Resurfacing the Forgotten Tradition of Underwater Training
A Dream Come True
Legendary big wave surfer Laird Hamilton and his friends are famous for training their minds and bodies by holding onto weights and walking along the bottom of the ocean and swimming pools. For over a year I really, really wanted to try underwater training myself, but couldn’t find the chance.
Then, this September, it happened.
While visiting family in lake country in Northwestern Quebec, I finally had my chance. The conditions were perfect: a lake that was about the right depth, a mostly smooth muddy bottom for walking along, and plenty of rocks to be carried underwater.
I was breathless with anticipation to give underwater training a go.
Reintroducing a Forgotten Sport
When I told my uncle about my underwater training plans, I expected him to either laugh at me or give me a strange look. Wrong! He wasn’t taken aback at all. It was me who was taken aback by his response.
He told me he and his friends used to do underwater training all the time at hunt camp. It was a tradition his older friends had passed on to him and went back for generations.
Somehow this tradition had almost been left to sink the bottom of the lake. It turned out it was time to resurface underwater training, with a twist.
“The Rock Dock Sweat Your Socks Off” Underwater Workout
My cousin Gord joined me on this breathless attempt to resuscitate water walking from the depths of obscurity. Here’s what we did, and why we called it the “Rock Dock Sweat Your Socks Off” underwater workout:
We used a rock that weighed about 30 pounds. Since we’d never tried underwater training before, we didn’t know if that was an appropriate weight or not, but it turned out to be about the perfect size. It was heavy enough to quickly drag us to the bottom of the lake, but light enough so we could just get our heads above the surface to breathe by holding it and jumping off the bottom.
Starting from the dock, we cradled the rock to our chests with both arms, and walked along the bottom of the lake to and from the raft floating 150 feet (40 meters) away.
The technique was to sink to the bottom, take three or four steps, jump up hard enough to get our heads above the water, desperately take a breath, then sink back down repeat. The challenge was to walk underwater to the raft and back in as few breaths as possible.
The water at the dock was only about chest high, so initially we’d bend over to walk submerged. That was easy. But as the water got deeper, up to about 13 feet at the raft, it got hard. And scary.
Sweat Your Socks Off
Since the cool weather and waters of fall had arrived early, we added a twist to traditional underwater training. We incorporated another longstanding tradition: the sauna.
While either Gord or I was water walking, the other was warming up and catching his breath in the sauna.
Hot/cold. Breathless/breath-full. It was a new type of interval workout.
We planned on doing five rounds each…
But we only survived three and a half.
As ex-competitive swimmers, Gord and I thought water walking would come easily to us. Uh-uh. It brought back in us a fear of drowning and respect for the water that we hadn’t felt since we were little kids wearing water wings.
At times we were so desperate for breath we had to cheat and use one of our arms that was supposed to be cradling the rock to desperately propel ourselves above water for a breath. We also each dropped the rock once or twice so as to float on the top and regroup.
By the time either of us got back to the sauna to switch out, our hearts were racing and we were gassed.
Underwater training may have got the best of us this time, but we haven’t given up. We’re keen to give water walking another go, finish those five rounds, then see how far and deep we can go.
Let’s Bring Underwater Training Back!
If you’re comfortable in the water and looking to challenge your mind and body in new ways, grab something heavy, put on goggles and a swimsuit, and give water walking a try. Let’s keep the tradition alive!
Prefer to Stay Afloat?
If you’re not holding your breath about the idea of trying this underwater rock walking workout, you might want to try this above-water pool circuit workout instead, or try some of these above-ground rock exercises.