By Aron Arngrimsson, Team Blue Immersion
A topic often encountered and discussed is how well we should take care of ourselves as avid technical divers. To execute a deep trimix dive one must be in good physical and mental condition and this is sometimes easier said then done for dive professionals. Over the years I have learned that the keyword is balance.
As a technical diving instructor you are expected to maintain a good level of physical and mental fitness. You are not expected to be able to dead lift your own weight but definitely carry enough strength to be able to assist well in a hairy situation or just to be able to dive safely and comfortably, after all our profession is quite equipment intensive. We also need to constantly remind ourselves that our cardiovascular system needs to tolerate thermal stress and support muscle demand for oxygen during exertion. We are neither expected to be life coaches (although sometimes our job requires us to be) but we have to be able to block personal ailments and have absolute focus during courses.
There are areas of physical fitness and mental fitness we need to discuss and find the balance for if you are like myself and our team working in technical diving every single day.
Physical Exercise before and after deep diving
Numerous studies have been done on this over the years. There are different recommendations from the different diving agencies and organizations like Divers Alert Network. The general recommendation from DAN is to avoid heavy exercise around 24 hours before and after dives. This is not good news for technical diving professionals as it pretty much bans them from exercising…so what to do?
Consider 98% of micronuclei vanishes after 6 hours. Therefore theoretically it should be safe to exercise during the same day 6 hours before or after a dive although that is not recommended. Research has shown that exercising 24 hours before actually prevents bubble formation. The most important thing is to listen to your body and look at the factors around you before you make your decision. Did everything on the dive go well? The profile was safe? Were you under any unusual stress? Act accordingly. Set a depth limit for yourself on when you cannot go. From my personal experience, I choose to never exercise following a hypoxic trimix dive, but shallower I give my body around 10 hours and then resume with moderate exercise. I must stress that this is based upon years of diving, building up good physical condition slowly and listening to my body. In the end there is a reason they call it decompression theory and all our bodies are different. We are at the edge of diving and have become the guinea pigs this research is based on. It is important that you slowly progress and find a balance, which is right for you.
We never exceed a single decompression dive per day and based on that I find that it is possible to find a balance between these two. Massages are often necessary as our job requires a lot of exercise, so try and find a time few times a month during off gassing days to give your muscles their deserved therapy. There is research that suggests mild massage therapy by increasing blood flow positively enhances tissue elimination or can even create problematic bubble behaviour, there is no conclusive answer at this point so it goes without saying that this practice is strongly discouraged following dives .
Technical dives often are surrounded by beautiful environments at remote places all over the planet. It might be in a sleepy Red Sea Resort town or in sub zero temperatures in a cave system in Russia far away from civilization. This does expose us to sometimes-restricted choice of diet or the easy wayout getting a pizza delivered home. It is however important to remember that as a predisposing factor to DCS it is important to eat a diet rich with whole grains, complex carbohydrates, fruits, vegetables, protein, unsaturated fat and Omega 3 from fish. PLENTY of water should be consumed; around 4 liters at least per day and diuretics like coffee and soft drinks should be consumed in moderation. Eating fast food will simply not provide your body with enough energy to perform the dive ahead.
Drugs and Diving
It is well known that these two words never have gone well together. It does however apply to the diving industry as it is a very social community and some divers enjoy a beer or cigarette following a successful dive. Nobody is perfect and neither are technical diving instructors. If you choose to smoke, the general recommendation is to avoid cigarettes 12 hours before and after diving to normalize your CO levels . To have A drink with dinner the night before a technical dive will most likely not be detrimental to your safety, but like everything moderation and frequency is key. The Federal Aviation Administration advises pilots to avoid A drink 8 hours before and the same recommendation should be prudent for a technical diving instructor although a much more conservative approach would be recommended . The best advice would be to be a non smoker and not a consumer of any drug, but its simply not realistic to expect everyone to be like this, and the best prevention is simply to change the mindset to be conservative and think about what you are doing. If you insist on rolling the dice, at least do so with your eyes open.
It is a popular statement that our profession is based over half on our mental fitness. The mental ability to deal with hairy situations is something that you usually adapt to with experience and with the environment you work in. There are however some things you can do yourself above gaining experience, which will enhance your mental fitness in and out of the water and is very likely to improve your overall life quality.
This deals with the mental well-being of athletes and the mental and emotional factors that can affect sports performance. At the level you are at in your diving career you should certainly consider yourself at the same level. Inherently in your career there can be an enormous pressure to perform and succeed and they have specialized techniques to reduce stress and improve your overall performance so taking time a few times a month to meet and discuss with a sports psychologist can be enormously helpful. Also discussing any personal issues or ailments that occupy your existence can help you organise your thoughts and greatly enhance your focus and block out the outside world while you go perform these challenging deep dives.
These exercises can be very helpful to reduce stress, improve focus and improve cardiovascular health. Try and incorporate a frequent routine during the week (or just when you feel particularly stressed) of inhaling through your nose for 5 seconds, holding it for 5 seconds and exhaling for 5 seconds through your mouth.
Meditation and Yoga
There are plenty of different ways to meditate and to do Yoga. It does help your mobility and flexibility, which are key when you find yourself surrounded by cylinders. Yoga can also help you improve your SAC rate by teaching you to control your breathing while your body is working, so you can calmly and efficiently deliver more oxygen to your muscles. Meditation is a powerful tool on the journey towards a peaceful mind and can do wonders towards your overall mental fitness. Another good tip is to turn off any electronic devices 1 hour before sleep, the brightness from our devices decreases the melatonin levels in our body (which we need to sleep!) and the last thing on your mind before a deep dive should be personal relations, business nor other. Use this time to practice what we preach, visualise the dive.
On their own these excercises might not feel like they are doing a world of difference when you start, but given some time and combining all of them and you will start feeling more in control of your body. On the matter of timing, wait as long as you can during the day before you do Yoga and on hypoxic trimix dives I would prefer to skip any strenuous exercise.
Lastly if you have not heard about DAN’s Diving Research Laboratory I advise you to visit the following link and get involved as a research diver, more deep diving data is welcomed and needed for further studies. https://www.daneurope.org/web/guest/become-a-dan-research-diver
Team Blue Immersion