Strength Training for Musicians: Good or Bad?
This is often a highly debated topic in the music community. As someone who has gone through 3 degrees and is finishing a 4th, I have had teachers and performers tell me (both trombone and non-trombonists) that strength training will negativey impact my playing. Sometimes this advice is vague, sometimes it is more specific, such as added tension, tightness, effort, or strain in the sound.
Before I give my opinion, let’s get some context! Let’s take a look at 3 studies published within the past 10 years so we can start gathering data to make our own educational and informed decision.
Lets take a look at a study conducted in 2017 (1). This study suggests that:
1️⃣ Strength training correlates with reduced playing-related pain
2️⃣ Strength training has positive effects on playing performance, based upon participant feedback, except for approx. 18% of the participants who experienced “slightly negative” effects.
Side note: what are the “slight negative” effects? I am not sure - this definition was left up to the discretion of the musicians participating in the survey. It is important to note that there are many contributing factors to unhealthy + unsustainable exercise including load on the body, nutrition, sleep, hydration, recovery, form, intensity of exercise, and movement pattens, to name a few. Any of these factors can interrupt the recovery process and cause many negative affects, including the injury cycle. If you don’t know what an injury cycle is, check out this previous blog post. https://www.thefunctionalmusician.com/post/the-cumulative-injury-cycle
Let’s take a look at another study conducted in 2012 (2). This study suggests:
1️⃣Strength training can aid in injury prevention by increasing strength of the ligaments, tendons, tendon to bone, joint cartilage, and the connective tissue sheaths within the muscle.
2️⃣ Strength training may reduce the occurance of swimmer shoulder, tennis elbow, or other motion specific related activities.
Side note: musicians are prone to repetitive stress injuries.
3️⃣Resistance training may also be performed to correct muscle imbalances, therefore reducing the risk of injury. Side note - if you don’t know what a muscle imbalance is or how they happen, be sure to check out the injury cycle blog post here - https://www.thefunctionalmusician.com/post/the-cumulative-injury-cycle
Side note: although this study wasn’t specifically evaluating musicians, many musicians struggle with repetitive stress injuries, including tennis elbow and carpal tunnel.
Lastly, let’s take a look at a study conducted in 2014, titled “Effect of a Musicians’ Exercise Intervention on Performance-Related Musculoskeletal Disorders. This study aimed to evaluate the effect of an exercise program tailored to a sample of 85 professional orchestral musicians on PRMDs (performance-related musculoskeletal disorders - aka tension, tightness, pain, etc.).
Here is what the study found:
1️⃣ Exercise participants reported a reduction in frequency and severity of PRMDs during playing
2️⃣ Exercise intervention was rated to be moderately to highly effective for 3 performance related factors:
Strengthing muscles that support playing
Learning techniques that support playing
3️⃣Other benefits found by the paricipants after the 10 week program
Easier movement outside of practicing
Increased confidence in their performance
Higher levels of concentration
Higher energy levels
Increased level of performance during rehearsal, private practice, and performance.
With that said, what are your thoughts?
For me, these examples (there are more, but for the sake of length I only focused on 3!) are why I believe it is extremely important (sometimes I would argue, essential) to incorporate some sort of strengthing exercise into your life as a musician, especially if you want to lower your risk of injury. It is also important to note that this is only one piece of the puzzle, as there are other factors that come into play. If you want to be a sustainable musician, you must approach you health holistically.
Now let’s get into what you can take away from these studies!
If you are someone who is interested in working out, or are a seasoned pro, Here are some exercise tips to keep you healthy and on the path towards a life and career of longevity.
😵It is important to note that it is not WHAT you do, but HOW you do it. Our exercise habits and how we perform movements have a direct correlation to how our body adapts. If you are someone who relies on your body for your career (#allmusicians) you cannot go into the weight room and start lifting without intention, proper alignment, and a plan.
🧘♂️ Form is everything. As soon as you sacrifice form, you open yourself up to a greater chance of injury. Your body will adapt, but perhaps not in the way you want. With that said, hiring someone who can teach you about form and lifting provides a huge benefit. Not only will you improve quicker, but you will make sure you are approaching it as safetly as possible. Whether you are a musician or not, lifting weights can be very dangerous if you do not know what you are doing.
✊🏻Over-gripping. Our fingers and hands are delicate and in order to keep them nimble, we want to only use as much and as little grip strength as possible to lift the object desired. There is a way to lift heavy objects without over-gripping! The more we over-grip, the less dexterity, flexibility, and nimbleness we will have in our fingers.
😏Ego - leave it at the door! Ego and musicians go together like peanut butter and jelly (unfortunately). If there is a point where you experience ANY pain during a movement, your body is telling you to SLOW down, lower the weight, and focus on form. Regress the exercise - make the exercise easier, lower the weight, move the