Welcome to Violinist.com! Log in, or join the community!
Violinist.com
Facebook Twitter Google+ Email Newsletter

Poll: Biceps for Girls?

Life in general: Wondering if super-duper muscles are common among violinists...

From Sue Donim
Posted April 6, 2005 at 07:06 AM

Hey there - this is a question primarily for the girls, since I gather guys sometimes try to achieve this look through other means too, but feel free to contribute:

A common conception of the female violinist (and cellist) is of a graceful, willowy creature with slender arms (and a mournful expression, but anyway...). Much as I would wish it to be so, this is simply not me; I've always had a broad back and shoulders, but it seems to me that the last few years of decent practice have given me pectorals and biceps that Arnie would envy. Of course it might all be genetic, but since I do shamefully little 'proper' exercise, I'm wondering whether my general upper-body fitness - and this bicep business specifically - is down to working out on the violin?

I'd be interested to know if a large proportion of female violinists can rival their menfolk in the muscle department (spot the classic 'Am I Normal?' question). Please state a) daily practice time, b) over how many years, c) description of (violin-relevant) physique, and d) other physical exercise taken.

From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on April 6, 2005 at 08:32 AM
I've got very small shoulders and arms and back etc. etc. but they are all muscle and bone. It is partly genetic. I don't lift weights or anything. It is funny because I look like a wimpy thing, but any time I play in a tank top I get comments about how my arms have crazy muscles. And I can arm wrestle guys. I don't think it has much to do with size. It is about knowing how to use our muscles and arms and body all together maybe? I don't know. I don't eat health foods or diet. I don't lift weights, but I run two miles a day because I like endorphins. I have noticed that a lot of female violinists have strong arms, but they are active people in general as well. I think I'm just an active person in general all the time busy doing something and that mostly my arms are involved. However, playing the violin has developed the way I use my upper body, therefore possibly accentuating certain muscle groups like bicepts which are usually thought of as workout muscles. Those waify sullen girls...arm wrestle them! He he.
JW
Edit. Didn't answer the question, Sue, sorry. 100 lbs. 5foot6inches. Practice 2-3 hours a day and rehearsals. Played 20 years. I think that was it....Hm. K.
JW
From Philip Hirst
Posted on April 7, 2005 at 08:24 AM
I look funny when i play, because im heavily into weight training and rugby, and built very solidly, and then when i play it looks like i am flexing.

Anyway, in our orchestra my desk partner is an 78yr old lady who has really saggy arms, and due to dress requirements for concerts, it is all exposed!!

just be thankful that you have decent looking arms.

From lorenzo Z
Posted on April 7, 2005 at 10:19 PM
don't worry fat arms are better for violin :) oh sorry I meant muscle hehe
From Jenni Thompson
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 12:34 AM
Hi Sue :)

I've worked out regularly since I was a child, but I attribute a good bit of my upper body strength to playing violin. Slender, we may be, but muscular also--necessary to keep our bows going that fast!

From Sue Donim
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 01:58 AM
I know it's indicative of strength and good health, but I sometimes feel a little embarrassed about being so, uh, 'built', especially with wispy young things like Hilary Hahn floating about... and skinny t-shirts are always too tight on the arms:/
From Jenni Thompson
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 02:14 AM
Hahaha, Sue, I'm sure some lucky "bloke" will come along and love the fact that you are NOT, infact, a wispy little thing like Hilary Hahn. :-D I'm pretty small, but pride myself on being built, and you should too. Perhaps we should poll the men on what they find attractive! lol I bet it's not the girls that are the skinniest and/or least muscular.
From Jenni Thompson
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 02:12 AM
Oh, oh, and in light of " c) description of (violin-relevant) physique" - my left hand is over half an inch larger than my right. Is that true for any of you also??
From Emily Grossman
Posted on April 8, 2005 at 08:29 AM
I get crazy-chiseled guns in the summer, but this is due to kitchen work and road racing, hiking and fishing. I was blessed with no body fat on my upper body, even to the point that I can't fill out a dress and have no use for a... well, bra. Other than modesty. So muscles show well up there, but all the fat somehow landed on my behind, and there it stays.

I'm not bulky in the arms, though. Just chiseled. My back muscles could be shown off in a muscle mag. It's almost embarrassing. My arms have absolutely never gotten tired of playing, at least in recent history. I plan on bulking them up this summer, though. So much of this is completely up to genetics, though, and I don't know why the women have so much wider variety in shape, when compared to the men. It explains why we can take so long to shop for clothes.

From june rhee
Posted on April 9, 2005 at 09:00 PM
i'm kind of like emily. a little chiseled, not much fat. i'm built small - 5'6", 100-105 lbs. i have trouble finding dresses and swimsuits that fit because of my small frame and sometimes have to shop at Gap Kids. i don't work out. i walk a few times a week and keep busy but that's about it. i'm not particularly strong, but my biceps are there when i play. been playing most of my life and practice has fluctuated anywhere from 2-8 hours a day.

jenni, my left hand is also bigger than my right. my left shoulder and that side of my neck are larger than the right.

From Sue Donim
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 01:40 AM
June, my physio said she's seen that a lot in violinists. I can bend over further on one side than the other. I can't remember which side, though, as I'm always upside down and can't see:)
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 04:47 AM
I don't have much muscle bulk anywhere, and regular exercise in the gym has only a small effect on the size of my muscles. However, my left hand is larger than my right. I'm glad to learn that there are other violinists like me in this regard.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 05:06 AM
My left hand is larger than my right. My left fingers are a full 1/2" longer. Maybe from excercise as it was growing. In all other regards I bear a very close physical resemblance to Hercules. Complete with tan and shiney oil.
From jennifer steinfeldt warren
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 12:48 PM
Speaking of arm muscles and upper body "image", I was thinking about your blog, Sue. You found the perfect dresses, hey? I was doing a fashion show for my husband last night, trying to figure out what to wear for my recital...um...today...I don't wear dresses or skirts when I play in orchestra because I sit on the corner of my chair, which I arrange sideways, with my back so straight that it actually curves the other way so it isn't straight...and my knees are definately not anywhere near each other. I do this because I have to have the scroll facing the music and it just facilitates the way I play. Anyhow. I usually wear black slacks, a black shirt, and a blazer. So for recitals, I am never sure what to wear because of course I stand up. I have a cool blazer for the recital that has little stripes on it and double buttons and is feminine...and after three tries, we found a shirt to go underneath. THen I said "If I get hot, I'll take the jacket off, so lets make sure that is alright". To which he said "well, it doesn't look very feminine". Urgh. So I came back with a silk sleeveless, and he said "don't wear that". And I know why. Because my muscles in my arms look funny when I play and the veins bulge out and I am white as white can be so my veins show....can one ever win? I decided that it doesn't matter if I look overly feminine. I just want to look professional, clean, and intellegent. I figure not many men wear makeup and girl glasses for recitals. :). I can't decide what to do with my hair, though. Usually my hair is so short I don't have to worry about it. But now it is long and wild. I could wear pigtails like I do at home..he he. I think I'll just let it be wild and crazy, though. And underneath my jacket and shirt, no one has to know that my arms are muscle, they can think they are wispy.
Sals.
JW
From Owen Sutter
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 05:35 PM
friday, at the symphony, i heard Gutman play the shnittke cello concerto, anyway her picture in the program featured the biggest arm ive ever seen on a woman, except for those miss olympia monsters. It explains her massive sound i guess.
From Lisa Marsnik
Posted on April 10, 2005 at 05:56 PM
Sue,
I inherited broad shoulders from my dad and have strong biceps (I was never willowy). I surprised the hell out of a young man who was pretty "cut" (his words) a few years ago when he almost couldn't beat me in arm wrestling... (the only reason I gave in was 'cause I didn't want to hurt my arm - but I made him work for it! lol) ;-)

To answer your questions:
Practiced a lot per day (3 -8 hours plus work) over 30 years, lots of weight training, but mostly back because violin develops the front muscles, and a lot of regular swimming.
Lisa

From Sue Donim
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 12:57 AM
Lisa, is that why my pectorals are the only thing which give me any kind of bust??

About the dresses, I caved in and bought them even thought they're sleeveless. I have a new bicep-conquering theory about this: If you wear a dress with a wide neckline or wide-set straps, your shoulders will actually look narrower than if you go for, say, a halter-neck. I think in my case it's a black-against-fair-skin optical illusion, but it works for me. I've given up on halter-necks; they make my shoulders look gigantic.

P.S. I saw a photo of cellist Natalie Clein today, and her arms are so slender! How??

From Lisa Marsnik
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 03:17 AM
lol Sue:
Just accept how you are!! :0)
I remember a miiillllion years ago when I was a kid (lol). Women were supposed to weigh no more than 120 lbs then and the thinnest I ever was was 140 at adult weight (and I was thin! but thought I was fat because of the mythic womanly standard). So I worked out and worked out and never got any thinner. Many years later Princess Stephanie of Monaco (that's the younger sister right?) posed in a swimsuit on the cover of some big magazine and she had the same broad shoulders I did. My boyfriend at the time pointed that out to me. It was at that point that the styles changed somewhat. Shoulders and biceps go in and out of fashion. I happen to know a lot of guys who like muscles in a woman. Be happy - you're in shape! :0) (Just think of yourself as the athlete that you are.)
Lisa
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 06:39 AM
I thoroughly agree with Lisa. Accept yourself the way you are. Better still, appreciate yourself the way you are.

Many eons ago, when the women's movement was young and so was I, I got a wonderful little book called "Assertiveness for Women." One of the exercises it recommended was to talk about yourself for three minutes, saying only good things. I confess that I could never do it for anywhere near three minutes, but I still think it's a good exercise.

From Bill Platt
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 03:27 PM
Hi,

I think it is almost all in the Genes. Of course, muscles you use a lot get toned, and if they do high output/low repetitions, they grow. But your basic shape still dominates.

I'll give an example. I was an active bicycle racer. Legs are your engine. Everyone tends to think bigger is better. But while warming up, you could see that there was a wide variety of shape/size of leg muscles out on the course. Some riders had really thin legs. Others looked like Lou Ferigno.

At the end of the race, it was not the biggest legs that won; rather, it was the smartest/fastest rider. (Except a race where an ex-bodybuilder on steroids came out in a short criterium--there was no chance that time!).

I think there is too much focus on some "ideal" and that is really not a good thing. The fact is, everyone has their own shape/size--and taken out of context--out of the context of that person & how he/she carries himself, it is just meaningless. Shape is part of our personality--a person can be very fit, "ideal" shaped, and yet repulsive. If the personality is at odds, no amount of physical "perfection" can make a difference. (And not all personalitiess are compatible, and so I think everyone has champions as well as detractors).

Finally, I don't think the load of the violin is great enough to grow the size of your muscles to any great degree--but it certainly can tone them. (I use the racing as an analog).

My 2cents.

From Evelyn Ray
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 03:49 PM
Slightly OT, but...

Phillip wrote:

"Anyway, in our orchestra my desk partner is an 78yr old lady who has really saggy arms, and due to dress requirements for concerts, it is all exposed!! "

One can only assume that you mean the women must wear short sleeves or go sleeveless. Do the men wear jackets?

Anyway, do those of you in orchestras have similar dress codes. I have season tickets to our symphony and I see women in jackets, sleeveless and short sleeves. The women also wear either dresses or pants. The men wear white shirts with either suit or tux...some wear tails.

The only common denominator is color...black.

From Benjamin Eby
Posted on April 11, 2005 at 03:57 PM
German orchestras don't necessarily play in black.

Benjamin

From Sue Donim
Posted on April 12, 2005 at 02:11 AM
We had a thread going on concert dress a while back. I think it was Buri who disapproved of bare arms because they move around a lot and draw attention.
From Stephen Brivati
Posted on April 12, 2005 at 08:56 AM
ooo er!
Sue, As someone with an interest in Alexander Technique, it is not so much the bare arms, as how they are integrated with all the other bits...
Cheers,
Buri
From jim waters
Posted on July 23, 2005 at 08:54 AM
Hello im Jim and found your question by accident but found it interesting and the replys by alot of the lady's very surprising. Let me see if i can say this without embarassing myself as i always fear i will when i let my self be honest about what i find attractive on a girl/lady. I arm wrestled and lost to a girl on our street when i was probally 11 or 12 she was gymnast/violinist. After she beat me she flexed her arm and said something to the effect of i should see her arm when she plays the violin. Well after that day I've always been attracted to a girl with nice arms so to any of you lady's or girls think you need to hide your arms with clothing please don't as its very attractive and you have worked hard for your body so be proud of it. If some guy teases you about your arms ask them what they are afraid of and if it bothers them so much then he should hit the gym and put in the time like you have.
Also over the years i've measured many females arms with various levels of fitness from none to naturally muscular to trained and what i would call very buffed (as in they can beat me arm wrestling, which i think is great not intimadating)so if any of you would like please list your height weight and measure those arms while flexing it would be interesting and fun to see how violinist's compare.
Anyway just could'nt resist putting in my 2 Cent's and letting you all know that there are alot of men that think biceps are quite sexy.

jim
From Sarah Benedict
Posted on July 23, 2005 at 09:25 AM
I don't understand why people think women shouldn't have muscles. Muscles signify health, youth, and strength. So unless you are very subtly saying women should be none of those things, I see nothing wrong with a girl being quite muscular.
I was a member of World Gym for a while and I used to see girls who participated in fitness pagents prepare for competitions. They did not look like men with hair, but like sculpted and confident women. I admired them for this.
I do not think violin has given me "huge muscles" and unless you are doing a body-builders diet and training program you will never get huge anyway no matter what exercise you do. (women only have so much testosterone.) Playing violin tones you in the back and arms. Muscle tone and muscle bulk are different because you can have one without the other.

I personally think it very backwards to fear having muscles. !

From Clarissa Ng
Posted on July 23, 2005 at 12:10 PM
I think muscles are good and I found it gave me a rounder and better sound when I play. I'm a very short person and small built but I delibrerately train my biceps with weighs at home (4kgs, both arms at the same time) and I used to go to the gym, as well as swimming alot.
Yeah, I do look funny with my big biceps now (well, comparatively) and people are surprised when they all of a sudden grab my arms for some reasons and found they're rock hard! So I don't wear sleeveless at all (I don't look good it them anyways). =)
From jim waters
Posted on July 23, 2005 at 10:30 PM
I read thru the various responses again reading them all the way thru and i must say i can't think of another time when i've heard so many women and girl have so much pride in the fact they have biceps i think its great i trully do i know growing up that girls were supposed to be feminine and never have muscles but boy i sure loved the girls that did have muscles. To this day i love summer time for all the sleevless tops come out and we get to see those sexy biceps :) so if any of you have doubts about how guys feel about it please clear your heads and show those arms for there are many of us guys that think its sexy. and to the one lady that was worried because of the definition in her arm when playing and the veins showing with the beutiful snow white skin all i can say is i would have been thrilled to see you at the recital in a sleevless top. A real treat.
Well i hope i hav'nt embarassed any of you or myself by being to open or honest but i hope you take it for what it is and except the admiration i have for all of you
responses or emails greatly appreciated
thanks jim
From jim waters
Posted on July 24, 2005 at 08:51 AM
Sara i got your email and 2 things i think you should try number one is to devide up your workout say upper body monday/cardio, weds legs and abdominals/cardio, friday upper body/cardio number 2 is you should increase your weights for your upper body if your not feeling a burn then your not getting any benefit from your time in the gym and for your lower body i would increase your reps to 20 and probally keep the weights where they are if you can lower them a bit if you have to by following the schedule i outlined above you will be able to increase the size of your upper body while defining your lower body with the higher reps and the increased cardio by getting to the gym 3 times a week:o) let mnow what you think
jim
From Sarah Benedict
Posted on July 24, 2005 at 09:50 AM
Thanks a bunch! I will go later today and take on "Friday" schedule, increase weight to upper body and try to exhaust my muscles.
Thank you so much!!!!
From jim waters
Posted on July 28, 2005 at 12:53 AM
Such a shame but it seems to be true, whenever I try to let women know that their muscles or strength is actully attractive to alot of men it seems they all clam up and the discussion is over leaving me feeling i have been to upfront or have said the wrong thing somehow offending most of you i honestly ment no offense. I would think I would be happy to find out a quality i had thought unattractive or tried to keep covered was actully something that many felt the exact opposite about. But I guess Im left to think im wacked for thinking its sexy when a girl has some muscle. Anyway thanks again for listening/reading.

have a good day
jim
p.s. sarah obviously this has nothing to do with you, you have been quite enjoyable. I hope your training is going well,let me know if you've increased your weights for your upper body or the poundages your using now.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on July 28, 2005 at 03:15 AM
But what about vascularity? I seem to have inherited my dad's arms.
From Sarah Benedict
Posted on July 28, 2005 at 08:49 AM
Jim, yes I increased my arm weights and the reps on my legs to three sets of 20. Whew! It is quite exhausting...and I was pretty beat the next day so I must have done something right. Thanks again.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 28, 2005 at 10:35 AM
Yes, he's into vascularity. Read up a couple posts.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on July 29, 2005 at 08:56 AM
Bleh, I wasn't talking about hints of blue beneath a pale skin. I mean, bulging channels up and down my arms. Like my dad's. And I would sit in his lap when I was three and push on them. Yuck! Well, at least they're not hairy. And I like them fine, so there.
From ana z.
Posted on July 29, 2005 at 10:00 AM
I'm playing for 10 years,not every day in past 10 years but ok,and I definitely don't have muscles on my arms/shoulders/whatever.And I don't take that kind of exercise that could develop these muscles.
So I guess it's genetic.
From Jim W. Miller
Posted on July 29, 2005 at 11:57 AM
I'm a graceful, willowy creature with slender arms and a mournful expression.
From jim waters
Posted on August 3, 2005 at 06:14 AM
Hello everyone hope your all doing well. Today I was called out to a job,(i do equipment repair i.e. diesel gen-sets, tractors, and other types of large equipment) it turned out to be at a private residence with a small horse corral. The lady that owned the property had a small tractor that she used for various chores around the house and she had stopped the tractor on a slope that ended in a creek. Well as im sure you've guessed the tractor went for a ride down the slope into the creek and was pretty well stuck and would'nt start. well i got a cable ready from the truck and set to recovering the tractor from its place in the creek, When it started moving back up the hill it slid sideways and actully rooled over onto it's side. It was'nt a large tractor by any meens but it was'nt light either i tried to push it back up onto its wheels myself but it was to heavy so i went to call for help on the radio. On my way to the truck the lady that owned the property came out from the house and asked how it was going i told her about the tractor flipping onto its side and that i was calling for help to get it back on its wheels and she said she and her daughter could help me and i said it would be best if i called for assistance from the office as i did'nt want her or the daughter to get hurt when she said "What you don't think were strong enough?" by now her daughter was there also and they both flexed their arms and i'll admit i was impressed, so i said fin e lets give it a try. well much to my surprise the two of them were able to right the tractor while i operated the winch. I asked them if they train and the daughter said she got her arms from violin and that she beats alot of the boys in school arm wrestling. Her mom said its amazing a bunch of the girls in her violin class have biceps. she said hers are from horse riding and doing the work around the property. I asked her how guys react and she said some like it and some get intimadated by it. I said i liked it and she put her arm up on the rear of my truck in the classic arm wrestling position and said want give me try, I said let's go. Quite the interesting day today let me tell you. well just thought i'd share .

have a good day
Jim

From Juanita Marion
Posted on January 15, 2007 at 10:15 PM
I've recently taken up the violin and although there aren't any veins to be seen, I have noticed a muscular increase in the size of my arms, ha and that's after only 4 months of playing. Sometimes I practice for 2 or more hours straight mainly, because I'm such a perfectionist, afterwards though my arms tend to feel as if I've been bench pressing 100 pounds for the past hour. My arms have always had a natural toness to them, even though I never work out. Because of this, I typically wear sleeved shirts. However, after reading some of the guys comments maybe I won't wear my sleeved shirts quite so much, LOL.
From Emily Grossman
Posted on January 16, 2007 at 03:26 AM
I typically wear long sleeved shirts, but typically for other reasons than self-consciousness.
From Juanita Marion
Posted on January 16, 2007 at 05:59 AM
Don't we all wish we could be a confident of ourselves, or at least of our bulging bi-ceps, as you apparently are Grossman. Although, we do keep the sleeved shirt companies in business so there is that :). Without them millions of sleeved and non-sleeved loving T-Shirt wearers everywhere would not recieve the admiration from showing off their washboard abs, and who needs that.
From sarah salmi
Posted on January 16, 2007 at 02:43 PM
Hi, This is interesting, i have been thinking about this myself. I have always been small, especially my shoulders, my hips used to be bigger than my shoulders if you know what i mean, i'm swedish so i can't really explain, but since i started playing the violin a year ago my upper body started to change, so when i looked in the mirror i was like aaah! now it's the other way around, my shoulders are wider and i look stronger. I don't work out or anything like that. Do you guys know if there is any special muscles that violinists should get in shape, i mean does any part of the body suffer from playing?
From Juanita Marion
Posted on January 19, 2007 at 07:39 AM
From what I've hear Sarah, it's best not to do any special exerscise, because should you ever need to quit them, the sudden cut off could cause your muscules to strain and you could injure yourself. At least that's what my instructor told me, but you should probably get a second opinion on the just in case I'm wrong.
From kimberlee dray
Posted on January 19, 2007 at 07:54 PM
okay okay. I'm finally "weighing in" on this question.

I've got runner's arms. Long and lean, with some muscle. I'm 5'8" and around 125 lbs.--135 when I get into prime running shape. I think my arms are kind-of puny. My husband is strong, but got out of shape for a little while. I thought it was my chance to beat him at an arm wrestle. Ohhh how wrong I was. He toyed with me, letting me think I would win, and then he let me have it. I will never beat him at an arm wrestle. In college, I beat my boyfriend in an arm wrestle, though . . . he didn't stay my boyfriend for long after that.

The fingers on my left hand are slightly longer than my right (maybe a quarter inch), except my thumb which is slightly longer on my right hand. These are the muscles I notice are "developed" as a result of playing violin: the side of my left hand (the muscle below fourth finger), the muscle on my left forearm (same side as fourth finger), the muscle between the knuckles of my right hand (because of my bow), and my right shoulder muscle is slightly more defined.


The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

The Violinist.com Interviews, Vol. 1

Hear more from the world's top violinists in The Violinist.com Interviews: Volume 1, which includes our exclusive conversations with Joshua Bell, Sarah Chang, and David Garrett, and others, as well as a foreword by Hilary Hahn.

Get it now! For Kindle | For iBooks | In Paperback

The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

The 2014 Violinist.com Holiday Gift Guide

We've compiled a list of some of the year's best new offerings from violinists for you to consider.