Exercise Habits for the Singer
What other habits have you integrated into your daily routine unrelated to the actual act of singing, especially regarding physical fitness. (I’ve already seen some general guidelines like drinking enough, being aware of surrounding noise, etc., so I’m more intrigued to know more about the physical exercise part)
Regarding physical fitness or non-singing exercise, I feel this is very important. We must do what is necessary to stay healthy. Exercise and athletics is something that I am passionate about to an almost equal level as singing. So I have spent a lot of time studying and learning about the various aspects involved.
I often say that our body is our instrument. If that is the case then we must take care of it. Truly, as a singer we are professional athletes. We use our body in complex coordination to fulfill our activities. This makes it important for us to maximize the potential of our body to meet the challenges we will face.
There are many opinions regarding physical exercise for singers. I try to keep a practical perspective on most topics. And I certainly apply that attitude to exercise.
I’ve actually wanted to write on this topic for a long time because of several reasons:
First, simply because of my interest and what I’ve learned over the years of researching what health is and how to keep it. I want to share that with others. I have been physically active my whole life, and if I wasn’t a singer/voice trainer I would be a Basketball coach.
Second, because there is an epidemic of unhealthy and/or overweight people in our society, including the singing community. For many because they just don’t know any better. Much of the cause is because of a lack of importance placed on it in our society.
Third, much like I observe in the vocal world, the information that is presented to us by mainstream sources is backwards. Not only is it ineffective, it can actually cause the problems we are trying to avoid. There is definitely a certain amount of “conflict of interest” in the world, which affects the information we are given.
Because of these reasons I intend this post to be the first of ongoing discussion on this topic. Think of it as “Health and Fitness Wisdom for Vocalists.”
I want to start by disputing the common opinion, at least in Classical singing, that exercise should be moderate, or even avoided, or else it could be bad for the voice. My experience has been just the opposite.
It makes no sense at all to think that a person needs to be less healthy to be a good singer. This is especially related to the issues of being overweight and weightlifting. These are the two issues that have the most frequent false opinions given.
The first issue of being overweight is a complicated one. Or at least it is made complicated by the various opinions that dominate what we read and hear. This is especially true in the Classical Singing world.
One thing I want to make clear is we don’t need to be skinny. That is a common response when the issue of weight comes up. Because what we see in the media is skinny models and actresses. But that is not what healthy looks like.
And that is really the bottom line goal – to be healthy. If our body is our instrument it needs to be healthy to best fulfill our intentions. Like most things we talk about, we need to define what we mean.
So let’s define “healthy” as well-functioning body systems. This covers the whole of our body, including the heart pumping blood, the respiration of the lungs, the blood itself, digestion, nutrition, hormones. This list certainly doesn’t cover everything.
So if we look again at being overweight we can see that it is an issue of a couple of our systems not functioning as well as we would like. Our body stores excess fat because of several reasons, usually having to do with how our body digests certain types of food and what our body uses for fuel. Exercise comes into the situation because that is a way to increase the burning of that fuel.
Hormones can have an effect too, as can I’m sure other things that I don’t know about. Generally it is recommended to eat fewer calories than we burn in order to lose weight. If we take in more than we use the body will store the excess as fat.
Unfortunately, that is an over-simplification. The basic premise is true, but there are differences in how the body uses different kinds of calories. The details of this are beyond this article, but we will cover some of the basic principles of nutrition in the future.
For now I just want to go over some ideas for physical activity that are possibilities.
As a starting point it is good to understand the principle of progressive exertion. This basically is the process of gradually increasing the intensity, or demand, of the exercise to challenge the body to acclimate. This acclimation is what we call an increase in fitness.
A good base to start from is walking. Everyone should be walking, regardless of level of fitness. For those starting out it is a great way to begin laying a foundation of fitness.
For those already physically active walking acts as a great stimulus for circulation to help the body recover from more intense exertion. For example if you are experiencing muscle soreness walking will help keep the circulation active to bring nourishment to the affected areas without causing more breakdown.
Walking is the main exercise prescribed to cardiac patients for rehabilitation. And in the same way I use rehabilitative exercises in my voice training as a kind of “pre-hab”, we should do the same with physical exercise.
Walking may very well be the best, or at least the most important, exercise we can do. The recommendations we hear in the media or from advertisements for exercise products lead us to believe we need to be exerting ourselves intensely for 20-30 minutes a day. Some even say 45-60 minutes every day.
The problem with this is it ignores how our body wants to work. Our body generally prefers to exert and then recover. At least it has been shown that the body operates best with this routine.
Walking acts as a baseline for our exertion. The purpose isn’t to “get the heat-rate up”, but just to move while still being comfortable. This makes it something that just about anyone can do.
If you happen to not be able to walk, then you should try to do the closest thing you are capable of. Possibly by starting with whatever you can do you will gradually regain the ability to walk. (Obviously I’m not talking about people who have permanently lost the ability to walk through disease or severe injury)
This is the first step in our theory of progressive exertion. And it doesn’t only apply to the long-term process, but also to the daily process. We should start our daily exertion with easy activity like walking to get the circulation moving. Then we can progress to higher levels of exertion like resistance exercise or running, depending on where we are in our development process.
In future articles I’ll talk about ways we can progress to higher levels of exertion to continue the process of physical fitness.
For now I encourage you to start a habit of regular walking. Just do what you can, don’t feel you have to do it everyday. But encourage yourself to do it as much as you can.
And remember it doesn’t have to be speed walking or walking with hand weights. We aren’t trying to make this into higher intensity exercise. This is supposed to be easy. We are laying the foundation of real fitness.
Higher intensity exertion without a foundation of easy activity will result in breaking down the body. We need to be emphasizing recuperation first so the body has a good ability to recover from the higher intensity exercise we’ll be doing in the future.
I know that we often feel like we aren’t doing anything worthwhile if we don’t feel gassed after. But just trust the process. The idea is to increase our fitness level without damaging our body.
Challenge yourself to take this step and see what happens. Sometimes it is the easy stuff that is the hardest to do. Good luck!
And let me know in the comments below if you decide to take this step in the right direction. Thanks.