received e-mail from a guitarist asking about the safety
of weight training. He was told by many of his instructors
and friends that weight training, especially wrist curls,
would lead to carpal tunnel syndrome. This particular person
loved his three time per week exercise routine and was really
hesitant about stopping, but at the same time did not want
to risk injury to his hands nor face giving up playing guitar
because of injuries.
This e-mail brought up some very interesting questions
about exercising and playing music. This column will help
focus on some common misconceptions and explain the facts
about the importance of exercise routines and injury prevention.
First off, musicians are no different than any other human
being when it comes to exercise programs. In fact, if there’s
any group of people who need to learn more about exercise,
it is the musician population. The task of learning musical
pieces hour after hour takes a toll on the musculoskeletal
system. Exercise is critical to restore vitality and blood
flow to the overworked muscles and organs.
If performed correctly, exercise becomes a vital component
to the musician’s wellness program. The key here is
performing weight training “correctly.” Improper
training techniques can wind up in injuries that can hinder
performances and gigs. I recommend that if a musician is
considering a weight training and/or aerobic training program
that they consult with a personal trainer first to develop
a program tailored for their particular needs.
To obtain the best results from exercise routines, you
must first make a commitment to at least three days per
week of exercise. Anything less than this will give you
less than optimum results. On the other hand, during the
initial three to six months I would recommend no more than
4 days per week of exercise for someone who is deconditioned,
overweight, or has not exercised in a year or more. The
body needs a rest day in between routines to heal itself.
A musician should begin an exercise program that involves
both weight training and aerobic training. Weight training
comes in many forms; dumbbells, free-weights, nautilus,
cybex, universal, etc. For beginners, I often recommend
the weight machines like universal and nautilus since they
are easier to learn and maneuver. Aerobic exercise comes
in many forms as well. When most people think of aerobic
exercise, they envision men and women jumping and dancing
around an aerobics room.
This is only one form of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise
means to maintain your heart rate at an elevated level for
at least 20 minutes so the body enters into the aerobic
energy cycle which reduces body fat and strengthens the
heart. This can be done in a number of ways, such as via
a bicycle, treadmill, stair machine, swimming, “step”
classes, and traditional aerobics classes. Some sports activities
also bring your body into the aerobic range. These including
jogging, tennis, racquetball, squash, and cross-country
skiing to name a few.
While weight training, musicians should concentrate on
high repetition, low to medium weight exercises. Each set
of exercises should consist of 15 repetitions. If you feel
that you cannot attain 15 “reps” then you are
working with too much weight. Different musicians will need
different exercise regimens due to specific needs. Drummers
need a great deal of arm and leg strength, while cello players
need overall upper body strength. So your routine should
be tailored to the type of instrument you play.
I often recommend an overall exercise program that develops
the major muscle groups of the hands, forearms, arms, chest,
back, legs, calves, and abdominals. For example, I recently
gave this exercise program to a saxophonist. For forearm
strength, I prescribed wrist extension and flexion exercises.
To develop arm strength to hold the instrument I recommended
bicep and triceps exercises. For shoulder strength, I recommended
shoulder “flys” to develop the deltoids. For
chest strength, he began “benching” exercises
on the universal equipment and to balance the pectoralis
development, “seated rows” were implemented
to strengthen the upper back muscles. “Latissimus
pulldowns” were recommended for back support as were
four different abdominal muscle exercises. Leg press and
squat exercises were recommended to develop lower body strength.
Many of these terms may sound like a foreign language to
you, but don’t worry: they will be learned quickly
once you become aware of the equipment and become knowledgeable
about some muscle names.
Revisiting Our Guitarist
Getting back to the guitarist who e-mailed me about the
exercise program. I told him that there is nothing wrong
with exercise programs as long as the exercises are performed
correctly. I mentioned that he should avoid hyperflexing
his wrist while performing the wrist curls. Too much strain
on the wrist flexors can cause inflammation. But if wrist
curls are performed correctly, they are great at developing
the forearm muscles, which are very important for overall
hand strength and finger strength. Very importantly though,
is that he has to balance the wrist curls with exercises
that will strengthen the opposing muscle groups, such as
the finger extensors and wrist extensors.
Balance is very important in weight training. I advised
him to disregard his friends’ advise regarding avoiding
exercise. The body needs exercise to increase its function
and health. It sounds like his instructors and friends needed
some guidance in this aspect. Hopefully they will read this
article and begin learning more about the importance of
exercise for the musician.
The “Musician Athlete”
Did you realize that as a musician you are a professional
athlete? Consider how much muscle activity goes into practicing
and performing your music. How many hours per day do you
use your arms and hands to play music? You must train your
body to achieve this high level of activity just as if you
were training for the Olympic Games. If you are serious
about your profession, then become serious about your body.
You can only play as well as your body is able. Many musicians
develop painful repetitive strain injuries simply because
their bodies were not conditioned enough to put in the many
hours of strenuous muscular activity. Begin your exercise
program today. You will not only see a change in your health,
but also your attitude, your vitality, your happiness, and
your music playing.