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Fingers, Hands, Wrists and Arms

Health: How does one improve strength and flexibility when not playing the violin?

From deborah mitchell
Posted March 24, 2006 at 06:35 AM

Hi,

I'm *still* recovering from my broken shoulder, but have made enough progress to give the violin another shot. Please give me advice on exercises to do away from the violin to improve the strength and flexibility of my fingers, hands, wrists and arms.

As I'm a rank beginner, no exercise is too rudimentary for me. And none too silly or child-like, either.

Silly 'R Us.

thanks,
debby

From Suresh Brady
Posted on March 24, 2006 at 06:59 AM
Viola chucking.

The Australian Commonwealth games hammer team actually do this as violas here are cheaper than hammers.

Silly'R'We

SB

From Jenna Potts
Posted on March 24, 2006 at 06:49 PM
That would also be a great way to develop perfect pitch, you know.

"Perfect pitch: thowing a viola into a dumpster without hitting the rim."

j/k :-)

From William Wolcott
Posted on March 24, 2006 at 07:05 PM
Here are some links that may help (not violin related, but still pretty thorough):

http://biomed.brown.edu/Courses/BI108/BI108_2004_Groups/Group01/ptRE.htm

http://www.sportsinjurybulletin.com/archive/0034-shoulder-injuries.htm

Really, I just Googled 'shoulder rehab exercises' (no quotes)

Hope this helps...

From vincent skowronski
Posted on March 24, 2006 at 07:48 PM
Deborah:

A serious dollop of encouragement for you: go to any toy shop, drug store, sports place, etc., and buy a supple, tennis-size rubber ball....but NOT a tennis ball, as it won't provide you with as much elasticity as you are looking for. NOW, holding this very 'squeezable' ball palm up, make a fist and slowly begin squeezing and releasing it 5 times, -then STOP for a moment. Do another 5 squeezes (what becomes your FIRST 'REP'(repetition) -then STOP. Do another 5 squeezes, -then STOP, which now constitutes your second 'rep.' Wait a moment, do 5 squeezes again, -then STOP- you have just done your third 'rep' of 5 squeezes. And so it goes.

Do perhaps 3 'reps' of 5 squeezes for your initial attempt. If you are as weak as I surmise, you will become quite fatigued very easily, so then, STOP all together.

Move along (perhaps every other day for starters) with these exercises, increasing your squeezes (5 to 8, 8 to 13, etc.) and your number of 'reps' per session. You will feel your muscles beginning to scream while they are 'going to work' and 'heating up' from your fingertips, thru your hand, wrist, forearm and ending at your elbow. As with any and all "new" body exercises, please START SLOW,........then continue to build, methodically. STOP IMMEDIATELY when you feel even slightly strained. As time goes by, you can begin to push yourself a bit as you will experience more and more strength in your hands and forearms enabling you to do so. You, of course, will judge as to when you are definitely "on the road to recovery."

I have used this simple, ancient squeeze technique with many of my students over the years (including the figure skaters). Moreover, I find it incredulous as to how many 'violiners' sincerely believe that they do NOT need various degrees of brute strength and power to control and master this beast we call a violin! In fact, I support and promote all forms of sports activities for 'violiners,"---the more strenuous, the better! However, these 'violiners' had better know what they're doing and ultimately going up against before deciding to line up across from Mr. Dick Butkus,....or they may be going home looking for more than just a rubber ball.

If you proceed with the 'squeezes,'Deborah, kindly let me know how the project progresses.....if you wish. Any questions, just ask.

Best of luck and anticipated success as I am,

Sincerely,

Vincent P. Skowronski
Skowronski: Classical Recordings
www.skowronskiplays.com

From deborah mitchell
Posted on March 25, 2006 at 03:37 AM
Thanks so much for the suggestions (and the sillies).

Thanks, William, for finding those links for me. I'll look through them and see if I can find suggestions for exercises I'm not already doing.

I am doing weight training and calisthenics, but what I'm finding is that my bow arm tires very quickly. There must be some muscles in my right arm that I'm not exercising during training. If anyone has any suggestions for something to exercise the muscles involved in bowing, I'd very much like to hear them.

The hand exercises with the rubber ball sound like just the ticket. My husband bought me a set of weight-lifters hand exercise squeeze thingies, sort of springs with handles that you squeeze like pruners. But they required too much strength. I happen to have a rubber ball of the sort you mention, Vincent, so I'll start this evening. And I'll let you know how it goes.

thanks again!

From Wanda Jenkins
Posted on March 25, 2006 at 06:35 AM
Deborah,

Use two small unopened tomato paste cans, one in each hand. Hold your hands up palms facing each other, about chest height parallel to the ground and away from your body. Swing them horizontally together and then apart. You can also use them to do curl ups or any other moves used with weights. The lightness of the cans will enable you to several sets of reps.

An exercise for wrists as well as hands & arms is to tie a two foot string securely around a small can then tie it to a stick that's comfortable to hold in both hands at the same time. Suspend the can from the stick and with palms up roll the can up the string to the stick. You can also do this with the palms down which will give other arm muscles a workout. As you get stronger you can graduate to bottles of water.

Shoulders, Chest and arms: Sitting on a chair, lean forward with your light weights in each hand and row. Pretend you're rowing with oars along a lovely river. :-)

Be sure to take it very slow, don't overdo and don't rush the process.

From Katie P
Posted on March 26, 2006 at 08:35 PM
How did you break your shoulder? o_O

Well, my prime hand-strengthening practise is actually just playing piano. You get a lot of finger strength from that. If you're trying to make yourself looser, lots of hand stretches, here's what I do:

Grab your thumb, pull it back really slowly until you can feel the stretch. Let go slowly. Grab your index, pull it back slowly until it feels really stretchy, let go. Do it on all your fingers. Instead of grabbing them you can press them on a desk, too. When you're done hold your arms out, grab your hand and pull it back so you stretch your arm, then push it down so you stretch the top of your arm. And by the time you're done, your hand is floppy and you're so relaxed you can't hold a pencil... Just kidding, but it feels good.

From Stephen Brivati
Posted on March 26, 2006 at 11:21 PM
Greetings,
Deborah, what comes across a litlte bit to e now is that because of the nature of whta you are doing IE sesibkly restoring the strength of your body through exercise programs , you are perhaps creating an unwanted perception of violin playing itself.
What I mean by this is that violin playing is not about muscle strength in the conventional sense. It is not really improved in itself by muscle exercises thought of in terms of violin playing. This sounds a bit vague but I am trying to clarify the ditfference between general exercise esuch as yoga, stretching, light weights etc. as support for violnists (very important) and the act of trying to connect those exericses directly to violin technique itrself which is erronoeus.
To borrow , probal incorretly, a bit of German Das ding im dich. (aaarf) the thing is itself. Ifyou wnat to strengthen yourself -as a violnist- then you use the violin. Thats what it is and that is all.
To strengthen you arm I suggets the follwoing procedure.
Begin each session with aerobic exercise (few minutes) stretching and some kind of centering work with breathing, the hara and so on.
Then place the bow on any string at the middle. Hold it there for one minute. Then place it at the point for one minute, then the heel. During the time be very mentally active in relaxing your shoulder, sitting or standing well and so on. Do this exercise on various strings for as long as you can stand it, anythign up to ten minutes. Then sitch to son file bowstrokes. That is play thirty second stroes with the bownext to the bridge. Work up to ten minutes.
This kind of work can build sluggishnes sinto the arm so next practice either martele, including whole bow martele or, place the bow on at the heel and do a tiny up bow with the fingers only. Then turn the head to the right quite rapidly and almost immediately afterwards pull the bow to the point as fats as posisble witrh the hair about 1 c above the string. Place the bow on at the tiop and do a down bow using the fingers only.
Turn the head rapidlyto the left and almost immediatley do the reverse of this procedure. pracitce this exericse for a few minutes. It not only lossens the neck but has arearkable effetc on bow control.
Cheers,
Buri
From deborah mitchell
Posted on March 27, 2006 at 12:25 AM
Katie,

I was walking down a sidewalk in Hong Kong, and tripped on some rough pavement. Instead of falling down instantly, I tried to regain my balance. All I gained was a lot of momentum, and about 20 feet from where I tripped I fell, hard. I had on new shoes and I think it was them, because normally I'm pretty nimble. My upper humerus smashed into 8 pieces and my rotator cuff tore a bit. I have a plate and ten screws in it right now. The plate's so wide that I can't move my arm too far in certain directions or it rubs against nerves or muscle tissue.

If I can bow, then I'll probably leave the plate in. If I can't, then I'll probably have it out.

Thanks for the suggestions!

-debby

From deborah mitchell
Posted on March 27, 2006 at 12:30 AM
Buri,

I know you're right. Maybe I'm too impatient. The thing is, I can only practice for 2 sessions a day, 5 to 8 minutes each; that's all my shoulder will tolerate. But I thought perhaps there were things I could do in other areas to compensate for my inability to practice for a longer period of time.

For instance, my pinkie on my left hand is much weaker than the other fingers, and I can't move it without moving my ring finger. I'd like to find an exercise(s) that would help me strengthen it and make it more independent, just when I'm hanging around watching wrestling, that sort of thing.

I tried your suggestions during one of my practices, not the martele part, because I don't know what it is and am sure I couldn't do it yet if I did know. (I'm still at the Three Blind Mice stage.) But the substitute exercise you offered was very interesting. I did just as you suggested, to the best of my ability, and I can see that it will have a powerful and positive effect over time.

Thanks for your advice; if you have any ideas about making pinkies more independent, I'd love to hear them.

best,
debby

From Ray Randall
Posted on March 27, 2006 at 10:24 PM
Sorry about your accident. I am finally recovered from major rotator cuff shoulder surgery. One exercise that really-really helped, especially my fourth finger, is as follows: Get a few light dumbbells,let's say 3 to 8 pounds, the kind with a flange at each end. Rest your forearms on you thighs, sitting down, of course, and using only your fingers which are supporting the weight under the flange, lift the weight slowly up and down using ONLY the fingers. A variation is to curl your fingers upwards and lift the weight using the base joint muscles, fingers still pointed up. You can isolate individual fingers by using one finger in the left hand and two or three on the right hand.
Good luck.
From Sharon Lee
Posted on April 4, 2006 at 11:48 PM
I agree with Skwronski!
From deborah mitchell
Posted on April 15, 2006 at 04:20 AM
Hi,

Just an update. I'm experimenting with everyone's suggestions with good success. All of them are helpful. I have also added an extra light Gripmaster to strengthen my little fingers. And I've moved from tomato paste cans to one pound weights.

I keep the weights by my livingroom chair and use them every day. And I faithfully do Buri's bowing exercises. The ball is great, because I keep it in my purse and can use it anywhere.

best,
debby

From Terez Mertes
Posted on April 17, 2006 at 11:38 AM
Deborah (or anyone) - where can I buy one of those squeeze balls? I'm having trouble finding them in local stores/drugstores. (Tried to take the lazy way out and buy one online and was shocked to see them charging $6.50 for shipping and handling - on a $4.00 item! Canceled the order promptly.)
From deborah mitchell
Posted on April 20, 2006 at 10:06 PM
I found one in a local sporting goods store. They had other types of hand strenghteners, too.

Galamian's Principles

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Long one of the standards for violin teachers and students, Ivan Galamian's Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching offers both principles and practice exercises to help develop violinists of all ages and abilities. This new edition includes a foreword by Sally Thomas.

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