How does Weightlifting affect the singing voice?
I think I hit the jackpot with a hot topic here. We seem to have a
lot of buff singers, especially tenors, out there on Choralist! Here
are replies to my question about a weightlifting tenor whose voice
doesn't blend when he works out right before Madrigals rehearsal.
Some emphasized breathing, some emphasized lifting-technique, some
were discouraging, most were encouraging. A variety of levels of
expertise, too! I've forwarded most of these to my student.
Thanks to all:
>The secret is to attack the problem of building tension while
>lifting. The problem is the incorrect breathing technique while
>lifting most likely. If he breathes correctly as if he were
>singing, It will increase his ability to lift (somtimes as much as
>40 lbs on the bench) and will eliminate the storage of tension while
>singing. The increase in aerobic capacity should help both the music
>and the athletics. Tell him to turn his head during lifts, breath
>correctly while lifting, and it should help both areas.
Earl G. Presley, MM, BMEd.
Brenham High School, Brenham TX
>As a weighlifting bass baritone, I can advise you to tell your
>student to first of all make sure he is exhaling as he lifts and not
>holding his breath. That severe breath compression from holding the
>breath as one lifts really agravates the tightness of the throat.
>Secondarily, I would also suggest that he do a brief cool down at
>the end of his workout, some stretching and some relaxed deep
>breathing to loosen things back up. Also, if he or all of you can do
>some easy breath warm ups (sighs, etc) right before rehearsal, that
>may also help him.
>I have found weight training to be very helpful to my singing on the
>whole, though I too had to buy a new tail coat.
Dr. Curt Scheib
Chair - Division of Visual and Performing Arts
Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA 15601
>Tell your tenor to concentrate on his breathing
>when he lifts. Sometimes lifters hold their breathe with glottal pressure
>instead of releasing during the lift. It would be a good time to discuss
>good diaphragmatic breathing which he will find to be more powerful in the
>gym than clivicular breathing.
Orange Coast College
>My graduate student (Melissa Wieczorek) suggests that he is closing
>his throat at the larynx when he lifts, rather than exhaling during
>the exertion part of the lift/push/pull. Sounds good to me, but what
>do I know ... I'm not exactly a weight lifted myself :)
Eric Stark, D.M.
Assistant Professor of Music, Butler University
Artistic Director, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir
>My trainer says to exhale on each excertion. That should relieve some of
>the tension buildup. I sing in the DAle Warland Singers and work out every
>other day, and make a point of exhaling-I am singing better than ever.
Director of Music
>I ran into the same problem earlier this year. My football players have a
>mandatory lifting session in the hour preceding Glee Club rehearsals. We
>discovered, by accident, that if the guys will "ooh" and "aah" very quietly
>in head voice, including some vocal sighs, in the 15 minutes or so that they
>have between the two activities, the strident quality of the sound is
>controlled much better. One of the guys also tells me that he has to
>readjust the way he breathes. He does this by hissing as evenly as possible
>over 4, 8, 12, & 16 beats (paced by his walking to rehearsal).
Assistant Professor of Music
Hampden-Sydney College, VA 23943
>To begin with, he needs to find another time to lift. Lifting before
>rehearsals will always be a problem. Not only with this throat, but his
>abdomen, back, shoulders and chest must be free to open and expand, and they
>won't if the are are tight, or worn out.
>Also, tell him not to grunt or set his breath in his throat while lifting.
>This is a must! He can damage his voice doing that, as it puts a lot of
>pressure and tension in the throat. Rather, have him expel the breath
>deeply, pushing out with his abdomen, sounding a little like Darth Vader.
>That should help keep his throat more relaxed, and stress and tension away
>from the area. It will probably be the opposite of the manner in which he
>breathes to sing, but unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about
>that, if his heart is set on lifting weights.
Craig D. Collins
Director of Music Ministry
Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, NCNC 28031
>I'm not sure how much this suggestion might help or if you have
>already tried this. But you might want to simply focus on some deep
>breathing relaxation techniques, almost meditative. I find myself
>tense after a workout or a jog etc. But usually after 5 to 10
>minutes of focused relaxation I find myself in a much better state
>to work vocally, or on anything for that matter.
>Perhaps also your group would be comfortable doing a massage circle
>as part of the warm up. I know these are common place in high
>school so having one in college may not pose to much of a problem.
>I'd say the main emphasis must be that this is guided meditation or
>focused meditation. If you simply try to sit quietly and hope to
>relax nothing will happen. From my Experience.
Nicholas D. Mercier
Student, Crane School of Music
>The problem most likely stems from improper lifting technique. This can be
>overcome with proper instruction. It is inadvisable for singers to attempt
>to build up the neck muscles as such. Only wrestlers and football players
>have an actual need for strenghthening this area. It also looks ridiculous.
>Tell the singer he should concentrate workouts on the chest and legs.
>Abdominal work can improve breath support. Extensive work on the stairmaster
>improves gluteal definition which would be more likely to attract the
>favorable attention of the opposite sex, assuming that this is his goal.
Tenor/Bodybuilder and Neurologist
>The problem is "effort closure" caused by the fact the vocal folds have a
>sphincter use in the body to balance the lifting of heavy objects. You
>can look in the vocal therapy literature under "effort closure" and share
>this with him. The use of light weights can actually help as long as
>they are under two lbs. But heavy weights changes the purpose of the
>chords from vibrating folds to the same purpose as other sphincters on the
>body which is to hold something back.
Ray Evans Harrell, teacher of vocal anatomy
The Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble, Inc.
>As a voice teacher, it is my opinion that you won't be able to keep it from
>affecting his singing. If he wants to keep that area around his vocal
>mechanism free, he's really going to have to limit the type and extent of
>lifting he does. As a high school kid, he doesn't have the fine muscle
>memory to be able to relax that area at will, even if he doesn't stress it.
>Ask him to think about how long it took him to learn how to (fill in a sport
>here...) and the point will be made. Also, the finer the motor skill, the
>longer it takes to get mastery of it.
>Ask him to concentrate on areas that don't stress his throat too much. (And
>I know how hard that will be - I teach HS kids, too and I have a son who's a
>senior.) Another consideration is the difficulty of managing the tenor
>voice anyway, even if you're an adult. It's a tough voice to keep loose and
Unitarian Universalist Church, NH
>Boy, do you have a problem. I assume you know the
>physiology of the voice. Weight-lifting can devastate
>a post adolescent voice. The male voice really doesn't
>settle until late 20's or early 30's. The BEST thing
>he could do is NOT weight-train just before rehearsal.
>The fine muscle control needed for intonation, tone
>control, well... singing, is fatigued and unresponsive
>after such activity. Laryngologists I have talked with
>advise 12 hours of rest following strenuous activity
>like weight-training. SERIOUS damage can be done if he
>continues. I'm afraid he must choose one or the other
Alvarado High School, TX
>If Steve's neck isn't relaxing after lifting it's because he hasn't
>stretched it properly which can be harmful not only to his voice but
>his muscles as well. Stretching will allow him to relax any area he
>worked while using weights (provided he does the right stretches)
>and as an added bonus will eliminate most of that "morning after"
>soreness. I work out regularly and used to have a personal trainer
>who insisted I stretch out thoroughly after each excercise. I found
>I could excercise (including lifting) longer and with better form
>and I wasn't achey the next day even though I was still seeing
>results. Perhaps Steve could speak with a physical therapist or
>personal trainer to learn some good neck and shoulder relaxing
>stretches. Keeping in mind that if you don't stretch each muscle
>(including each arm) for 30 seconds at least, it doesn't do a lot of
Six To Six Interdistrict Magnet School, CT 06610
> I am a tenor and have been lifting rather seriously for about
>After any physical workout, cardio or lifting, I find I am in especially
>good condition to sing - my range is extra ordinary along with exceptional
>breath economy. This is to say that your student is participating in an
>activity will make him, physically, a better singer! However, that does not
>equate to musicianship - manipulating the voice organ to compensate for
>blend and balance are musicianship qualities.
> After his workout his adrenaline is pumping and mega amounts of
>endorphins have been released into his body to compensate for stress he has
>just asked his body to accept. He may benefit from spending at least half
>of his work out time at the end performing some centering stretching. This
>will calm him and allow him to refocus his mind and body to the next tasks
> Short of that he will have to monitor his level of tension and adjust as
>any musician should - musically!
>Nina, what an interesting predicament you have. My name is Aaron Sala,
>a tenor from Hawai'i, and I also work out. The challenge is that after
>working out, those muscles that were worked on are tight (not to mention
>the heart beats faster, metabolism is going crazy, etc.). There are 2 ways
>to release that tension: 1. time; and 2. stretching and stretching and
>stretching and stretching (which takes time). Is there no way for him to
>train his body to be energized enough to work out at a different time?
Just food for thought,
>I have been lifting weights for many years now. Just as with any
>activity, the muscles in the neck and throat will swell with intense
>exercise. This is likely the problem. It should however not effect
>his voice...I sang with the St. Olaf Choir for 4 years while
>lifting. You just need to find time to either let the body fall out
>of the "burn" (swelling of the muscles) (a few hours) or lift after
>I had this same problem in college. The way I got around it was to slowly
>move my head and and chin left and right during warmups. What also might
>help is to have him his upper body workout frist and finish with legs. It
>might give him a little more time to let his neck relax.
MVAO High School, IA
BREATHING *AND* LIFTING TECHNIQUE
>One of the by-products of weight training is a great deal of glottal strain.
>This comes from holding back a tremendous amount of sub-glottal air pressure
>with the vocal folds creating the weight lifters grunt. You may find that
>your student may lessen this strain by keeping a steady stream of air moving
>as he lifts. He may feel that he can't do quite as much weight this way
>because the body isn't quite as energized but it will help protect the voice.
>This comes from a choral director who also likes to do resistance exercises.
>We have had some problems with this from time to time and after some
>study found that the problem is in his weight-lifting technique. He is
>probably holding his breath while lifting weights rather than exhaling.
>He needs to work on that as well as work on some stretching of his upper
>body before rehearsals .
>Hope this helps.
>Steve will need to adhere to some basic rules of weightlifting in order to
>solve this problem. First of all, when you lift weights, the cardinal rule
>is to keep breathing normally. The tendency is to hold the breath, which
>puts undue strain on the body, even causing hernias. A normal breathing
>rhythm can help keep the larynx free from pressure.
>Second, pause often to drink water.
>Third, try some "cool down" time with basic yoga relaxation exercises. Since
>these are very mental and involve the breath, they can relax the body in ways
>nothing else can. If he doesn't know yoga, I urge him to learn some.
>You can also include some basic standing yoga stretches into your vocal
>warm-ups with your group. There are some that free the neck and shoulders,
>and some that open the rib cage and hence the lungs. Find a yoga teacher to
>help you with this. I find that the breathing of my singers really improves
>when I add a few seconds of yoga to their warm-ups, just from a couple of
>standing stretches. I recommend them highly!
> In the first edition of Larra Browning Henderson's How to Train Singers
>she mentions weight lifting as a potential for vocal damage because the
>cricoid muscles which support the vocal chords are unduly strengthened.
>The vocal chords are closed tightly cutting off air escaping from the
>lungs. In doing so, the torso is stiffened. She recommends moderate
>weights without specifying what weights are appropriate.
> When I first read this admonition years ago, I remember the vocal sound
>of the Gymnast Mary Lou Retten which, while she was competing was rather
>Chip or Dale-like. If you remember, her neck a upper body was very
>muscular as was, no doubt her glottis.
> Your Steve will need to warm down before he warms up. Again,
>How to Train Singers (Parker Publishing) is very good for this. Her
>to treat vocal nodes (an vocal stress in general) should be beneficial.
>Head/neck rolling could also releave some tension as would slow (MM60 or
>slower) voiceless recitation of hhhah, hhhhheh, hhhee, hhhoh,hhhoo to help
>warm and relax the cricoid muscles. I should think forward tongue-rolls
>(tip of tongue at back of bottom teeth, rolling tongue forward while swing
>jaw slightly down while vocalizing Gah 3 or 4 times) should be a help as
>well. All of this, of course, presupposes proper diaphamatic breathing.
Stephen A. Stomps
Auburn High School Choirs, NY
>I have been a weight
>lifter/singer for over 30 years, and still love both.
>I suspect Stever is very young and just developing technique in both of
>these areas. I would encourage him to have someone check his breathing with
>his lifting. At NO TIME should he be holding his breath. During the
>exertion phase, he should be exhaling. In order to increase energy and
>efficiency, he should also learn to expand the lower abdominal area when he
>inhales for weight trainging, just as he does for singing. Unless he's
>training for football, I also question whether he should be doing exercises
>specifically for his neck.
>As former collegiate athlete who majored in music ed/voice perf, I
>also found it difficult to lift and sing in close proximity.
>What I discovered is that I "grunted" or "pressed/stressed" my
>cords, and vocal track whenever I lifted a weight, be it light or
>optimal. I had to consicously change this habit- as I believe now
>that the "grunt" is not needed, as it just a habit that we "think"
>we athletes should do- to simply exhaling sharply through [u] shaped
>lips and puffed cheeks, as if I were inflating a balloon.
>It took all the pressure off the larynx, and allowed me to be less
>fatigued vocally, to boot. If he works hard to change the habit,
>then he should be in fine vocal shape coming to rehearsal, with a
>relaxed larynx, yet a "juiced" body.
Sounds like we have some useful experience and expertise among us!
Again, many thanks.
| Nina Gilbert
| Director of Choral Activities, Lafayette College
| Easton, Pennsylvania 18042-1768
| phone 610-330-5677
| fax 610-330-5058