Physical Conditioning and Training – Strength

Physical Conditioning and Training

by Cameron Martz

Strength Training

Technical diving means lots of heavy lifting. From doubles to rebreathers to DPVs, nothing is light in this sport. Strength training will not only make a diver more capable on the surface, but the resulting physiological changes may also reduce a divers risk underwater.

Increased Physical Capacity

Strength training most obviously increases muscular strength, which means that a fit diver can manage large equipment more easily. Besides meaning that you will require fewer trips to haul all of your gear, decreasing surface physical exertion leaves more energy reserves for the dive itself.

Increased Bone Mineral Density

Weight bearing exercises, in general, stimulate bones to increase in strength, mainly through an increase in bone mineral density (BMD). Special cells, called osteoblasts, are mobilized to areas of stress within the bone tissue. The osteoblasts lay down a protein matrix which eventually calcifies into new bone tissue.

The greater the stress placed upon the bones, the greater the increase in BMD. Besides reducing the risk of stress fractures from walking around in heavy dive gear, an increase in BMD may also protect a diver from decompression-related osteonecrosis. Decompression stress can impede the blood supply to the skeletal system, resulting in cellular death (necrosis) and a weakening of the bone tissue. By starting with a strong skeletal system, divers suffering from DCS may experience less damage to the long shafts and articulating surfaces of their bones. Additionally, divers that regularly stress their bones through strength training may heal any damage that occurs faster, as their bone modeling system is in a chronically higher state of activity.

Increased Thermogenesis

Lean muscle mass is also a source of heat generation for a diver on long exposures. The more muscle mass you have, the more heat your body can generate internally to make up for that being lost to the water around you. Keep in mind that both a calorie source and water are required for thermogenesis- for lengthy exposures, this means eating and drinking during your dive and decompression.

Additionally, an increase in lean muscle results in an increase in resting metabolism, which can ultimately lead to fat loss. As in the section on cardiovascular conditioning, an increased ratio of lean tissue to fat will result in a greater rate of gas diffusion into and out of the diver as a whole.

Effective Strength Training

The most effective way to increase strength is to overload the skeletal muscles with external resistance through a range of motion. In other words, lift weights.

Weight training does not require a 10,000 sq. ft. fitness facility, although there are many advantages to joining a gym when one is available. First, a greater variety of exercises can be performed in a full-sized fitness facility. Second, we are a social animal, motivated to perform our best when surrounded by our peers. Lifting in the presence of others usually pushes us to work harder than we would on our own. Third, getting out of the house reduces the chance youll quit before the work is done.

Regardless of where you choose to train, the fundamentals stay the same.

Begin with a Compound Movement

A compound movement involves moving more than one joint through a range of motion. Examples of compound movements are listed in Table 1 for each body part.


Compound Movements

Body Part



Leg Press, Squat, Lunge


Military Press, Arnold Press






Bench Press


Lateral Pull-down, Seated Row

Compound movements engage several muscle groups and help the body to increase the blood supply to the targeted body part. Besides acting as a warm-up, this increased blood supply facilitates the removal of lactic acid during and after activity and allows the muscle to perform a greater amount of work.

Additional compound movements can be included to complete the workout, or you can begin to isolate individual muscle groups with simple movements utilizing a single joint.

The Sum of the Parts

Isolation, or single joint, movements can be used to fatigue specific parts of your body while reducing the effect of other parts that may already be fatigued. You can build mass while increasing definition at the same time if you break large muscle groups into their parts and train them to complete fatigue.


Isolation Movements

Body Part



Quadriceps Extension, Hamstring Curl


Lateral Raise, Front Raise


Preacher Curl, Zottman Curl


Cable Triceps Extension, Dumbbell Kickback


Pectoral Fly (Upper, Middle, Lower)


Rhomboid Fly, Straight Arm Kickdown

For example, a good biceps workout could begin with chin-ups, which is a compound movement involving the biceps, several muscles of the back, and several muscles of the shoulder. The lateral head, or outer biceps, could then be targeted with dumbbell hammer curls, and the medial head, or inner biceps, could be targeted with straight bar concentration curls (see references below for exercise descriptions). Such a workout guarantees that each part of the biceps has been completely fatigued and stimulated to grow.

Table 2 lists a very small fraction of the isolation exercises available within an average fitness facility. At last count, I rotate between 105 low-risk exercises with variations totaling over 250.

Strength Starts from the Ground

In order to lift anything, the body requires a strong trunk and steady legs. Neglecting leg and trunk strength is the biggest mistake made in every gym, every day. In fact, if you can only do one workout per week, focus on your legs, lower back, and abdominals. Youll be more capable in the long run than someone who focuses on his or her upper body.

Here’s a good test for the next time you carry a heavy object: if you experience whole body fatigue or become winded before your arms feel like theyre going to fall off, you need more leg work, not more arm work.

The Importance of Proper Form

The next time you are in a gym, observe how others perform various exercises and do your best not to look like they do. In a gym with over 2,500 members, Ive seen fewer than 10 who really know what theyre doing without receiving training from me or my company. Its not that the proper form for strength training exercises is that elusive- books devoted to this topic fill the shelves of every bookstore. Rather, the more is better mentality is as prevalent in the gym as it is on the typical technical diver. Most use too much weight for too many sets, requiring that they use a ridiculous amount of body English if they even manage to move the weight around their bodies rather than the other way around.

Every exercise has a target muscle group or groups. These are the only muscles that should be moving through a range of motion. The rest remain relaxed or statically stabilize the body. Proper form is merely the motion required to keep the target muscles moving, the rest of the body still, and joints and internal organs protected from injury.

This is not just a matter of safety. Just as importantly, proper form is what leads to maximum gains for the effort expended. Once you break the proper form, you replace the effort required from the target muscle group with effort from entirely different muscle groups. Though your fatigue may continue to build, you are no longer performing the same exercise, nor are you effectively training your body.

Though many books depicting the proper form for various exercises exist, one series stands out as particularly accurate and thorough. The Complete Book series, by the Brungardts will keep even the most motivated athlete busy for a long time. These include: