How Fit Is Your Vocal Instrument: The Top 8 Fit Factors For Keeping Your Voice Healthy

 

Your voice is an instrument housed inside your body. The state of your body affects the state of your voice. I tell my students all the time that singers are “athletes of the small muscles of the voice and breathing.” But as a vocal athlete, your focus needs to extend beyond your vocal cords. From the benefits of aerobic training, to the advantages of stretching, yoga, alignment and mind/body connection exercises, to a good solid vocal technique, here’s how to maximize your voice and build your performance stamina while you polish your image. Not only will a strong vocal health regimen help you achieve the superstar looks that will carry you through the summer’s skimpier outdoor music fest wardrobe, it will prep your body for the grueling challenges of performing in the heat and humidity. Seriously dedicated to re-sculpting your body? Then here’s what you need to know about how singers work out and the right approaches to weight lifting.

1. Stretching & Yoga Prevent Injury and Keep You Young.

It’s a fact: Yoga (when executed correctly) prevents injury. Hot yoga is a popular brand of yoga called Bikram. Rooms are kept at warm to hot temperatures, which relaxes muscles and improves your stretch (and prevents injury). I’ve been doing yoga almost all my life now, and it not only keeps you young, it helps prevent physical and vocal injury. My singers who do yoga stay in shape much longer and have healthier singing careers – just look at Madonna and Sting. Both devoted yogini’s in their 50’s and 60’s with no vocal problems and toned fit bodies.

2. Weight lifting is Good For Singers.

But you have to know HOW to lift without tightening muscles. Singers need strong pectorals and abdominal muscles to support the singing voice. The pectorals are the only muscles that anchor the larynx so having strong pecs is non-negotiable to a strong voice. Often times we have to stretch them out first as most people’s pectorals are too tight, causing the shoulder to round forward, which in turn creates a weaker vocal instrument. It’s super important to use the right form when lifting weights as not doing so can cause injury. One way is to be sure that your back is supported (lie down) when doing arm raises or for any repetitions involving your shoulders or arms. And then be sure to stretch after weight lifting to avoid contraction (and soreness too!)

3. Pilates strengthens abdominal muscles – the singer’s way.

Six-pack abs are a hit at the beach. But, believe it or not, not all toned abs are created equal. More often than not, people do abdominal crunches to strengthen these muscles. While it may LOOK nice, it’s actually the exact opposite of what a singer needs to support a healthy voice. Pilates LENGTHEN abdominal muscles while strengthening them. Crunches TIGHTEN these muscles, thereby actually weakening your overall vocal instrument.

4. Aerobics get your heart pumping (and those all-important lungs too).

Cardiovascular health is crucial for singers for more than one reason. First off, good conditioning is required to perform an entire set with highest performance quality in mind. The benefits your lungs receive from aerobic exercise are also a huge help for breath control. Swimming, running, jogging and walking are all great ways to get aerobic exercise. Some performers have even been known to sing while on the treadmill to improve vocal strength. Swimming is the ideal exercise for a lunch workout and it helps to elongate vocal muscles.

5. Take a deep breath…

Kundalini Yoga or Pranayama give you the benefits of yoga, with some other nice extras as well. The combination of yoga postures with pranayama breathing purifies the body and helps you to breathe more deeply. Golden Bridge Yoga in both New York and LA are highly recommended locations for Kundalini Yoga.

6. Get into alignment with Alexander Training.

When I’m fixing a voice and it’s in an optimal condition, I still have to help realign the physical body and voice for better vocal production. How the voice makes sound is a coordination between air and muscle. We need to re-align the physical body with the voice so that the overall production is better. Alexander training (originally developed by singers for singers and actors) plays a huge role in this process.

7. Feldenkrais – feels subtle, but makes a huge difference.

Feldenkrais releases deep tensions in the body, thereby softening the muscles, ligaments and connective tissues through a series of small, subtle movements.

8. Stress Reduction – a little relaxation goes a long way. Warm baths, lavender essential oil on your pillow at night, balms, massage and meditation (even if for only 5 minutes at a time) are all great methods for relieving stress – especially while on tour. Practice some (or all) of these to help yourself get more relaxed in your body overall and to reduce

Warm baths, lavender essential oil on your pillow at night, balms, massage and meditation (even if for only 5 minutes at a time) are all great methods for relieving stress – especially while on tour. Practice some (or all) of these to help yourself get more relaxed in your body overall and to reduce the stress that could damage your voice.

How are you keeping your voice healthy? Share below.

  • Thanks Cari for this great info. I will share it with my students and vocal colleagues. I am a Bikram yoga nut, and have long espoused the benefits to vocalists of taking care of their bodies. We carry our instrument with us, everywhere we go!

  • Thank you for great info Cari! I do some of most of these. I also like doing tongue stretching exercises throughout the day. I find it’s a good indicator of how tense I may be anywhere else too. Thanks again!

  • Cari ~ You have THE BEST information! I have only been following you a month or so but I look forward to your tips in my email box.

    I am in the midst of recovering from vocal fatigue – my ENT just found a vocal node – and, while so difficult to cut out of gigs and stop talking for one month may be on my ego, I am now more open to hear all the tips and tricks necessary to keep me healthy and keep a sustainable singing career. Your Whole Foods/natural foods shopping list is a MUST.

    Deeply learning that just because you have a voice and can sing doesn’t mean it will always be that way. Just turned thirty-six and still learning, still soaking it all up…

    So much aloha for your gifts to me and so many others!

  • Excellent advice Cari. I’ve spent most of my adult life in the singing profession but only discovered the benefits of drinking Aloe Vera for maintaining a strong immune system 6 years ago when I changed direction and started my own business with Forever Living. Great company, great products. If using your voice is your livelihood my advice would be – drink Aloe – it’s your natural ‘health insurance’

  • Frederick

    Hi Cari,

    Great Article! I’ve actually just started lessons and found this information very helpful. Especially sense I lift weights, I have been discouraged about the fact that I had to choose one over the other. If you have and more advice concerning that I would love to hear it. But my question revolves around the pectoral muscles and just how they operate more in detail with the larynx. I would to love to hear more.