The Importance of Exercise for Musicians
C.P.P.R – Condition, Prepare, Play, Recover.
Most musicians just play – until they can’t. Exercise can not only minimise pain or injury, but improve performance and prolong careers.
The Verbier Festival is an international classical music event which hosts orchestral concerts, performed every night, and afternoons, over an three-week period each summer in Verbier, Switzerland. It was a few weeks ago, and brought people from all of the World.
The audiences witness these talented musicians playing at more than 100 masterclasses, rehearsals and performances. Yet for all the music-making, there's an unspoken consensus about the impact of the number of hours played can have on the musicians health. Unlike dancers, a musician’s physical appearance has not historically been important to the final product of the artistic performance. Hence, fitness has not been in the forefront of musicians’ training.
For some musicians, injuries can cause major problems particularly when performing, like professional athletes.
Musicians could suffer from a wide range of injuries depending on their instrument of choice. For instance, a violinist may suffer from a rotator cuff impingement or cervical (neck) pain, equally a bass player may suffer from elbow tendinitis. Being highly skilled and well trained, does not unfortunately mean you have less chances of suffering from an injury.
WHAT EXERCISES CAN A MUSICIAN DO TO HELP THEIR FITNESS?
Exercise can be broken down into two types– cardiovascular fitness and strength. The W.H.O exercise guidelines recommend a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise and two additional strength training sessions involving major muscle groups.
Any gains in strength are made by challenging your body to respond to a load greater than it is used to – challenging but realistic. You have to start low and slow, and build up to your goal. Musicians use this concept when training too, as no one starts playing with a concerto, you must first learn the scales. Cardiovascular fitness is gained, depending on your physical ability, by activities like walking, running or swimming, but all should be approached carefully and built on gradually.
Simple bodyweight exercises like calf rises, squats, bridges, dips and push ups are enough to get you going and improve your general strength. It is then possible to progress to resistance bands or small weights such as dumbbells. This will in turn reduce fatigue and pain – and often, improve performance!
SHOULD MUSICIANS PHYSICALLY WARM UP?
A general body warmup before playing, like you would before a sport, will increase your muscle and body temperature to avoid injury. Basic arm circles, spinal rotations and leg swings are an easy and effective way to begin.
Ways of recovering are rarely seen amongst the musicians. A few simple things such as hydration, nutrition, simple stretches and ‘mental cool downs’ are proven sports practices based on a vast amount of research. Sleep is a significant topic of current research and specifically for musicians has been rarely measured nor discussed.