My Journey To Better Dive Fitness

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I’m not ashamed to admit that I like to eat and partake in the occasional adult beverage.  But when life gets busy I tend to eat more and exercise less. Unfortunately my early to mid thirties have been a very busy time for me;   and consequently I’ve not  maintained a very healthy lifestyle of exercise and proper diet.  Hey it happens and there is no shame in it.  I wasn’t in terrible shape, but I wasn’t in good shape by any means.

The Ancient Past

I’ve always been pretty athletic,  so I’ve had that going for me. I’ve played numerous sports and at one point was heavily into rock climbing during my mid twenties, which got me into fantastic shape.  At my peak I was able able to do one arm pull-ups and I had less than 10% body fat.  However after an injury to my shoulder during a recreational hockey game in my late twenties, I stopped climbing, and the fat slowly started coming back.  As of 2016 I was at roughly 25% body fat, weighed in excess of 220 pounds  and at 5’10” that’s a lot of mass to be moving around.  It wasn’t healthy and I knew it.

Me in 2007 at 160 pounds and  ~10% body fat.

GUE puts a lot of emphasis on overall physical fitness.  Which is one reason they make us do a swim test at the beginning of any of the classes.  This for water comfortably, and it’s also a fitness test. This approach makes sense on many levels.  Not only is there a lot peer reviewed scientific research  that shows having excess fat puts you at a higher risk of DCS, but also the amount of exertion carrying extra gear and a little extra bio-insulation (fat) can cause a number of other problems.

When I began my journey as a GUE diver, I did start swimming more and walking some during the week,  but that’s really it. Other than diving,  I wasn’t really that active.  Furthermore, I wasn’t that good about watching my eating habits closely;  and as expected,  I didn’t really make a dent in my 220 body.  Trust me when I say it’s frustrating.  It’s frustrating to see pictures of yourself as a lean rock climber and think that maybe this is it.  I thought  maybe I hit my thirties and my metabolism slowed down.  Maybe I’ll never be lean again. I felt terrible honestly.

Here’s the thing,  I’ve been down this road before.  I graduated college in 2004, got a job,  and didn’t cook anything for myself for almost a full year. I basically ate in restaurants every night, I ate crazy amounts of calories and gained a ton of weight. So by 2005 I was actually 215-220. It was a surprise to me that I gained weight that fast because I never really had to watch what I was eating.  So when I realized that  I was packing on the pounds, I had to find some motivation to get rid of it.  I needed a challenge.

I found motivation back in 2006 by challenging myself to compete in a rock climbing competition.  At first it was just to compete and not make a total fool of myself,  but once I started rock climbing, swimming, and hitting the elliptical,  the weight started melting off.  It took me about 3 months of careful meal planning and every night in the gym to go from 220 to 190.  I competed in my first rock climbing competition at the New River Rendezvous in Fayetteville West Virginia. I placed third in the beginner division. The following year I continued that trend and got stronger and stronger in climbing. Eventually I competed in a handful of climbing competitions from 2007-2009 and placed very well in them, often in the top 3.  But life took over, I got injured and I got busy and  for years I ate and didn’t workout much.  I’ll admit that probably some depression about being out of shape was there too. And eventually I gained all that weight back.

My “get in shape formula” in my mid twenties was to go to the rock climbing gym at least 3 days per week and then do cardio the other two.  I’d climb outside on weekends or rest. My diet was between 1500 and 2000 calories of mostly protein shakes, lots of salads and veggies, I didn’t have any alcohol for months nor did I eat any sweets I love so much.  It was really torture at first.  I logged all my meals in a free app called “Lose It” which helps track calories and meals.  I stuck to this routine for a long time and it worked. However I was still missing something. I never really had my diet under control. I was definitely not eating correctly.  I was not eating the calories but I also remember reaching a point where I was lean but not really getting stronger.  I don’t remember feeling that energized actually. I could climb hard but that’s mainly because I was just lean.  I always felt that If I had been better on the diet I could have felt better.

The Recent History

Fast forward to  around the October or November of 2016 nearly 10 years after I started climbing and slowly gaining weight,  I was back up to 220.   I decided enough was enough, and I needed to be in better shape.  I thought I’d start running and see what that did.  I downloaded run keeper app on my iPhone and got up one morning on a Monday and started.   I ran as far as I could until I felt like I was gasping for air and my lungs were burning.  Then I’d walk as a cool down.  At first I could only run .75 miles but I would always finish the rest of the mile by walking. It took me a few weeks before I could do a full mile and even then I did it in 10-11 mins which is not record setting by any means.

January 2017 at 210 Pounds 25% Body Fat

At almost a month into my running at least two to three miles per week I really wasn’t making that much progress on my weight.  I did start to see some weight loss but even in by the end of December I was still at the 220 range. I felt that  my biggest problem was not watching my calorie and nutrition intake. I know how to do this. I’ve done it before. Really I was just  being lazy. I think I was afraid to find out that I could never get back my 2007-2009 fitness level. And I also thought that maybe I was missing the key “climbing” element.  I enjoyed climbing and I knew it put me into shape before, but there were no climbing gyms near me. I was really frustrated that the running and being a little better with the diet wasn’t doing much.

At the end of January in 2017  I was determined to change my eating and exercise habits for the better.  I no longer wanted to feel fatigued when I hiked my doubles up stairs at some of the dive sites. I didn’t want to be a liability to my wife,  as a dive buddy who was out of shape.  And I just wanted to look and feel better.  All these things played into my mind.   I can do this but it’s going to suck.  I’ve done it before and I will do it again.

The Exercise Plan

I took a picture of myself in January 2017 as a reminder of what I look like,  and went that same day to join a small 24 hour gym.   My plan was to start a basic weight lifting and cardio routine. I’d always thought weight lifting would make people bulky and I never really liked it. This is why I climbed. If you look at climbers,  they are lean and fit.  I never wanted to be just full of muscle or worse, really bulky.

The formula I used before was the climbing 2-3 days per week and really watch my diet.  So now I decided to lift 2-3 days per week as a substitute for climbing and cardio on the other days.  For my diet, I’d cut out alcohol completely and I downloaded a new app called “My Fitness Pal” to track my food.  I basically followed the my fitness pal on my recommended calories per day but didn’t actually track nutrition.  Surely this would work to help me get into shape I thought.

I did some googling and found a good beginner exercise routine. based  on this link.   And by no means am I an expert nor really know what I’m doing. I just started reading. I figured anything is better than nothing. I planned on this exercise routine for a few months.

Mon Wed Fri-The Full Body:

  1. Dumbell bench press
  2.  Lat pull downs or pull ups
  3. Overhead press
  4. Leg curls
  5. Leg press
  6. Rope pulldown
  7. Calf raises
  8. Inclined situps
  9. Barbell curls.  

 3 sets of 8, 10 and 12. Often I’d subtract 10 pounds between each set as the rep count went up.  

Tu and Th-30 mins on the elliptical

At first,  it took me a few times to find the weight ranges I needed to be lifting to actually feel like I was getting something out of it, but not hurt myself.  But eventually I found a weight that on each exercise I was barely able to complete the last few reps.  For example I first started bench pressing with 45 pound dumbells for 3 sets  counting to 8 then 10 and then 12 respectively.   After a little while I was able to move up in weight. But I wasn’t trying to kill myself. I just wanted to feel a little muscle fatigue after each set.

Meal Prep-Never ending grilled chicken

After about two weeks of doing this I noticed I lost a few pounds,  which helped me keep at it.  I started to feel better  I also began to incorporate other lifting routines and running outside some.  However for the most part I stuck with the full body workout each week.

I began to realize the missing link between just running and being active was really the weight lifting or muscle toning in general.  Before it was climbing and now it’s the weight lifting, and If you think about it, they are basically the same thing.  I read more about weight lifting and different techniques and found that contrary to popular belief, weight training doesn’t make you bulky unless you want it to.

The Diet

I have been eating variations of the following 3 basic meals each day plus snacks:

Breakfast- 8-12 oz  of Chocolate Almond Milk+2-3 scoops of whey protein  Or egg whites instead of the protein shake, at roughly 400 calories total.

Lunch-Some kind of protein on a  salad, for example: Grilled chicken, steak or lean ground beef on  salad.  Little to  no dressing but I would grill the chicken with bbq sauce for flavor. I can’t do plain grilled chicken. Approximately 500 calories

Dinner-Grilled salmon, Imitation crab on a salad, Steak and even once and a while or a few slices of oven baked pizza with a side salad 5-600 Calories.

Fluids-Water,  and lots of it.

Snack-Fruits and veggies, instead of chips I’d eat cucumbers with small quantities of hummus as “dip” but i’d limit this. 2-300 calories total.

No- Alcohol, soda, dessert or any crazy amounts of pizza, burgers, high fructose sweets etc etc. (except on cheat days)

Cheat Meal- One meal of anything I want at least once every 1-2 weeks. That includes my precious chocolate chip pancakes for breakfast. I even have a cheat day some times.

By the end of February I was making noticeable progress on my weight loss and muscle tone. Somewhere in there I broke the 200  mark, but I slowed down mid way through March.  I Hovered around 195 for almost two weeks. I began to realize that I was adding muscle as well as losing fat,  so I ramped up my cardio. and I was able to finally break the 190 mark by the end of March.



The Present

June 2017 at 180#, 15% Body Fat

As of writing this blog I’m fluctuating between 176 and 180. My overall physical fitness has improved greatly.  About a month ago I ran a 5K with an average pace of 8:20 per mile.   I’ve noticed a huge difference in my energy level.  My fitness in diving has improved and I’m not getting fatigued when hauling gear up steps or swimming in high flow caves. My body fat is at 15% and dropping slowly. I also joined a larger gym and am eating even better.  

Furthermore,  doing more than two dives per day or spending in excess of 3 hours in the water at a time is fairly easy now.  Where before,  I’d be pretty tired after just two dives.  I feel that I’m  a better dive buddy because I have more strength and energy.

Looking back on it now, the process is fairly simple. Eat well and exercise every day. That’s it really. I’ll be honest,  It’s hard work losing weight and toning up,  but I proved to myself that my body would give back if I treated it well. Probably the hardest part is committing to it,  being strict about the exercise and diet, and letting it happen.  It just takes time.  I can say I feel like I’m in better shape than I was in 2007 but I’m heavier. I probably have more muscle and I definitely feel like I have more energy from what I remember. It’s the good diet that helps there.

No I’m not the image of perfection and I don’t have perfectly defined muscles. Maybe some day, but for now I feel better and that’s really what I wanted.   The only downside is that I am swimming in my drysuit and I’ll probably need to order a new one soon.  Also I’ve had to buy a bunch of new clothes. But these are good downsides.


The Future


I’ve  started reading more about body building and nutrition. If anyone knows about nutrition and lean muscle building it’s body builders.  I figured I could learn a thing or two from them.   I found that there is a balance on the amount of protein, carbs and fat that the body needs to allow muscle toning and fat loss to occur.  The term they use is macros or macro nutrients.  This makes sense. The body is a machine and needs the right kind of fuel to keep going.  At first, just my weight lifting and exercise burned the fat I had because I had an excess of stored energy, but I have reached the point where I needed to supplement that energy with nutrition.

My goal is to be even better watching my nutrition and I’ve changed up my workout routine to break up my weight lifting into separate groups. My current macro plan is 40% Protein, 30% Carbs and 30 % Fats. I’ll try this for a while and see how I feel. I’d like to get in the 12-10% body fat range but this is really hard.  I will continue to meal prep and eat healthy meals. I’ll continue to exercise, tweaking my routine here and there to get the best results.  The really hard part is over and I’m proud of the hard work I’ve done. Now the real test is to see if I can get even more fit and lean.

As I progress with GUE training like future tech and cave classes, I want to be physically and mentally fit to handle the rigors of longer dives. I want to be safe for my buddy and be able to enjoy diving as long as I can.

June 2017 at 180 vs January  2017 at 210