A blog by runners. For runners.

What scuba diving taught me about running that everyone can learn from

What scuba diving taught me about runningIt goes without saying scuba diving and running are not very similar sports. One basically necessitates rapid movement, reactions, and breathing while the other demands stillness, calmness, and relaxation. But not unlike the relationship between running and meditation, there are several lessons runners can take away from the experience of scuba diving. The two actually have a surprising amount of techniques and tactics in common – and can potentially benefit each other.

Body control
Scuba diving is a bit more complex than just floating around in the water, swimming from shipwrecks to coral reef. In order to preserve delicate underwater environments, it’s crucial for a diver to develop the skill of remaining neutrally buoyant in the water – not bobbing up and down or side to side, even while swimming. This requires a surprising amount of muscular awareness and control, as the urge to flail is nearly irresistible when you feel yourself being tugged by the water in one direction or another. It’s probably the closest one can get to zero-gravity without going into space – and it’s great for runners, who can benefit greatly from learning to minimize unnecessary movement and a continuous awareness of the position of your body. We all know running form best practices in theory, but it’s a much more difficult challenge to actually remember to maintain the correct form while running. Scuba diving teaches you to constantly check in with yourself to see if you’re moving the right way, and that’s a great technique to bring into your running training.

Breath control
Learning to breathe underwater is almost like learning how to breathe for the first time. If you breathe in huge, deep, gasping breaths, you will bounce up and down in the water and run out of air very quickly. If you hold your breath, you run the risk of serious injury. The optimal breathing pattern for diving is calm, easy, slow breaths that are neither overly deep nor shallow.

Getting used to controlling your breath in such a way is a great skill for runners, because so often we are unaware of our breathing at all. Try paying attention on your next run, and notice how often your breath comes in shallow gasps, or exaggerated inhalations. Then see what happens if you try bring your breathing under your control. That doesn’t mean taking in air slower than you need, just try to take in more precise, considered breaths. You may notice you feel more energized and efficient, and are able to run for a longer period of time before getting tired.

Mental control
Suddenly realizing you are on the ocean floor underneath 50 feet of water, that you cannot just race straight up if you want, and that your life depends on a little piece of rubber and plastic that you are gripping in your mouth – this can be a challenging experience. It’s one that happens to divers frequently, and besides wreaking havoc on the other two pillars of diving – breathing and body control – it can also make a diver panic, which is dangerous for a lot of reasons.

Mind control is not something explicitly taught in basic scuba diving courses, but it is something that develops through gradual exposure – and the more you struggle with it, the more you realize how important and beneficial it is to be able to regain control over a wandering, racing, or anxious mind. It takes a huge amount of willpower to dive, because you have to go against all of your natural instincts – breathing under water, staying calm in a seemingly life-threatening situation, breathing easily despite grappling with fear and nervousness.

And what is running if not a battle against our will? Runners understand more than most about how much subliminal control our mind has over our body. So much of how well we perform, how quickly we feel fatigued, and how long we are able to run depends on coaxing, or perhaps tricking, our brain into submission.  A 2004 study found cyclists who rinsed their mouths with a sports drink for five seconds and then spit it out completed a 40K time trial faster than a control groupTraining for runners is, in essence, a push-pull battle between the mind and the body, slowly bringing one under the control of the other, and constantly failing and correcting. And once you’ve dealt with the stressful situation of breathing under water successfully, more than once, you’ll find yourself more tolerant of other situational stresses, which can greatly improve your endurance.  

If you’ve ever thought about trying scuba diving, these are a few more reasons to go for it. Diving is one of the most unique (and potentially enjoyable) experiences this world can offer, and runners will benefit even more than non-runners from the valuable repertoire of skills it can help to develop. Something to think about for your next vacation!

Written by Varia Makagonova.