Fitness and Flexibility for tech diving

This is an except from my newest book, The Six Skills and Other Discussions, due off-press in mid-February

The most sensible approach for someone considering a move into technical diving is to regard it as physically testing, and respect it as an activity that calls for above average fitness and flexibility. How much above average a technical diver has to be is a debatable point, and the rhetoric runs from the argument that technical divers should be capable of competing in triathlons to a completely hands-off approach that believes any diver is clear to go as long as he can stagger around the dive deck with sufficient control to stub out his cigarette and put down his beer before dropping into the water.

You may, like me, be looking for a set of fitness guidelines that fall somewhere in between those two extremes, and there are several suitable scales to measure personal fitness levels in a way that fits well with the general rigors of tech diving.

The first is the Cooper 12-minute run test. It is used to gauge aerobic endurance, and is perhaps the most straightforward to self-administer. I run a “diagnostic” on myself a couple of times a month and track the results on a spreadsheet. The test simply calls for the subject to warm up and then run as fast as possible for 12 minutes. Results are evaluated on distance covered within those 12 minutes.

A run of more than 2700 metres is excellent, 2300 – 2700 is good, 1900 – 2300 is average, 1500 – 1900 metres is below average and less than 1500 metres is poor. Over the years I have dropped a category but find it has been worth the effort to maintain a rating on the upper end of “good” for several reasons, including resting gas consumption rate.

(The approximate imperial conversions are respectively: more than 1.6 miles is excellent, 1.4 – 1.6 miles is good, 1.2 – 1.4 miles is average, 0.9 – 1.2 miles is below average, and less than 0.9 miles is poor.)

Running speed and endurance are good indicators for tech diving but so too is overall flexibility. There are two methods I use to test flexibility: modified sit and reach, and trunk rotation. Both are part of a whole raft of fitness tests published by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), and I would recommend a visit to their website for additional ideas. Flexibility in the hamstrings and lower back have been an issue with me since childhood and I always find the first of these tests a challenge.

Modified Sit and Reach Test
This gauges the flexibility of the lower back and hamstrings and requires a box about 30cm (12 inches) high and a metre rule:
1. Sit on the floor with your back and head against a wall. Legs should be out straight ahead and knees flat against the floor.
2. Have someone place the box flat against your feet (no shoes). Keeping your back and head against the wall stretch your arms out towards the box.
3. Have someone place the ruler on the box and move the zero end towards your fingertips. When the ruler touches you fingertips you have the zero point and the test can begin.
4. Lean forward slowly as far as possible keeping the fingertips level with each other and the legs flat. Your head and shoulders can come away from the wall now. Do NOT jerk or bounce to reach further.
5. Slowly reach along the length of the ruler three times. On the third attempt reach as far as possible and hold for 2 seconds. Have your training partner read the score. Repeat twice and compare your best score with the table below. (All measurements in cm.)

Gender Excellent Above Average Average Below Average Poor
Male >40 cm 29 – 40 cm 23 – 28 cm 15 – 22 cm <15 cm
Female >43 cm 34 – 43 cm 23 – 33 cm 17 – 22 cm <17 cm

Trunk Rotation Test
This flexibility test measures trunk and shoulder flexibility. The only equipment required is a wall and a piece of chalk or pencil.

1. Mark a vertical line on the wall. Stand with your back to the wall directly in front of the line. You should be about arms length away from the wall with your feet shoulder width apart.

2. Extend your arms out directly in front of you so they are parallel to the floor. Twist your trunk to your right and the touch the wall behind you with your fingertips. Your arms should stay extended and parallel to the floor. You can turn your shoulders, hips and knees as long as your feet don’t move.

3. Mark the position where your fingertips touched the wall. Measure the distance from the line. A point before the line is a negative score and a point after the line is a positive score.

4. Repeat for the left side and take the average of the two scores.

Rating Positive Reach (cm) Positive Reach (inches)
Excellent 20 8
Very Good 15 6
Good 10 4
Fair 5 2
Poor 0 0

Because of the nature of water and the effects of buoyancy, above average strength does not seem to be as critically important for tech divers as it may be for other sportsmen and women. However, some strength building and testing is in order since divers with arms and legs like noodles will be at a distinct disadvantage moving gear from one side of a parking lot to the other, and may find it close to impossible to get themselves and their equipment back onto the boat in a big sea.

The US Marshal Service has a well-respected and openly published set of fitness and flexibility guidelines for the men and women on its staff. These guidelines have been used by some of the tech diving community for years. Some time ago while researching another book, I modified those tables and developed a set of values that seemed to work for most able-bodied course candidates. These values are based on the figures from the US Marshal tables for above average males in each age category.

My personal goal is to stay aged 30 – 39 for the next 15 years.  Some females find regular “military” push-ups difficult and I see no reason why the modified version cannot be used.

Age % body fat Sit and Reach Push-ups Sit-ups 2.4 km run
20-29 5.3 – 9.4 >50 cm >50 >45 < 10 mins
30-39 14 – 17.5 >45 cm >38 >40 <12 mins
40-49 16 – 20 >42 cm >35 >37 <14 mins
50-59 18 – 22 >40 cm >33 >35 <15 mins
60 plus 19 – 23 >38 cm >31 >33 <17 mins

Pre-Order your copy of my new book…

The Six Skills and Other Discussions is scheduled to start shipping February 16, and if you are interested in getting a copy as soon as it comes off press, now’s the time.

You can pre-order from the link below. You do not have to pay anything until your copy is ready to ship and then you will get an electronic invoice. I use paypal and have done for years. If that does not suit, we can work out something I’m sure.

Order Your Copy of Steve’s New Book NOW!

Pre-orders get free shipping in the US and Canada, and to make things fair, UK and European addresses will get a discount on postage. Will know more in a week or so but it looks like postage to the UK will be reduced to about 5 pounds per copy.

Many have asked what the book is about and I tell them it’s full of creative solutions for the puzzles that face tech divers on every dive. But I figured the table of contents would also help. So here it is:


Table of Contents

By Jill Hienerth……………

About this book ……………

Chapter One: Technical Diving and How to Get There From Here
Definition of technical diving and what to expect from a tech diving course……………

Chapter Two: Buoyancy, the force that opposes Gravity
The first of the Six Skills including a novel use for a digital fish scale……………

Chapter Three: Trim, the streamlined approach to diving
A prescription to swim like a fish and get rid of clutter……………

Chapter Four: The Skill of Movement and Position
The last of the physical skills and the guidebook for a four-dimensional game of follow the leader……………

Chapter Five: Breathing, beyond the standard advice not to hold your breath
The first mental skill and elements of gas planning……………

Chapter Six: Situational Awareness, the Chess Master’s skill
Focus, observation, understanding and a touch of clairvoyancy ……………

Chapter Seven: Emotional Control
The sixth and final skill, which is really about a developing a cool outlook and how to maintain it ……………

Chapter Eight: Dive Execution, Equipment Configuration, Doing What Works
Plan your dive, dive your plan and Hogarth ……………

Chapter Nine: The Deco Curve
Contingency decompression made easy. Well, easier ……………

Chapter Ten: Accident Analysis, and chalking the Foul Lines
What goes wrong when people get hurt and how we can learn from those incidents ……………

Chapter Eleven: Parting Shots
Suggested reading, diet, exercise and lateral thinking ……………

Imperial tables and examples for the metrically challenged ……………

Thanks for your attention, folks.