Stronger Legs for Better Finning | Scuba Diving

Stronger Legs for Better Finning

| | The hamstring curl can give you the strength you need to keep up with the whale sharks.|

December 2003

By Selene Yeager

Photography by Hilmar

Have a seat. That is the position the average American spends 7.7 hours a day in. Now stretch out and imagine yourself finning through the warm waters of the Caribbean. Small wonder so many divers cramp and fatigue after just a few short dives. Everyday life doesn't even begin to condition our leg muscles for the demands of diving. Fact is, neither do most physical activities, which is why even fairly athletic people are surprised by tired legs and sore glutes after a couple of dives in the morning.

"Finning takes more strength than most people realize," says sports fitness and nutrition expert Liz Applegate, Ph.D. "People mistakenly think the fins do all the work because they make you faster. But your leg muscles are performing double duty. Fins take up a larger surface area than your bare feet, so you need to recruit more leg muscles to push against the resistance of the water. Finning uses the front and back of your legs pretty equally, so you also need balanced leg strength, which even active people often lack. Without proper preparation, you can fatigue pretty quickly, especially if you're working against currents," she says.

The key to faster, tireless finning is strengthening your quads, hamstrings, calves and glutes evenly, says Applegate. It also helps to have strong core--or ab, oblique and back--muscles, because they provide a stable platform for your working legs to propel.

Applegate recommends the following workout to strengthen your flutter-kicking muscles. "Because these exercises are done on a large inflated exercise ball (available for about $20 in most sporting-goods stores), they also help strengthen those key core muscles," says Applegate, also author of Bounce Your Body Beautiful (Prima, 2003), a woman's shape-up program that also builds great scuba strength. Do two sets of 10 to 15 repetitions of each exercise. After a month, you'll be able to produce real finning power.

Hamstring Curl

This is one of the most effective exercises you can do to strengthen your hamstrings, which assist your legs during the upstroke of each kick. It also works your abs and glutes.

Here's how: Lie on your back on the floor. Extend your legs and place your heels on the top of the ball. Rest your arms on the floor by your sides, palms down. Press your heels into the ball and lift your butt off the floor until your body forms a straight line from your feet to your shoulders. Only your head and shoulders should be resting on the mat.

Exhale and bend your knees, using your heels to pull the ball toward your butt, so your feet end up flat on the ball. Inhale and then extend your legs back to the starting position. Make the move more difficult by positioning your arms straight over your head.

One-Leg Drop Squat

This exercise strengthens calves, which, when weak, can be prone to cramping. It also strengthens glutes and helps develop equal strength in both legs for efficient finning.

Here's how: Lie on the ball in a bridge position with your upper back against the ball, your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Extend your arms straight out in front of you at chest level. Lift your right foot off the floor, extending it straight out from your hips.

Inhale and bend your left knee, squatting down and sinking your butt toward the floor. Allow the ball to roll as your back moves downward. Exhale and press back up to the starting position with your left leg. Complete a full set; then switch legs. If balance is a problem, try this exercise with two feet first to get accustomed to the movement.

Scissors Lift

This seemingly simple move strengthens your inner and outer thighs, butt, obliques and abs, all of which support your body as you kick.

Here's how: Lie on your back, hugging the ball between your lower legs. Roll onto your left side and prop up your head with your left palm. Rest your right hand on the mat in front of your abdomen. Angle your right hip forward, so your right foot is about six inches in front of your left. Your legs will look like open scissors.

Exhale and lift the ball directly toward the ceiling. Pause, inhale and lower back to the starting position. Complete a set; then switch sides.

Calf Raises

Strong calves will help you perform every activity better, especially finning, which actively recruits these lower leg muscles. Calf raises can help prevent cramps during and after diving.

Here's how: Stand a few feet away from a wall with the exercise ball between your abdomen and the wall. Lean forward into the ball so that your body forms a straight, angled line from your heels to your head.

Exhale and rise up onto the balls of your feet. Pause, inhale and lower yourself back to the starting position.

Water Work

Strength training will definitely give you a stronger flutter kick; but for real finning fitness, it helps to hit the pool for some actual in-water work, says Liz Applegate. She recommends performing the following drills in a 25-yard lap pool.

Length 1: Place your arms down at your sides, and with your feet and legs together, undulate both legs, or "dolphin kick," to the other side of the pool. (You can stroke with one arm as needed to keep your head above water.)

Length 2: Flip over on your back, extend both arms and cross your hands overhead. Then return across the pool, dolphin kicking as described above.

Length 3: Remaining on your back, arms extended overhead, flutter kick back across the pool.

Length 4: Flip onto your stomach. Put your arms back down at your sides and flutter kick back to the starting point.

Rest 15 seconds. Repeat the series. Work your way up to 5 sets.