Written by The Weekend Vote
Published: November 21, 2014 at 10:04 PM [UTC]
Even if you've reduced your playing to the most ergonomically efficient and pain-free set of motions, playing the violin still sets us up for some unequal muscle-building. Add to that the stress of performing and the repetitive, solitary and possibly fairly sedentary nature of practice, and you're in trouble if you don't find a good form of exercise.
But what kind of exercise best helps even muscle tone, or reduce stress, or add that cardio-vascular element that is missing from long days of practice, teaching or performing?
I've listed a few below, but I'm sure I'm missing quite a few forms of good exercise and I invite you to list more. You may do several of these forms of exercise, but choose the one that you feel is doing the most for you, or tell us in the comments what exercise you prefer.
Running: Definitely good for endurance and cardio-vascular health. Related to running: Walking. Walking is so underrated, and yet it is a wonderful form of exercise. Take 10,000 steps a day, says the doctor!
Weight-lifting: For a long time I thought this was a bad idea because of the potential to overdevelop certain muscles. What changed my mind? David Garrett! Here is someone who is in great shape and does high-energy stadium shows on a regular basis. He said he is careful to target particular muscle groups and not to push too hard. Seems to work for him!
Yoga: This can help both build muscles and stretch muscles, and the controlled-breathing element can help with reducing stress in situations of pressure.
Swimming: A number of famous string players swore by this low-impact form of exercise, among them, Janos Starker. Great for the lung, and it doesn't stress the joints.
Please let us know your favorite form of exercise, and add your comments.
There are special problems violinists get, and a number of years ago Tamara Coates (as well as being the oboist daughter of Albert Coates, she practised as a physio) showed me one or two of them. One was to use your right fist to press the right jaw muscle to the left (reversing what the violin does in practice).
For pre-practice, on winter evenings, I do this indoors, 'round and 'round through four rooms, covering an oval track about 30 feet long. This pumps the blood fast, and the feet and hands warm up and stay warm a long time afterward -- a great aid to instant grip and good traction. While I'm at this, I'm listening to music tracks on YouTube or radio or CD. By end of session, I'm well pumped up -- physically, mentally, emotionally -- for music practice.
I just finished the 9th of 12 weeks of refresher training for lifting weights. I started lifting in high school -- nothing extensive, just a basic course of instruction. I use a split routine -- M, T, TH, F -- with trainer T/TH, on my own M/F. Each muscle group gets 48+ hours of rest before I directly hit it again. I know from experience that violin-playing and lifting weights are compatible -- if you're doing them right. My trainer has said, more than once, that a lot of bodybuilders don't even use big weights -- unless they're doing a photo-shoot.
It's called a dog (bitch in my case) and I'm duty bound to take her out as much as possible. In the summer we do about 6-9 miles per day and in the winter it may drop to 5-6 miles per day.
It's also great because just about anyone will stop a talk to me due entirely to my wonderful dog (she's a medium sized Lurcher, a little taller than a Springer Spaniel, with long legs and a fantastic turn of speed). I've made lots of friends who also have dogs, some of whom are beautiful young ladies. (Not sure why that is relevant, but at my age most young people just don't notice you).
Bonnie, as she is called loves to travel in the car, on busses, and trains. When in the country she loves to hunt, which can be a problem if it's foxes or deer as she covers a big distance in no time. She always comes back, but I do have a panic if its for more than 5 minutes. Small animals like squirrels and rats and mice are at risk as she pounces on them and finishes them off. All part of the natural world, like conductors devouring orchestras (wink).
But weight lifting/training that focuses on building strength in the arms could also affect the hands by decreasing their agility and accuracy (intonation). I speak only from personal experience and results can be different depending on the person.
My morning walk often takes me past a beautiful old church in our neighborhood. Today I passed it while listening to CPE Bach's Magnificat (on the program for the Holiday Concert). Stunning!
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