Diving is a unique combination of strength, power, and flexibility. Whether you’re starting on a country club diving team just learning the approach and hurdle or are jumping off a 30-m cliff, a proper diving dryland program can aid performance. I remember as a child learning how to dive at my local summer league team. Being able to catapult myself off the diving board gave me great thrills and was far from other sports I had done (swimming, basketball, soccer). As a high school swimmer, I still dove in the summer to help the summer league team score points in the championship meet. I remember my coach (who was younger than me, Mr. Chris Heaton) teaching me tricks on how to perform a double and a front flip full twist. These unique movements were challenging, but highly enjoyable. Luckily, I had enough power to catapult myself for performing some moderately difficult dives. I’ll never forget the feeling of hitting a perfect, for me, double somersault.
The above example doesn’t make me an expert at diving or even close. Hell, I never mastered a back dive! I still think my back is red from these smacks. However, at Purdue University I was fortunate to watch a lot of elite divers. I also found their dryland and biomechanics intriguing. Over the past years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with many diving dryland programs. When I began researching diving dryland programs, information was scarce and odd. A unique blend of gymnastics and plyometrics were used in every online diving dryland program. There was a lot of great information within these diving dryland programs, but there was a lot of missing information. I feel diving dryland programs can be improved to help divers on the boards and master harder dives.
This is a brief commentary on tips for improving your diving dryland program. These tips will not magically improve your diving as increasing power, strength, or flexibility doesn’t make you a better diver. ,Instead improvements on dryland give you the opportunity for improving your diving skills.
Tips on Improving your Diving Dryland
1. Landing Biomechanics
One unique aspect of diving are the biomechanics on the loading phase of the board. As you can see in image-1, the diving lands with their feet relatively close together. Many strength coaches will feel this is a poor squatting technique. However, the hip, knee, ankle alignment is relatively straight, minimizing stress on the medial compartment of the knee, a common area for injury.
Unfortunately, this diver is not the typical diver. Many divers land with their knees knocked and a poor loading position for power and injury risk.
This poor movement pattern begins at dryland.
How can a diver learn a proper take off without knowing how to squat on land?
Diving dryland is a great opportunity for teaching proper biomechanics for the squat, drive during approach, and handstand. These techniques won’t completely transfer to the board, but if a diver is unable to perform a proper squat on land, do you really think they can properly load the board? During the loading phase, the diver is doing an overload eccentric squat. The take off position will vary depending on a front, back, reverse, or inward dive, but on fronts, a squat with the hips back, will engage the glutes, help control the knees and reduce knee stress.
When teaching a squat, keep it simple:
- Feet shoulder width apart
- Break from the hips and the knees
- Use mirrors or partners to monitor feedback
- Learn how to squat before adding squat jumps!
2. Progressive Resistance Training
A progressive resistance training program, focusing on squats, lunge, split squats, and rear foot elevated split squats can enhance lower body power. Too many programs only use bodyweight strength training which doesn’t challenge elite dryland divers. When developing a diving dryland program, a periodized program incorporating strength and power training is mandatory for maximizing results. Simple performing squat jumps and body weight squats isn’t going to cut it for an elite age-group or senior diver who has mastered every bodyweight movement. Progress them with challenging exercises, single leg squats, single leg squats with a bookbag of books (for resistance), or have them start working with actual weights and a trained professional.
Here is a simple progression squat program for 8-year-olds to elite divers:
Wall sit –> Bodyweight squat –> Bodyweight squat with book bag –> Eccentric body weight single leg squat on bench (down on one leg, up with two) –> Single leg squat on bench –> Single leg squat (pistol) –> Single leg squat with book bag –>Single squat jump–>Repeated (bounded) squat jumps–>Resisted squat jumps–>Single leg squat jumps
Too often many steps in this series are skipped! If a diver can’t perform a single leg squat, I don’t think they should do repeated squat jumps!
3. Realistic and Specific Diving Dryland Repetitions
Divers don’t need a lot of endurance strength, so why are most programs focusing on poor form with endurance strength?
I have seen clubs perform over 200 squat jumps in a dryland session, then hop on the boards! This overuse not only increases injury risk, but impairs muscle development for gains. Programs should be periodized, working on phases of higher repetition volume (12+), moderate volume (6 – 8 reps), and low volume (3 – 4 reps). Staying at a high repetition volume increases endurance strength, which divers don’t need!
Use a periodized strength training approach (Table-1), working on variable repetition volume and appropriate intensity. See the chart below as your guideline.
4. Utilize Diving Dryland for Injury Prevention
Divers have a high injury prevalence at the low back, knee, foot/ankle, shoulder, wrist/hands…the list goes on. The high force creation on the board and overuse (which is necessary for learning precise biomechanics) increases the risk of injury.
A well-balanced dryland can help prevent these injuries, yet most dryland programs increase the injury risk. Abusive stretching, poor technique, heavy volume, and absent monitoring all increase injury risk. Remove these items and you’ll see a great reduction in injuries and improvement in performance, as pain negates strength and enjoyment.
More specific injury prevention should also be incorporated into the routine. Please consult a physical therapist for specific injury prevention exercises and technique (for Santa Clara Physical Therapy, don’t hesitate to contact COR :).
5. Multiplanar Core Stability
Stabilizing oneself on the landing of the diving take off requires high amounts of multiplanar core stability. During a take off OR as a diver takes off, their core must stabilize their hips and pelvis in all the planes of motion.
- Sagittal plane: prevent the diver from falling forward or backwards during the loading phase
- Frontal plane: prevent the diver from bending to the side during the approach and diving take off
- Transverse plane: prevent the diver from rotating on the diving take off
This complexity makes more than sit-ups, toe touches, and v-ups needed in your diving dryland program. If you are only doing flexion based exercises you are increasing your divers risk of low back pain and impairing their ability to generate power on the diving take off.
Keep your divers healthy with a multiplanar core diver dryland program and improve performance.
6. Agility Training
Agility training may sound silly, but diving does require fast feet. As the diver steps forward on the approach, they need fast feet for maximizing diving take off power. Watch the Olympics, the diver starts with slow steps, but boom, their start moving their feet quickly for a powerful take off. These fast steps provide momentum and help develop power for the approach. Even on backs, the diver must rapidly load the board or platform during their set-up. Agility training and footwork can help with acceleration of movement.
Agility training also builds body awareness and coordination. These tools become valuable if the diver does not land properly or has a slight misstep on the take off.
7. Work on Specific Mobility
Many programs provide nonspecific, gross mobility work. Unfortunately, many divers are hypermobile, a risk factor for low back pain and injury. Specific mobility routines are only needed for those lacking mobility. Here are the main mobility deficits I’ve seen:
Divers clearly need hip mobility. Mobile and flexible hips help the diver perform specific tucks and biomechanics in the air, but also the board. Elite divers take HUGE strides on the board, helping them develop velocity for generating power. If a diver is stiff in the hips, they can’t create long strides for speed and power generation on the boards.
If a diver lacks hip mobility, they also increase their risk of diving knee pain.
Most spinal mobility deficits occur in the midback (thoracic spine). If a diver has poor thoracic spine mobility, their back approaches will be limited. Improving this mobility can greatly improve entries and reduce water resistance and splash.
If a diver has poor flexion mobility (for tucks and flips), consider poor neural mobility. The spinal cord runs throughout the whole spine and when tucked this spinal cord and nerves are maximally stretched. If the spinal cord and peripheral nerves are not mobile, strong stretch sensations will be felt and impair tucking flexibility.
Ankle mobility restrictions can increase splash upon entry. Like the back, abusive stretching can increase injury, ankle sprain risk. Gentle stretching, combined with soft tissue therapy can increase ankle range of motion. Calf strength can also improve toe pointing and range of motion. Checkout these 10 tips for enhancing ankle mobility!
Improving shoulder mobility often ties with thoracic spine motion. Keeping strong and mobile shoulders is key for success and injury prevention. Many divers have over active upper trapezius muscles from frequent streamlining. Divers should work on relaxing these muscles, while strengthening the rest of the trapezius (mainly the lower trapezius).
Summary on Diving Dryland Tips
Teaching these concepts early in a diving career is essential for maximizing a diving take off. For elite divers, altering a diving approach would greatly impair their power as they have adapted to their individual technique. For young divers, incorporating proper squat and landing biomechanics is essential during diving dryland. Once accomplished, working on the other areas listed can further enhance a capacity for diving improvement.
Always remember, individual differences do exist and the translation of dryland and diving is indirect. Being good on dryland will not make you a good diver. Instead, improving the characteristics for enhancing diving performance on land can increase the diving potential. For example, if a diver can improve their diving take off and give themselves 12-18” or another half second 3 more seconds in the air for a diver, they have the potential of performing higher difficulty divers and scoring more points. Once again, the POTENTIAL! The practice on the boards takes the divers to the next level, but a proper diver dryland program can help them get there.
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Written by Dr. John Mullen, DPT, CSCS.