What level of fitness is ideal for vocalists?
My voice teacher says I have to match my singing time with exercise time. In other words, if I want to sing for 30 minutes, I have to exercise for 30 minutes. Can that be right??
This question did put a smile on my face: your singing teacher clearly has brilliant methods of keeping you disciplined.
Do you HAVE TO EXERCISE as a singer?
No, you do not.
Is it a good idea to exercise as a singer?
Yes, it is.
There are many singers who are extremely unfit—a certain level of fitness does help singers.
Firstly, it will improve your appearance; ‘image’ is important to a performer, whether we like it or not.
Just have a look at the covers of opera magazines; commercially successful singers, whether they are rock stars or classical divas, tend to look the part.
Being unfit hinders your capacity to move onstage at the same time as you’re singing: if you have to dance and this causes you to become entirely out of breath, your singing will clearly suffer.
The exercise most directly suited to the actual technique of singing is Pilates.
Pilates is very much about isolating specific muscle groups, in particular those muscles which give you core stability—those around your pelvic girdle and lower abdomen.
If these muscles are weak then supporting and anchoring whilst singing will be much more difficult.
Pilates, the Alexander technique and Yoga will all help to strengthen these muscles.
However, some forms of exercise, taken to an extreme, are not so useful for singers.
For instance, although a bit of light weightlifting in the gym will do you good, very heavy body building is not a good idea for singers.
When one lifts very heavy weights, the larynx automatically constricts.
Coughing, straining, rasping, and holding one’s breath (all encouraged by heavy -weight lifting), encourage the false folds to constrict.
It is very important for singers to have retracted false folds so that the true folds can vibrate freely.
Another exercise that is not ideal for singers is one where the rectus abdominis is overworked; this is the large stomach muscle which tends to be worked when doing sit-ups.
Again, in moderation, this is absolutely fine and healthy.
However, dancers who have very tight abdominals also find it very hard to release them.
When singers breathe in, they should release their lower abdominal muscles whilst inhaling so that the lungs can expand downwards and sideways.
This means that there is less air pressure immediately below the vocal folds, which makes singing much easier.
So, the answer is:
Exercise is very beneficial, avoid heavy weightlifting, and do Pilates if you can.
Director, The Advanced Performers Studio
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