Physical Preparation for Rescue Divers

In this article we will specifically address the importance of physical fitness for rescue divers, not to belittle the need for physical fitness for any diver.

However, when it comes to the subject of rescue diving, it’s a different matter.

Keeping divers safe is not an easy task and really requires physical fitness, teamwork, and knowledge of rescue techniques.


Physical Preparation for Rescue Divers
Group of rescue divers doing training and preparation exercises

Knowing how to swim is a prerequisite for any diver candidate, and even more so for a rescue diver.

Swimming is an act of propulsion and self-support in the water with combined arm and leg movements that were learned by man through instinct or by observing animals, according to its history. It is considered one of the most complete exercises nowadays, to the point of going beyond simple amusement or sports practice, to be used for therapeutic purposes in the recovery of muscular atrophies and treatment of respiratory problems. In addition, it is important as a physical activity for health maintenance and as a means of defense against drowning or in rescue operations.

Initial Evaluation

Test to Find Out If You Need to Exercise

The purpose of exercise is not only to protect the cardiovascular system, but also to maintain the proper functioning of the body structure. Take a look at yourself and answer:

  1. The day after a major physical effort, do you wake up feeling sore?
  2. Do you find it difficult to bend, turn around, or rotate your torso?
  3. Do you often feel tired even though you haven’t done any special exercise ?
  4. Do you have trouble sleeping even when you are very tired ?
  5. When you run short distances or climb stairs you get out of breath ?
  6. Are you overweight?
  7. Do you sometimes feel depressed for no reason?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, try to practice a physical activity that gives you pleasure. Get moving, because people who suffer from generalized fatigue, without medical causes, benefit from “more” exercise than from “more” rest. (Alberto and Jacques, 1998)


There is no set test that can readily reveal the physiological condition of a rescue diver. Individual differences, biorhythms, and lifestyle serve to break down the developmental effectiveness of any assessment and training program; however, it is important to have a basic plan from which changes can be measured.

And of course, this training plan should be adaptable according to changes in the diver’s progress.

Although the stopwatch is still the best method for estimating training adaptation, it offers little insight into changes in the swimming physiology, and thus the diver’s progress.

Today, Sports Medicine makes use of measuring tests that aim to improve the individual, collaborating with the training program plan.

Such tests include blood lactate measurements, heart rate measurements, and rating of perceived exertion (RPE), among others.

While the validity and sensitivity of these tests as indicative of training adaptation are subject to debate, they generally correlate well with performance improvement during the early stages of training.

But let’s start in a simpler way.

How to Measure Your Pulse Rate and Calculate Your Target Training Zone

According to McARDLE et al, 1997, “the aerobic capacity will improve if the exercise is intense enough to increase the heart rate to at least 70% of the HRM”. Although individuals think that the more intense the exercise is, the better it will be to improve conditioning, the idea is false, because there is a threshold where the individual will not obtain additional gains.

Therefore, a Target Training Zone is established with minimum and maximum values for better cardiac and general physical conditioning, according to the individual’s age

Calculation of Maximum Heart Rate

The formula is quite simple and still accepted.

Maximum Heart Rate (HRM) = 220 – age of the person (Karvonen et al., 1957) – range (standard deviation)+ or – 10 up to 25 years and from 25 onwards a wider range of + or – 12 is allowed.

Example: FCM =200, range 210 upper limit and 190 lower limit.

It is then concluded that the FCM can oscillate from 190 to 210.

According to Sheffield et al,1965, when we talk about untrained individuals, the HRM is calculated as follows:

Maximum Heart Rate = 205 – (0.42 x age)

According to Prof. João Carlos Bouzas Marins, physiologist of the Human Performance Laboratory of the Federal University of Viçosa, MG, the Maximum Heart Rate (HRM) does not depend only on age, but also on gender and type of exercise.

For Dr. Nabil Ghorayeb, responsible for the Sports sector of the Brazilian Society of Cardiology, “this formula is old and can bring risks to health. The newer ones are more precise.

But he reminds us that the ergospirometric test is still the best way to determine the cardiac limit.

So he suggests another way to calculate your Maximum Heart Rate (HRM):

Swimming (male and female): HRM = 204 – (1.7 x age)

Training Target Zone (Karvonen et al., 1957)

ne other key aspect is to determine your Training Zone. This is established by controlling your heart rate between the minimum and maximum range during exercise.

The principle is also simple: Measure your HR in one minute at rest. Then multiply it by the factors below:

HRM x 0.60 = Minimum Heart Rate

HRM x 0.70 = Ideal frequency in aerobic activity

HRM x 0.85 = Maximum Heart Rate

There are numerous other formulas for evaluating training that correspond to different levels of exercise intensity and also correspond to various metabolic and respiratory transport mechanisms in the body.

Recovery Time According to Exercise Intensity

Another important issue concerns post-exercise recovery time. Resting is as important as training.

50% to 85% = 6 to 24 hr

85% to 90% = from 12 to 24 hr

90% to 95% = from 12 to 48 hr

95% to 100% = – 12 to 72 hr

I always suggest that the candidate maintain their aerobic endurance by swimming at least 1 hour for 3 times a week.

The training should be complemented with localized muscular endurance work and rescue simulations.

It is worth saying that to know how to act in a crisis moment, the professional has to be well prepared both physically and emotionally to be able to assist the victim.


The preparation of rescue divers must be sufficient to achieve fitness in the high season, when tourists invade dive operations. It is not and never will be established in just one course, since it demands cycles of preparation.

During the rescue diver course, technical exercises and teamwork should be the target.

The awareness about the physical preparation of any diver will be the consequence of a paradigm change in the candidate himself, which normally occurs after the course and should always be understood as a gain in quality of life, a new style of living.