Last September I took the plunge and enrolled in a high intensity workout class at my gym. These are not your mom’s aerobics classes! In every session we do burpees, pull ups, mountain climbers, box jumps, split squats, or other various other high intensity exercises. It is NEVER easy, and I always leave the gym feeling spent but accomplished.
Being in these classes three times a week has taught me a lot about singing, and the process of training the voice.
Here are eight things I’ve learned:
1. Weak muscles will recruit others to help them ‘do the job.’ In bodybuilding this happens when form deteriorates. When doing a push-press, for example, the lower back will often kick in to help weakening muscles. The same is true in the voice: when weak muscles have reached their capacity, other muscles such as the pharyngeal constrictors, jaw, elevators and depressors and tongue will jump in to assist a weaker system. If a voice suffers from these compensatory tensions, the singer must strengthen those systems which maintain a healthy balance of vocal cord vibration.
2. The body progresses in its own time. How many new gym bunnies think they will look like Arnold Schwarzenegger in a year’s time? When their results are not fast and in the time the trainee expects, the participant loses interest and either drops out or finds another routine. By sticking to the routine over time, the body will adapt and become stronger and more flexible. The voice too, will progress in its own time and by continuing to train. Singing songs, however, in most cases is not enough of a complete workout to touch all aspects of the singing voice.
3. The ‘training’ touches many aspects of life. When you commit to a body training routine, you don’t want to eat badly because you undo all your hard work in the gym. Sleep and rest are vital components of a physical training program as well. Singers must realize that their training is the same: they must continue to observe good vocal habits, maintain a healthy diet, and get plenty of rest. The training to be a singer isn’t only done in the lessons or performances: it’s done every day with every lifestyle choice.
4. Pushing too hard and too fast results in injury. Wanting to get results too fast results in bad form. Bad form causes injury when muscles are overtaxed or weak. Singers that aim too early for high notes, loud notes, or stamina will push their voices to a place where damage is the only result. Trying too hard, whether in the gym or with the voice is not sustainable in a proper training regimen.
5. Fear accompanies intense exercise. Many are those that are content to go to the gym and walk on the treadmill. They will continue this exercise for a long time, not pushing their abilities or building strength. When you go heavy in weights or intensity there is a natural fear response that kicks in. Every time I begin a routine at the gym, I feel nervous. Voice training should have some element of this as well: the voice needs to be fed a diet of healthy exercise with an occasional foray into more challenging material. This demands more of the system and encourages it to grow. Of course, the voice should never be pushed into a place of hard effort. Strength can be built in short bursts of training.
6. Showing off is stupid. When you go to the gym to show off you will invariably hurt yourself. Those gym rats that are there to show off usually are not as strong or as flexible as they want you to believe. He who grunts the loudest is not always the strongest. Singers that want to show off in training prevent themselves from going deeper into their technique and getting to the root (whether physical or psychological) of their vocal problems. Those that ‘show off’ rarely see any results of their work.
7. Failing is good and necessary for growth. When you reach failure in an exercise muscle is stimulated to grow. It’s not a FUN place to be, but it is vital for the body to make the adaptations it needs to progress. If you resist failing in singing, you will not challenge your voice to make adaptations necessary to find better ways of singing. If you play it safe in your vocal training, you will never get the development of the voice that you want.
8. You have to record your sessions. Serious trainers will record every exercise, every lift, every set. They will then go back and analyze this information along with their diet to see how they are doing. They will make adjustments to the routine and determine how to improve based on that data. Singers should record and take notes from every lesson so they understand and hear what is happening in each lesson.
Bodybuilding and singing are complementary philosophies. Singers would benefit from understanding the correlation between athletic training and the path of vocal development.