Printer-friendly version weekend vote: What kind of exercise goes along best with violin-playing?

The Weekend Vote

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Published: November 21, 2014 at 10:04 PM [UTC]

Everyone needs to exercise to promote good health, but what are the most effective forms of exercise for someone who regularly plays the violin?

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.

Posted on November 21, 2014 at 10:33 PM
I don't do yoga, but out of interest I looked up .
I think if the only yoga you do is hatha yoga, you'll need another form of exercise to burn calories.

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).

From Trevor Jennings
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 1:13 AM
My vote is for walking, and plenty of it. Not sauntering, but aiming for a pace of 100-120 steps/min. Least expensive exercise there is, which one can do at any time at any stage of life, and risk of injury is minimal. Great advantage is that you can think music without distraction and 120 steps/min is a useful bodily metronome in this respect. Beethoven and Elgar thought up a lot of their music during long country walks.
From Paul Deck
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 2:56 AM
I think to the extent possible one should just make exercise and transportation one and the same. Mix it up, run, bike, walk.
From Jim Hastings
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 3:36 AM
I voted Something Else -- in my case, walking. I walk an hour a day -- three 20-minute stretches at about 3.5 mph. With my height of 5-10, average for American guys, I'm going at about 144 bpm.

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.

Posted on November 22, 2014 at 4:59 AM
David Garrett also runs on a regular basis.
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM
I would have voted for walking if it had been in the list! And also, pilates, which works on keeping muscles long and supple.
From Peter Charles
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 9:59 AM
Walking is best for me 3+ miles in each hour - and about two to three hours per day. I have this must have, add on, essential and wonderfull aid.

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).

Posted on November 22, 2014 at 1:03 PM
I would recommend multiple options and not recommend one. Yoga, swimming, running, or something else that does not focus on building muscles in the arms and hands would be the better options because it will give you the exercise that you need without directly affecting what you use to play your instrument.

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.

From Anne Horvath
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 1:04 PM
Another vote for walking!
From Mark Roberts
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 2:38 PM
walking andante
From marjory lange
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 2:42 PM
Walking--like Peter, with dogs--in my case two enthusiastic, short-legged Bichons, who can do 4 mph for quite a distance, but don't, since sniffing is part of their exercise agenda.
From Karen Allendoerfer
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 3:06 PM
Another vote for walking! I also like biking and, when it's too late at night or the weather is just too dreadful for some reason, walking on an elliptical. I often listen to the music that I am learning--orchestra or solo--while I'm on walks.

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!

From Lawrence Price
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 4:20 PM
Cycling works great for me.
From elise stanley
Posted on November 22, 2014 at 7:01 PM
Yup, the big omission was walking - I walk 30 km a week (to and from work). It may be the best exercise there is seeing as that's one of the main things our bodies are designed to do!

From Margaret Mehl
Posted on November 24, 2014 at 11:20 AM
Any kind, probably. Might even double as a way of exploring a different musical style. Most fun in a group with others, but also good at home when no-one's around. A few minutes before starting violin practice are worth a try.
Posted on November 24, 2014 at 10:59 PM
I vote for water aerobics! I have a knee injury from running, and then got tendonitis in my wrist from playing/teaching and trying to do weight lifting classes. Water aerobics is great and helps your joints to be in the water. I found a very good instructor and it's not just for old ladies, I'm in my 30's!
From Christina C.
Posted on November 25, 2014 at 3:14 PM
I used to run until I developed a long-term injury. Now I make walking part of my morning commute and do Pilates with an instructor who is also an Alexander technician. I love what Pilates has done for me & the core-strengthening aspect of it has really helped with back issues and my posture in general.... definitely beneficial for violin-playing

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