ONE OF THE GREAT THINGS about diving is that you don’t need to be particularly strong or athletic to take part, so its accessible to a wide range of ages and body shapes.
Having said that, the hardest part is often lugging heavy equipment around on land, before the relief of finding weightlessness in the water.
Beneath the waves, that strength translates to effort in propelling ourselves forwards. Too much effort will drain your air quickly and may cause cramp; too little will leave you at risk if the current picks up.
Somewhere in between is “efficient”, which is what freedivers aim for when they have only one breath with which to perform their dive.
The good news is that you don’t need to join a gym to gain strength. It’s more important to have physical stability across major joints, such as the shoulder and pelvis, than to have bulging biceps.
You can use your own body weight doing yoga or pilates, or invest in some small weights, resistance bands or an inflatable exercise ball for home use.
Lets begin with physical stability in the main body axis – the shoulder and pelvic girdles, and core. If the muscles holding these zones together aren’t strong, then any work you do in the arms and legs could lead to injury.
Use light weights, a kettle bell, medicine ball or resistance band to work the upper back and shoulders, making sure that you draw the inside edge of each shoulder blade together to prevent them from “winging” outwards.
Stability in the core of the torso helps us to remain balanced in and out of the water. We often think of core strength as represented by
a six-pack, but the muscles that form this outward symbol of strength are actually quite superficial (I’ll leave you to make your own judgment about whether that describes the owner too).
The deeper abdominal muscles that spread crossways (transverse abdominis) and around the sides of the trunk (obliques) are a key factor in stability.
In fact a tight six-pack can actually hinder your ability to breathe effectively, because it can depress the rib-cage, so you can use that as your excuse!
From a more holistic perspective, strengthening the core promotes structural fitness throughout the body and mind by helping us feel more centred and able to cope with anything that may be trying to “throw us off balance”.
The pelvis takes the weight of the upper body, so stability here is crucial when we’ve added a heavy tank or two. A responsive core and pelvis keeps you upright and protects the lower back, like a shock absorber.
Often it’s the buttocks (gluteals) that are weak, potentially transferring instability into the knees, ankles or feet.
That is not good news when you need to cross a pebbly beach on your way to the water’s edge.
The muscles around the pelvis and hips also need to be flexible, as they are the starting point of good finning technique. We use fins to create propulsion and counter water resistance, allowing us to move forwards.
Freedivers have enormous fins because they need to swim strongly down through the first 5 -10m to beat the effects of buoyancy.
Despite some fins having powerful sales descriptions such as “Vortex” or “Force”, the reality is that fins are only as effective as the legs that drive them. So if you can’t exert much muscle force, or if you aren’t using what you have effectively, you’ll not get far, or exhaust yourself trying.
That might be fine if all you want is a relaxed swim around a reef, camera in hand. But if you happen to be caught in a current, or need to respond to an emergency, your strength will come into play.
When we flutter-kick, we use the buttocks and core muscles of the abdomen, pelvic floor and lower back to drive movement forward from the hips into the thighs. Or at least, that’s what we should use.
Many people kick using the lower leg only, bending at the knee, which uses relatively weak muscles and wastes energy, because it’s less streamlined.

IF YOUR CALVES AND HAMSTRINGS are tight and under-exercised, this can lead to cramp. Keeping the knees and ankles straight and soft helps to put the legs at the best angle for propulsion.
For those preferring the frog-kick, the strength of each kick comes from the front and inner thigh muscles (adductors). Flexibility in the hip and ankle joints is important to prevent misdirected force into the knees.
Whether you choose a gym or home workout, there are plenty of resources online or through personal trainers to advise you on an appropriate workout.
If you have an existing injury or medical condition, or are just unsure of your fitness level, it’s important to speak to a doctor or healthcare professional before starting. You can combine strength training with cardiovascular exercise to build overall fitness for diving, such as running, rowing or cycling.
Yoga isn’t normally associated with strength, but by using body weight we can build muscles in the correct physical alignment for balance, co-ordination and ease of movement.
All weight-bearing exercise also increases bone density and helps to prevent osteoporosis. Examples include static positions such as plank, bridge and boat pose, and dynamic sequences like the “sun salutation”.
If you can manage training three times a week you should see an improvement quite quickly, although bear in mind that you can also lose strength if you stop for a week or more.
You can maintain your current strength by training once a week.
Remember to avoid strenuous activity in the 24 hours following scuba diving or repetitive deep freediving, as this may increase decompression sickness risk.
For more dive-specific fitness and yoga advice, visit