I’ll preface this by saying that the BEST exercise for YOU is the exercise you enjoy doing! However here is a breakdown on recommended types of exercise (and why they’re so good!)
On the Matt (great for balance, relaxation and full body strength)
What is it: Pilates
Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a convert to this one. Due to scoliosis, I’ve had back and shoulder pain for many years and Pilates is now my best friend. If I don’t do it, I feel 100 years old- stiff, in pain and tense. If I do it regularly, I feel pretty wonderful most of the time. It really has been a game changer.
Why its so good: Pilates strengthens the body in an even, balanced way. It’s been designed for the ‘modern’ body and there are modifications for people with physical limitations and injuries. Pilates helps to reduce tension and tension spreads- to the shoulders, neck and voice! So craning to look at your smartphone or laptop for hours WILL impact your voice. Pilates can help you find balance again..
Be careful of: communicating medical conditions or injuries. A good teacher will give you a modification or an exercise to directly address your concern.
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Picture courtesy of runwaypilates.com
What is it: Yoga
Why it’s so good: Yoga and Pilates often get tied together, however there tends to be more twisting with yoga which doesn’t suit everyone. However there are many different types of yoga- some are more dynamic and intense and some are more chilled out. People often find yoga helps them to relax and unwind, which helps to reduce tension. Like Pilates, there’s a focus on abdominal breathing, which we definitely want to encourage!
Be careful of: pushing your body into a funny configuration. Always tune in to how it feels and ask for modifications if you need them.
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What is it: Feldenkrais
Why it’s so good: Similar in some ways to yoga and Pilates, Feldenkrais aims to get you tuned into an awareness of your body. Like Pilates, its a ‘thinking persons exercise’- and promotes ‘awareness through movement’. This can be especially useful for performers, who need balance in a dynamic way.
Be careful of: forcing anything. You don’t need to. Just honour your body and just do what you can. If you like Feldenkrais, you might also like Tai Chi and Alexander Technique. This is probably not for you if you would rather thrash it out at the gym!
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Cardio (Good for your heart = on stage stamina here we come!)
What is it: Dance
Why is it good: It gets you tapping into rhythm, gets your endorphins going and is another creative outlet. Apparently Zumba can even help develop your cross body co-ordination, which can be especially useful if you’re neurodiverse. Even if we’re not ‘good’ dancers and choose to do this alone in our kitchens- this is a great mood booster! Let’s not forget some of those moves might come in useful when performing.
Be careful of: Holding your abs in a tense fashion. Some dancers find it hard to relax the abdominal area, which is essential to breathing for singing. So make sure to check in with those abs now and again and relax that tum!
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What is it: Swimming
Why its so good: Not only does swimming strengthen and tone the body in an even and balanced way, it also relies on good breathing co-ordination. When breathing for singing, we need to breathe at the best opportunity. We don’t wait until we’re running out of breath to snatch a gasp of air. As soon as we start doing this, we feel like we’re battling against our body. Instead of battling against it, we should be working WITH our body. We need to let out a steady stream of air and get the balance of air just right. We need to empty our lungs completely of air before letting in the next breath- but we don’t want to hold our breath and get tense! Swimming can help you with this (and when you’ve got the hang of it, you can let your mind empty..)
Be careful of: the mentality of bigger breaths are best. We just want a ‘normal’ breath when singing- we don’t want to be tanked up full of air which can make us feel like we don’t have enough!
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Strength Training- keep those muscles strong and supportive!
I’m a fan of using your own body weight in strength training ( planks are good, even if they feel terrible!hah!) Pilates and Yoga both take this approach. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can be great for some, but I urge you to make sure your technique is good before you thrash through a frenetic workout. It’s easy when you’re under pressure, to end up pulling something so make sure you’re warmed up and confident with the moves. Over-training can be detrimental to health. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
Excessive weight training can impact the voice in a negative way however. If we’re not careful, we can encourage erroneous muscle tension- and muscle tension TRAVELS. That’s right- to the neck, jaw and tongue.
Although we use our larynx (voicebox) for singing, it’s most important functions are to a) stop us from choking on our dinner and b) to help us bear weight. This is why physical strain can often be heard in the voice- because the false vocal folds (above our true ‘vocal cords’) are getting involved. They want to be helpful but they cause more harm than good, bless them. Sometimes body builders have raspy voices, and this is why. When we push our muscles too hard, we can often drive the voice hard in the process.
Of course there are endless ways to exercise and the one that’s right for you is the one you enjoy! The reason I have suggested the above exercises is because they encourage a degree of awareness of the body. I’m not keen on pushing through the pain of a punishing exercise regime. I believe exercise is a way to nurture and be kind to ourselves, not thrash it into submission. Similarly, I have students who love an insanity workouts. As long as it brings joy and you’re not pushing your body too hard, that’s wonderful! There’s no point snoozing through a Pilates class if it’s not your thing.
Do you feel inspired to take up exercise or shake up your existing routine? Drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on, I’d love to here from you!