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Singers As Athletes
By Dagmar Morgan - 08/28/2002 - 12:51 PM EDT

Have you ever heard the phrase “ My body is my instrument”? I have some actor friends that have used it. I thought I understood what it meant but it wasn’t until I started to really work at my technique that I truly understood. I somehow hadn’t made the connection between muscle control and hitting high notes, etc. My first vocal teacher gets full credit for showing me how training these muscles effectively can be equated to being an athlete (Thanks Shannon).

My last article covered the basics of health. What the general population should be doing to maintain reasonable health and wellness. As vocalists/musicians, the expectations we place on our bodies during practice and performance means we require more focus on our physical health to guarantee longevity and technical accuracy. In this installment, I’ll explain how being a vocalist/musician can be compared to being an athlete.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines an athlete as a person possessing the natural or acquired traits, such as strength, agility, and endurance, that are necessary for physical exercise or sports - especially those performed in competitive contexts. Let’s look at the physical requirements of a vocalist.

What parts of the body are used and how do we use them?
During singing you use the buttocks, the hips, lower abdominals, upper abdominals, the diaphragm, the lungs, the rib cage, the neck, the vocal folds, the jaw, the tongue, facial muscles (mask area) and the lips. The diaphragm firms out; the buttocks and hips remain loose and free; the lungs and rib cage fill with air and move out side ways; the neck stays loose; the jaw drops open; the tongue and lips articulate sound and the mask area anchors the sound forward by moving up into a sneer like position. Now when I say "Go use them all together with good technique, power and make it look easy! Ready ...and GO!" (Hee-Hee), the truth is, that is exactly what you have to do. Looking at the definition of an athlete and the above vocal information, it is clear that acquiring the ability to co-ordinate the voice to move through high and low notes; to sing at slow and fast tempos as well as softly and loudly for long periods of time, makes singers similar to athletes.

Athletes are required to work at a fairly high intensity on a regular basis to ensure that they can get what they need form their bodies and skills when they need it. Vocalists/musicians have to do the same. Let’s do a direct comparison between what an athlete and vocalist would perform for training in a week. For the purpose of this article I have asked accomplished Marathoner (Canadian International, New York City Marathon) and Nurse, Julie Simard in Ontario, Canada to share her off-season training schedule.

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – 5 mile run, long cool down and full body stretch
Total Time = 1hr. 35 minutes
Thursday – Cross Training – (swim, bike, cycle) light weights, long cool down and full body stretch
Total Time = 1 hr. 35 minutes
Friday - 4 mile run, lightweights, long cool down, full body stretch.
Total Time = 1 hr. 20 minutes
Saturday – Long run (11miles), long cool down, full body stretch
Total Time = 2 hrs.
Sunday - Rest

Simard spends a total of 9 hrs. per week training to maintain a base level of fitness. This training is bumped up significantly when it comes time to train for a race.

As a vocalist I exercise in conventional ways to maintain my base level of health but I also have to train my voice. I don’t keep track of miles - I use time instead. Here is a typical week of my training schedule.

Monday – Run 40 minutes, Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch before my 2-hour practice
Total Time = 3 hrs 10 minutes
Tuesday – Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch, 2 hr, practice
Total Time = 2 ˝ hrs.
Wednesday - Run 40 minutes, Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch before my 2-hour practice
Total Time = 3 hrs 10 minutes
Thursday - Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch, 2 hr, practice
Total Time = 2 ˝ hrs.
Friday - Run 40 minutes, Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch before my 2-hour practice
Total Time = 3 hrs 10 minutes
Saturday - Pilate’s/yoga 30 minutes, full body stretch, 2 hr. practice
Total Time = 2 ˝ hrs.
Sunday – Rest

I spend a total of 16 + hours a week training my voice and body. I maintain this schedule to perform two-nights per week for 3-4 hrs each night. If I were preparing to tour, I would bump up my training schedule as well.

Comparing the two routines, you have to consider that Julie Simard is running a 9 minute mile (that’s fast). She works at high intensity for a shorter period and I work at an easier intensity and clock more hours. Although being on stage for 3 hours can feel like a marathon, there are differences. Let me make it clear why I used this comparison in the first place: I wanted to use an obvious example of an athlete and show you the similarities in time investment, training for muscle control, strength, agility and endurance.

Now before you strap on your blades or throw on your runners, there are a few things to consider. Over our conversation, Julie and I agreed that it should be made clear that things like cardio endurance, strength etc. are acquired over time. Proper technique and equipment in physical activity and voice are mandatory. Over doing it and improper equipment could leave you injured and forced to stop doing what you love. This time off to heal can be temporary or permanent. Never take chances with your body or your voice!

The next article will talk about starting a cardio routine and it will include tips to buy proper equipment for an assortment of cardio activities along with how to develop a routine that will get you safe, efficient results.

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