnancy. Some dive researchers from a medical fitness to dive perspective suggest women might return to the water between one to three months after childbirth depending on natural birth, complications or surgeries. However, while every woman is unique, there are significant practical considerations, particularly relating to physical fitness to dive, that suggest women may need to wait a minimum of six months after childbirth to return to diving activities. Interestingly, a woman’s fitness level before and during pregnancy has less to do with this recommendation than physiological changes in the body during pregnancy and childbirth.

Waiting longer is better – here’s why.  During pregnancy a woman’s body changes in many ways. One of the most significant changes relating to physical fitness to dive has to do with the hormone Relaxin which is produced by the body in the ovaries and the placenta. It relaxes the ligaments in the pelvis and helps widen the cervix to prepare for childbirth. Importantly, Relaxin can have the same effect on other ligaments throughout the body and may be present for up to five months after childbirth. Special care is needed during exercise after childbirth. New mothers require plenty of time to rest, eat well and “ease in” to exercise, and even more time to return to diving activities. Bearing children has its own fortunately well-managed risk versus reward. Bearing the weight of SCUBA gear, while maneuvering on dive boats, or navigating surf to shore dive, too soon after childbirth exposes women to potential serious injury.

Fitness for diving during this chapter of life continues during pregnancy as appropriate for each woman. Most aerobic exercise can continue as usual becoming gentler as the months pass. When strength training, whether static or dynamic, expecting mothers must keep their heart higher than that of the baby to prevent any oxygen deprivation to the baby. Adjusting workout benches from flat to incline or seated positions is an easy way to accommodate this need. A couple of weeks after delivery, begin with gentle aerobic exercise such as walking for the first month or two. Mothers with surgery, cesarean delivery or spinal injections may need a few more weeks before being cleared by their physician to start exercising. New mothers might also consult their physician before starting swimming or water aerobics. The usual recommendation is four to six weeks for water exercise. For a little while longer avoid jogging, jumping or beginning a new running program. With natural delivery, smooth surface running may be alright if the mother was running before and during pregnancy. Static exercises such as planks, wall sits, bridges, glute squeezes and abdominal contractions are the best way to begin to restore the body the first couple of months after childbirth. Focus on core strength, with special attention to the low back. When it’s time to introduce dynamic exercises, use light free weights or elastic bands before transitioning to heavier modular machines. Perform exercises in a seated position for a few weeks then transition to standing. Restoring joint stability is essential and can be achieved by alternating exercises for opposing muscle groups. For example, perform a seated biceps curl followed by a lying triceps extension or complete a chest press followed by a reverse grip lat pull down for the back. Perform smooth controlled repetitions, avoid jerking on or overextending the joints and using too much weight. Keep repetitions in the 15 to 20 range and let the repetitions dictate the weight rather than choosing a weight that forces fatigue at 12 or less repetitions.

Good health and readiness of both parents is essential, especially if the other parent is the dive buddy for the woman giving birth. Keeping in mind that there are specific and different risks associated with a woman’s physiology than that of a man, men have their own health matters. Many fathers take on responsibilities such as nighttime feedings and may also be sleep deprived and run down. A growing family often prevents divers from maintaining topside fitness activities for a little while. Hopefully, new SCUBA diving parents were already physically fit for diving before the arrival of their new bundle of joy and were able to maintain a minimum level of fitness during pregnancy. Many dive resorts provide childcare, and since its o.k. to breastfeed after diving activities, with a bit of planning and proper fitness preparation, diving parents can safely get back in the water about six months after childbirth.

Wall Sit with Medicine Ball Bounce – Wall sits are a good static exercise to restore a woman’s body after childbirth. Begin sitting against a wall with the low back in a neutral position, abdominals contracted, feet hip distance apart, and joints at 90-degree angles. Remember to breathe regularly. Use a stop watch or timer with a goal of holding this position for one-minute with one-minute rests between three sets. Increase time gradually until the wall sit can be held for three minutes. Then to add more demand (and fun), incorporate additional assisting muscles in a greater way by bouncing and catching a ball between the knees. A medicine ball is not necessary – any ball will do. Medicine balls can be found in varying weights. Begin with four to eight pounds and 25 bounces. Reaching high overhead adds upper body strengthening and abdominal focus to the exercise.

Winter Warm Up for Scuba Divers

SCUBA equipment on the ice.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

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!