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Singing and Weightlifting

What level of fitness is ideal for vocalists?

Dear Leontine,

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??


Dear Vdannan,

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.


Leontine Hass
Director, The Advanced Performers Studio

Questions for Leontine Hass can be sent to the VoiceCouncil editor: editor@voicecouncil.com

  • Rob

    Well, I lift heavy three times a week, and make it a point to schedule one of those sessions on the day of a gig. As the lead singer for a hard rock cover band, I often have to belt out songs in a constricted manner. I never gave thought to the similarity of performing Buckcherry or Godsmack to a 700lb leg press, but it does feel the same! No ill effects so far. So maybe it is a matter of what you are singing regarding heavy lifting. The occasional boxing does play hell on the fingers when I play keys, however!

  • NIghtingaleGypsy

    Do you have ANY experience lifting weights?

    Holding your breath is NOT encouraged when lifting heavy weights…in fact, vocal breathing and breathing through exercise are actually quite similiar…balance and stamina are equally important in live vocal performance and lifting.

    If you can't answer a question adequately, seek an expert that validates your response.

  • Tom

    Nightingale Gypsy is right, if you are holding your breath while lifting you are doing it wrong. Coughing and rasping are also not part of any weight lifting routine I know of. I agree that physical fitness can help a singer, but weightlifting is an important component of anyone's exercise regimen, including singers.

  • Anna Vivette

    A regular yoga routine has helped me as a classical vocalist. When we sing we sing with our whole bodies if we are singing correctly.

  • Asdasd

    i sing some melodic hardcore, punk rock , thrash metal, etc. my teacher told me, that i have to make my body bigger, so i will have more resonance, also, to rasp, you have get some strength at the abbs, but always flexible, actually,  being like hulk hoogan, will not work, because sound travel better in fluids, and steroids are not good for it.also, even being fat will be better, if you can breath,and, if you sing when doing some hard exercise, you will sound raspy, if you try to feel the same way singing then you will sound raspy.(i do not like to sing like it, it sound greate, but it will hurt you if you do it all the time, but if you sing only few words, it will not kill your voice, sorry about my inglish.
    and yeah, it will be great to do exercise if you are going to sing, it is good for long notes and hardcore techniques.

  • Isaiah Feken

    More scholastic research has now been done into this subject. I hope that this is helpful