Violinists lifting weights

December 27, 2006 at 04:14 AM · I'm 18 years old, and I've been playing violin since I was 10. I'm also very tall, and rather skinny. I've been trying to work out and build some muscle mass for several years, but I've always found that it's conflicted with my violin playing, as I'll be sore and tired the day after working out, and thus be unable to practice for very long. I've also heard that too much muscle makes your sound choppy and less fluid, which I certainly don't want. I heard that after two weeks of working out I should be getting less sore, but I can't find the opportunity to drop the violin for two weeks. How should I pull it off? Your thoughts? Thanks!

Replies (60)

December 27, 2006 at 04:28 AM · You will be less sore eventually yes, and if you are ever sore it certainly shouldn't be affecting your violining, since it doesn't really much muscle strength to play.

I do a lot of weight training and I've noticed that since I've begun my playing is definitely stiffer, and the tone less free. I think having large biceps affects your bow arm quite a bit, but I could be wrong...

December 27, 2006 at 05:05 AM · I've been lifting weights all my life. The trick is two-fold:

1: Always do a warm-DOWN routine at the end of your workout. That is, do a set or two of light weihts for each muscle group. This stretches the myosin fibers, speeding cellular repair and fluid recovery.

2: Do something to increase flexibility. Yoga & swimming are at the top of the list. Rock climbing is pretty good, too, if you're so inckined.

OK, there's a thrid: I assume you know this, but never work any muscle with heavy weights (tearing the cell walls) two days in a row. Always take a day off, or alternate musce groups.

December 27, 2006 at 05:02 AM · Oops. double-post.

Why doesn't this forum have a "delete post" option?

December 27, 2006 at 04:54 AM · I believe the philosohpy of no pain no gain is faulty, and especially harmful to one wanting to gain mass and play violin.

Having worked out my entire life, I regret having lifted heavy, and if I had it to do over again, would never push myself to the point of having joint problems later in life. This can happen, and as a violin player, it is like rolling three instead of two dice.

One can build strength and mass by taking a longer term approach without overdoing one's muscles. Also, it is equally important to focus on stretching and nautilus types of motions as much as simply adding muscle mass.

Building a strong physique,especially for violinists should be just as long term a commitment as the years that go into mastering violin. Add weight very slowly, and build your stamina from the inside out, rather than getting all caught up in the gym-think phenomona.

There will be 99 people in the gym to push you towards overdoing it, and maybe 2 who will tell you to go slowly--'go slowly'.

December 27, 2006 at 05:59 AM · light weight training is good to develop muscles and strengthen them to help avoid injuries.

more than light weight training can be not so helpful. it creates more tension in the muscles, and will interfere with your playing.

keep it to much less weight and more repetitions for the conditioning.

and yes, like said above, warm ups and cool downs are important.

stretching is important...and things like bananas can help with that burn feeling you get the next day. also, ALWAYS stay hydrated :)

December 27, 2006 at 07:06 AM · My experience is that if I grip nothing with the left hand I am fine. Even an hour of paddling a canoe or shoveling dirt will hurt my lightness and velocity for up to two weeks. Thus, no free weights for the left arm. I seek out a gym where I can do curls on a machine that has forearm pads, pads for pectorals, pads for deltoids, etc. The right arm doesn't seem to matter. Our local big city concertmaster was a fierce right handed tennis player, to no ill effect. Of course you can become pretty lopsided lookin'....but I've found that just enough women are full-moon crazy for that look.....

December 27, 2006 at 08:38 AM · I am a fairly heavy lifter and was also wondering how to keep your muscles relaxed and tension free. It seems that weightlifting has added tension in my muscles which can often result in pain in my left arm/hand whcn I play the violin. Does anyone else find this to be true? What stretches or excerices could we do to help with this?

December 27, 2006 at 05:29 PM · Doug, as Allen stated before swimming can help and I think it is probably the best exercise for musicians. Light weight training is good but overdoing it can be harmful to your playing. I think its helpful not to do too much upper training at once. Focus on one major muscle group, such as the back area, and it's important to do more reps and less weight.

Also drink a whey protein shake after a session. The protein helps rebuild broken muscle fibers during the workout. Yogurt is also good, especially ones with fiber.

December 27, 2006 at 06:14 PM · If you go to GNC you can get their basic whey protein, and that's all you need. Within an hour of finishing your workout mix it with milk. It's a lot cheaper than the shakes and you feel almost no pain in the morning. Also when I hurt too bad from lifting I use a shoulder rest.

December 27, 2006 at 06:25 PM · To be honest I don't know if anything being said here is true. I've been lifting weights for a very long time, some of them quite heavy, and it has had no adverse affect on my playing. I've been doing heavy lifting with my arms, back and shoulders for a number of years.

I can imagine if you get massive biceps it might affect your playing but you'd really have to be going crazy for it to affect you.

December 27, 2006 at 06:31 PM · Pieter, dealing with older people who have had to do hard physical labor is enough to tell me that one should use that knowledge alone, to look at balancing one's perspective concerning lifting--especially when considering violin.

With that said, I've lifted heavy too, and my knees routinely tell on me. Beyond that my upper body is thick as a tree, and I've really had to struggle with good posture and balancing the instrument as a result.

So the greater truth is somewhere in between, especially given string player's tendency towards injuries. If anything, in my mind, exercising should be limited to developing those aspects of muscularity that enhances playing, than to just arbitrarily adding overall mass.

So in a sense, you are right; but, I think there is more that we don't know than we do know--especially as it applies to string players. Experience is experience though, and my knees which also serve as percussion section to the local past 40 band tells me to go easy in these ways.

December 27, 2006 at 07:05 PM · Light to medium weights will work just fine. Lift slowly and correctly and you will gain useable muscle mass. Steve Hunter is also correct; muscles require protein right after use to grow. Don't overdo it, that alone could cause soreness.

December 27, 2006 at 07:42 PM · I do light to medium resistance (weights) and at least 30 to 40 minutes of aerobic almost every day. It definitely improves my playing.

Playing the violin is a very physical activity; a certain muscle mass will help.

Be very careful not to over do. Watch your form, especially your wrist angle.

Also, do not underestimate the positive mental effects of a good workout.


December 27, 2006 at 09:36 PM · There is no reason yo can't lift heavy weights and stay completely flexible. It's hard, and takes serious dedication to the warm-down (see my first post) but it can be done. Good examples of this are kung fu experts, some boxers, and Mark Mcguire-type batters. However, I do agree that there's little point to it, unless you are addicted to the weights. (but hey, that happens)

Of course, If you are going for the Ah-Nold look, you are in trouble.

As for protein, it doesn't matter WHEN you ingest it. You body doesn't metabolize it until the next day anyway. Also, be careful with protein. You need much less than you think (companies that sell those absurd nutritional supplements are all full of manure, all of them.) Your body actually RE-uses much of the protein that is broken down during the day. Too much protein can lead to kidney damage.

-And BTW, that expensive "whey protein" is the chemical and nutritional equivalent of powdered milk, at roughly 100 - 500 X the price. Save your money.

-Too complicated a subject for a simple post on a violinist forum, but if you are really into this, I suggest doing a LOT of reading. -You must read a lot, so as to eventually realize which books are also complete rubbish. (an incredibly high percentage)

I know we have some doctors & nutritionists on this forum, perhaps thay can add some insights.

December 28, 2006 at 02:09 AM · To state that nothing said on this thread is true would, of course, include that statement itself. My experience is very definite: weights left-handed cause the fingers to become somewhat leaden, inflexible, and inexpert at passages formerly mastered. The only way to prove this to yourself is to cease the exercises in question for two to three weeks and compare the results. As in any other field, flat assertions of opinion do not constitute proof of anything.

December 28, 2006 at 01:41 AM · After doing your weights have a shower and alternate between cold and hot water about 40 seconds each. Do this 5 times. Finish on hot water.

Or you can do it before a weights session and finish on cold water. If you have done really heavy weights and have a bath available you can swap between an ice bath and a hot shower.

This should greatly reduce the muscle soreness over the next two days after working out.

December 28, 2006 at 04:19 PM · Wenhao,

There is a book by Yehudi Menuhin, called "LIFE CLASS," that may be beneficial to us gym-addicted types. I haven't read it yet (just ordered it yesterday) but evidently Menuhin was heavily into yoga and other physical disciplines. It even sounds like he understood the principles of AT. Here's how it's described:

"Yehudi Menuhin describes his own approach to music and its practice, and offers a collection of exercises for mind and body......

Illustrated here with a wealth of outstanding instructional photographs, Menuhin's exercises are founded on the yoga principle of equilibrium, on a search for perfect harmony between outer and inner forces. He works from the feet up, graduating from exercises which stretch and strengthen toes and arches, through simple breathing exercises for relaxation, to head-stands, press-ups and exercises for the hands, arms and neck."

Sounds fascinating. This book also covers some of Menuhin's practise regimens, so it's a no-brainer, IMO:

"Most helpful of all for the aspiring violinist, he presents a range of detailed practices to help with the perfection of technique. The maestro shares his thoughts on music -'the most complete exposition of the body and spirit of man, and of our universe' - on musical interpretation, the great composers, and the orchestra. He offers an enthralling insight into his own life as a ‘working violinist', revealing his daily routine on tour, his diet, how he prepares for a concert, and reminiscing on performances from the past."


December 28, 2006 at 07:18 PM · Please pass on the Menhuin info--the ISBN... al

December 29, 2006 at 04:52 AM · I had a conversation about this with my teacher and he gave me a very simple reply about the absolute maximum strength you need as a vioinist. "All you need to be able to do is carry your wife into the bedroom." I asked, "What if your wife is exceptionally large?"

"Then she should carry you."

I used to lift weights quite seriously for athletic purposes. I set a record at my school and came close to other records, and had been captian of football and lacrosse teams and sponsered by a local bike shop until I left high school. None of this has helped me with violin, and in fact all of it has probably worked against it.

For the last two summers I have worked as a pedicab (bicycle cab) driver/rider because its fun and I make great money. The bad part is that pulling 300-800 lbs. around and up hills a few times a day on a tricycle put enormous strain on my hands (the legs are obvious). This is the same with any lifting. Holding a large amount of weight in your hands puts strain on your hands, and I would dismiss what just about everybody here is saying. You cannot fully relax your hands and essential muscles after a full-fledged lifting workout. I could not attain ideal relaxation until 3-4 days after. I'm sure you can play fiddle or simpler music, but if you want to really practice and perform on a professional level you should not lift weights.

If you don't have goals of being very serious or a professional, then you can lift all you want. If you want to be pretty serious but not a professional, then you can lift without your hands, as someone here mentioned, by using pads or strapping weights where necessary.

Swimming is probably the best workout for a musician, but running wouldn't hurt too much either. Rock climbing is the worst thing you could possibly do to your hands short of intentionally injuring them seriously. Tennis is a great workout too. Heifetz and Josh Bell were/are fond of playing tennis pretty seriously, I believe. Of course you could always do yoga and other such methods of improving strength mainly through flexibility.

December 29, 2006 at 08:08 AM · I even have my doubts about swimming. It's fine for every part of the body except the left hand. At the risk of seeming to repeat myself, the key to left hand facility is relaxation and flexibility. On the plus side, the undesirable effects of exercise on the left hand appear to be transient. Trial and error is the best way to figure out what you should not be doing. Just pay attention to how your playing is going after a serious bout of shoveling snow, or whatever, and if you're anything like me, your facility will tank for about two weeks, then recover.

December 29, 2006 at 12:44 PM · I suppose it could be argued that when one has greater strength, one is using a smaller percentage of total strength for a task, which usually results in greater precision and control.

Fifteen seconds of a tight hand grip on a weight might be very different from a sustained tight grip on bicycle handlebars or a snow shovel. Many machines don't require a tight grip.

Much has changed in weight lifting world. More is now known about getting good results and avoiding injury.

In your case, work slightly below the threshold which produces soreness and stiffness. Allow sufficient recovery time.......working each muscle twice per week or less is preferable to greater frequency, both to prevent injury and to get the best gains.

Good nutrition is fundamental......the "Zone" diet is a decent starting place. Frequent small meals are better than infrequent large ones; the body doesn't store some nutrients very well. Proper nutrition will influence how sore, stiff and tired you become. If you experience joint pain, find out what's causing it and modify your routine as necessary.

Maintain range of motion with stretching.

I'm among those who believe that clinical evidence supports consumption of quickly assimilated protein/carbs immediately after a workout.

I used to run into the Detroit Symphony associate concertmaster regularly in the gym before he moved away, so not everyone thinks some weight lifting hurts violin playing.

An old "gym rat",

David Burgess

December 31, 2006 at 09:38 AM · Comparing athlete to musician is interesting but might lead to a misconception of muscular action.Playing violin for hours is an athletic activity in term of neuromuscular energy but not in term of muscular mass.Violonist has to developp a strong back and scapular girdle musculature to secure a ergonomic posture ie the least tiresome one with the maximum freedom of the hand.

This requires a contraction-relaxation work of muscular groups based as much on mental as on pure muscular action. Weight lifting may develop a detrimental asymetry in muscular group.

Happy new year and best wishes

December 31, 2006 at 10:04 AM · You know I see massive guys in the gym capable or remarkable finesse. To suggest that it would hurt your violin playing, besides the fact that you're spending far too much time in the gym, is probably not right.

Also, the goal of most body building is to infact build symetry.

December 31, 2006 at 12:11 PM · David, excellent post. I agree with everything you wrote, except the bit about assimilation of proteins (actually amino acids, of course) and carbs. (carbs, especially) I would have to see that clinical evidence, and also look at who funded the research. (I hate to be cynical but, no wait, I LOVE being cynical) The suppliments industry is almost as huge and questionable as the tobacco industry. Similar questionable "studies" have been funded by both. Sales of steroid alternatives alone account for almost 1 billion in sales every year. -That's a lot of motivation to fudge test methodologies & alter conclusions.

One of my undergraduate degrees is in exercise physiology. That was a loooong time ago, and perhaps things have changed, (for instance, we know a lot more about neurotransmitters now) but I doubt the basics of cellular respiration and repair of walls & myofibrils (the contractable masses of sacomeres, made up of myosin & actine proteins) have changed. It is possible, though. I still read Scientific American religiously, and have never seen "proof" of this. Again, though, I would be foolish to say it is impossible. Can you point me to any information on these studies?

I have seen convincing proof that creatine monohydrate has real benefits (the downside is not yet fully known) -but it helps extend workouts (replenishing the ATP-ADP CYCLE) NOT speed recovery from soreness or stiffness. Also, it must should ingested BEFORE a workout, not directly afterward.

As for prohormones (think Mark McGuire) such as 4-andro-whatever the heck it's called, that has to be absorbed by the liver and then turned into testosterone. that's how it works. that's why it isn't effective in the body until a day after you ingest it.

As for carbs- No way, no how. Even the simplist of sugars has to be converted into glycogen first, and stored in the liver & muscle tissue. It is then LATER broken down into glucose and used for the ATP cycle. End of story on that one.

As for cellular repair, virtually all of it happens when you deep-sleep, so taking a suppliment directly after your workout isn't going to help unless you also take a long nap.

The only thing I know for sure has an immediate effect is vitamin B. Injecting a sore muscle with vitamin B has long been known to aid recovery from soreness, though

I don't remember why.

I have to try to find some time to research this. Alas, free time is fairly precious these days.

Oh, to be a student again!

December 31, 2006 at 10:37 AM · Allan,

I am interested in this too.

In the past for weight lifting I've taken Glutamine and Flax Seed oil, which is rich in Omega 3. My understanding is that it facilitates the development of strong cell membranes.

These protein concoctions seem very weird to me. In fact, a lot of body builders don't take any supplements these days, they just eat foods.

Protein seems like a no brainer... alot of the jacked guys I know at the gym take 2g/lb of body weight... it makes me wonder though since some of them are taking in like 2 cans of tuna a day and the mercury must be just doing wonders for their liver.

About protein absorbtion, I'll have to see. My mother is a physician who is big on evidence based medicine. I'll ask her about that, because the belief in the body building world is that you need to feed your muscles protein within an hour of lifting. These people seem to know what they're doing as the size and quality of their muscles is about the most important thing in the entire world to them, so I'd be interested to see if it's really true that one only metabolizes protein much later, and this idea of taking it post workout is just mush.

December 31, 2006 at 10:54 AM · "alot of the jacked guys I know at the gym take 2g/lb of body weight"

Well, you can' go by what athletes (I'll be nice and use that term for bodybuilders) think. They believe what they're told, usually by someone with something to sell. The guys also spend 3-4 hrs per day in the gym. Do you really think it's the protein they ingest beforehand that causes results? Also, again, the body re-uses much of the protein that gets broken down. When a bodybuilder reads how much protein is needed per day for X lbs of muscle, they are not told (by the suppliment seller) that they don't actually have to INGEST that much protein.

Years ago, I trained at the US Olympic center in Colorado Springs. You would be amazed at the many "commonly held" beliefs of top athletes that turned out to be completely incorrect.

However, I am VERY interested to hear what your mother has to say. Please post soon, and in detail.

December 31, 2006 at 10:52 AM · Dear friends,

I am violinist, 20 years old... since 11 i play violin but i have done sports(swiming since 9) and gym (since 17 until i was 19) after i got a very fir body lifting weight became not so good for my violin... it was impossible to play all fast tempos(end of rondo caprichos of saint saens) also i was geting stif and more than that my arm was becoming heavier and heavier and sometimes was imposible to have a good balance in the bow.

I can suggest to do sports more than GYM... for example, swimmingis the best sport ever, you will increment and fortify your muscles, you will improve your breathing capicity(good for brain... more oxygen...we also need brething to play violin... to stay in the ground in difficult passages and to not rush) and in the water your muscles can relax...

This was my expirience, i quited swimming because i didnt have enough time now that i am 100% in the violin but i try to do sports everytime i can.

I hope the best for you... and keep practicing... music is wonderful


December 31, 2006 at 12:08 PM · Pieter,

When you talk to Mom, please make sure to differentiate between building muscle, and recovering from soreness and stiffness. (The OP asked about soreness) They are somewhat related, but still separate issues. One can get stiff after a "maintanence" workout, which is what I do (not interested in getting any bigger) and what I originally posted about.

BTW, Pieter, I think you hit the nail on the head in an earlier post when you said, basically: The only reason spending too much time lifting weights might hurt your playing is that you could instead be spending that same time practicing.

Unless you have unlimited time.

Oh, to be a student again!

December 31, 2006 at 02:15 PM · How many "ripped" violin players do you see? Can those guys at the gym negotiate a four octave scale with all the correct notes? I doubt it. Look at most successful players, none of them are very large except for Vengerov who got pretty big. (but still within reason) I just can't see how you can be "ripped" and play the violin. You use different muscles (we are called SMALL muscles athletes for a reason) then most athletes and too much lifting can create tension and wreak havoc on your "circulation" that is imperative for violin playing. It just seems that having too much mass gets in the way of the muscles you should be using. Some of the best players I know are skinny and lean. (These are internationally recognized players)

Regarding protein, I'm pretty sure after a workout your metabolism is fired up so something like a protein shake is good to help restore some lost energy. Especially if you don't eat a meal after the workout because I don't know about you but after I workout for an hour, I am starving...

Happy new year!

December 31, 2006 at 01:39 PM · Allan, good point about who funded the research. I don't remember, only that some of the studies were done at university athletic departments. I think one or more of them used markers on the proteins to see when derivatives showed up in the blood, and used double-blind tests to assess progress of two groups using different methods.

My understanding is that one advantage of taking protein and carbs right after a workout is that it prevents going into a catabolic state. I don't know (don't remember) if the protein is actually available for synthesis at that time.

One function of the simple carbs is to induce an insulin reaction, which is thought to put the body into a mildly anabolic state.

One thing I do to attempt to verify information is to pay attention to what is being done by people who are getting good results. Some of the "natural" bodybuilders today make the steroid-enhanced bodybuilders of 30 years ago look rather unremarkable.

What is "natural"? In some cases, it may be that they lie or are skillful at cheating the tests. In cases where I know people pretty well though, they don't seem to mind admitting privately if they are using steroids or steroid mimickers, so I have some sense of who's doing what.

Sorry about not citing specific studies. I too am short on time and would need to do some serious looking to dig stuff up. I can't rule out that I've been seduced by protein supplement suppliers, although I don't use them myself because my body doesn't seem to like dairy products.

December 31, 2006 at 03:35 PM · Yeah, David, the amount of purposeful mis-information out there is staggering. Again, 1 billion bucks a year is serious motivation.

You wrote, "One function of the simple carbs is to induce an insulin reaction, which is thought to put the body into a mildly anabolic state."

OK, two things I'm pretty darned sure about:

1: The term "anabolic state' is painfully twisted and abused by the supplement companies. IIRC, it means a state of anabolism, which in turn means (sort of) a STORAGE OF ENERGY in the cells. In other words, converting carbs into glycogen, which is then stored in the muscles and liver (exactly as I wrote earlier.) It also can mean the creation of new cells from proteins & fuel, (i.e. anabolic steroids) -and this ALSO involves energy storage but only happens when you sleep. In both cases, it's a constructive process.

I've seen companies use that term to imply a state of high metabolim, of creating energy. I'm pretty sure that's completely false, in fact 100% backwards. -but marketing is a beautiful thing.

So you are correct, but not exactly. I say that because it doesn't matter is the carbs are simple or complex. (that's another area where the snake oil salesmen run amok) The only difference with complex carbs is that they take more energy to break down (but then yeilding more stored energy, so not a problem) and a slightly larger amount of toxic residue from the conversion process.

IIRC, it's the alpha cells in the pancreas that secrete the insulin (how's that for remembering 28 y-o info?) Insulin causes glycogen to be turned into blood glucos. When this process is faulty, you are diabetic.

The reason eating simple carbs (sugar) can be bad is that it puts you in a state of temporary, self-induced hypoglycemia. That is, the body reacts to the carbs by reconverting free glucose back into glycogen. You then feel tired. Coffee acts like insulin, causing some glycogen to go back to glucose, thus feeding your metabolism.

Well, at least THAT has something to do with violin playing! (finally back on topic) Bottom Line: Don't eat that Snickers bar before a big performance.

December 31, 2006 at 03:29 PM · Kevin, you wrote, "I'm pretty sure after a workout your metabolism is fired up so something like a protein shake is good to help restore some lost energy. "

That's just completely wrong. For starters, we don't get energy from protein, (only carbs & fats) Your other statement is just as false. No offense, but you should refrain from discussing things you know absolutely nothing about.

I apologize for having to correct you in public, but such info is not benign. So, I'll make you a deal- edit or delete your post and I'll do the same to this one. Thanks.

December 31, 2006 at 04:27 PM · Allan -

Relax. Why the attitude? First of all I said "I'm pretty" sure and energy was the wrong word. I wasn't speaking like I was an authority...I meant energy as in calories burned. You burn calories after you workout out, no? I just know people who go eat pizza after a workout so this is a better alternative.

This is not a nutrition discussion board, BTW.

What part is completely false?

December 31, 2006 at 07:17 PM · Kevin, I don't know how to help you. All you need to know has already been written, above.

Believe what you wanna believe, post what you wanna post, I'm outa' here.

December 31, 2006 at 07:58 PM · Wenhao Sun,

The way to pull it off is slowly, very slowly. You're 18 and (odds are) you have lots of time. As has been suggested, begin with low weight, weight you can do easily. If you're finding yourself too sore to practice, you're jumping in way to hard and fast. If you were teaching a beginner to play violin, you wouldn't set them in front of Bach Unaccompanied Violin pieces as tell them to play hard and fast. You'd coach them in beginning technique and correct form and start them off slowly, letting them advance as they gain skills.

It looks as if you live near Microsoft? I know from experience that there are several good gyms in the area. My Redmond/Bellevue experience is eight or nine years out of date, but I assume that all those smart young people are still looking for physical ways to burn their stress and buff their bodies. Visit several local gyms over a period of time and ask about personal trainers until you find someone you understand and who listens to you. Take some lessons until you feel confident to proceed on your own. Don't feel pressed for time, you've plenty of that, and the knowledge you build now will serve you for decades to come.

Don't focus on just the next two weeks, focus on the time it takes to get you where you want to go.



December 31, 2006 at 08:33 PM · Kevin,

Ripped doesn't mean grotesquely muscled. I know some violinists who are tremendous athletes, and who have considerable mass in the upper body. I think as long as people keep things within reason, your body shape won't have much affect on your playing.

December 31, 2006 at 11:57 PM · I know that Fodor is an avid athlete and has an impressive build. No one can argue with his ability to play the fiddle.

As for the other comments--less heat, more light.

January 1, 2007 at 03:58 PM · Pieter -

I agree. Within reason. I just associate heavy lifting to people who have no neck and can't put their arms at their sides because of their "wings". I'm not trying to say that buff players can't play (David Halen, cm of St. Louis, can probably bench 250 lbs.)but it doesn't seem as natural, thats all.

January 1, 2007 at 08:00 PM · Kevin, if people ever get that big, I think they have other issues to worry about besides their inability to play violin.

January 2, 2007 at 06:57 AM · Allan, it is pretty evident that energy can be derived from protein. This is why someone who is starving doesn't die after they burn their fat reserves, but instead their body uses enery from their protein. This is also why people with some diseases and illnesses that hinder the body's ability to use its fat are given more protein than normal.

Creatine is an odd thing. Since I had been lifting for about two years without it it didn't help me much. In fact I just gain about 30lbs and looked much bigger because of how it makes your cells retain water. I lost just about all the weight after I stopped taking it. I know some people who it has really worked for though. Now if I decide to get a workout in through cycling or playing some hoops I just drink a beer afterwards and I always maintain a healthy diet.

Back to the original subject, I would maintain that any real lifting that requires the use of your hands will have a negative effect on your playing, assuming you want to reach a high level of playing. Their is a difference between someone who is athletic and has that type of build (the violinists we have mentioned) and someone who lifts weights. Just look at ballet, gymnastics, and swimming. It would be rare to find someone who does these on a professional level and lifts weights, though I'm sure a small percentage lift very lightly like serious runners do. The only reason I ever lifted was to gain an advantage in rough sports, and it is obvious that it will not help you as a violinist in any way. If it will not help you and possibly hurt you, why risk it?

January 2, 2007 at 11:08 AM · "Allan, it is pretty evident that energy can be derived from protein. This is why someone who is starving doesn't die after they burn their fat reserves, but instead their body uses enery from their protein"

That's the body's last-ditch effort to stay alive. It's incredibly innefficient, creates a high level of toxins, and does not happen in a normal body. It only happens when you have completely deleted fat & glycogen reserves. That's why it's not worth mentioning and compretely erroneous to the discussion.

I never heard of creatine causing cells to retain extra water (wouldn't that throw off the sodium balance?) but it's possible. Interesting if true.

January 2, 2007 at 11:07 AM · I know someone who used creatine. The "results" seem to be quite artificial and just cause water bloating. In my opinion, almost any supplement you could ever want to take can be more healthily taken by eating the right food. And unless you're a really serious athlete, I don't think it's that important.

January 2, 2007 at 05:14 PM · Alberto Bachmann, in "An Encyclopedia of the Violin": "....recalls Vieuxtemps' saying that the violinist should have an arm of steel and a wrist of velvet."

January 2, 2007 at 06:38 PM · From Brian R;

"Just look at ballet, gymnastics, and swimming. It would be rare to find someone who does these on a professional level and lifts weights..."


Weight lifting was widely thought to be detrimental to swimming until Mark Spitz won 7 gold medals and set another 7 world records at the 1972 Olympics. ;-)

Over the years, there have been three female retired pro ballet dancers lifting weights in my gym; two still taught.

From Sports Illustrated, April 3, 2000:

"Tiger Woods's mysterious weight-training regimen, about which he refuses to divulge details, even to his father, has packed 20 pounds of muscle onto his once-willowy frame and sent guys such as David Duval into programs that have left them looking ripped. "I'm really making an effort to get stronger," says Jesper Parnevik. "It's all Tiger's fault.

January 3, 2007 at 01:46 AM · wenhao,

sounds like there are several issues here.

1. weight lifting is a very broad term. depending on your interest, you can increase bulk and strength, increase strength without much increase in bulk, or focally improve certain muscle function, depending on how you stress the muscles. in your first post, it sounds you may want to bulk up to make your frame more balanced, that is, get wider to go with your tall frame. in that case, you need to hit the gym and try some HEAVY weight training, that is, high weight, low rep to start. there are many ways to achieve that. some here can probably share with you their routines:).

2. if you are very sore after lifting weight and takes a long time to recover (assuming regular dumbbells for regular folks), it is possibly a reflection of your general deconditioning, that your aerobic capacity is low. after all, your general health is more important than anything, including classical music, including the size of the biceps and pec majors. you can lift weights with your lower limbs which contain the big muscles and make work-out/conditioning more effective. this is particularly practical for you since you can play violin with more ease if your legs are sore than if your arms are sore. if your arms are sore and shaking from overexertion, there is no question that you will lose fine motor control for violin. but, the key is moderation and pace. too much too soon can turn something positive into negative.

3. some people's muscle bulk up and stay up easier than others, due to genetic makeup or level of conditioning or even level of testosterones, etc. if you insist on bulking up and still playing violin with ease, you need to GRADUALLY build up your body. first, get in better shape (use stairs more, fast walk more),,,better nutrition, better sleep,etc. then device a program with a trainer that you can live with. low wt, low rep, then low wt high rep and eventually high wt, whatever rep. keep in mind, you also need a flexibility/stretching program to keep the muccle tone supple and functional. some people report success with taking supplement during weight training, but hard to say how you will respond.

4. or, be realistic and exercise for the sake of exercise. somehow i have a hard time imaging how jimmy stewart would have looked if he had bulked up.

January 3, 2007 at 02:49 PM · I studied violin from age 4 to 17 and started olympic wrestling at 13...until 38 years of age...of course ,that means intense training with heavy weights ( dead lift, heavy squat , bench press ect, ect.) Now , my weight is 230 and I am cut with almost no fat...and I cant play the violin anymore...At 15, I was able play Paganini first concerto (Sauret cadenza)and many virtuoso works and remember that the feeling was entire freedom of the left- hand and the bow...I do not believe that violin playing has anything to do with muscles or bodybuilding...of course, doing exercices is important for a musician, like biking, running or swimming. But I do not agree that heavy weight-lifting is compatible with violin playing...

Happy New year,


January 3, 2007 at 04:44 PM · i think the point here is at what level are you comfortable with yourself mentally as well as functionally? are you willing to trade, at what level?

to train to be an olympic level wrestler is an extreme...marc, you are probably the only one in the world who played violin at very high level and at the same time subjected yourself to a situation where your opponent could grab your fingers and twist...

to have barely any body fat is an extreme and a personal choice, too. indeed, a hard violinist is hard to find.

to play with ease paganini at 15 is also an extreme, but it is doable if all you do is violining.

often, it is demanding to reach and maintain all different extremes at the same time; usually we achieve one at the expense of the others. clearly it is the case with marc. but that is a personal choice. you do not wake up one morning and all the paganinis in your system is gone. it is a gradual process and there is room for reflection and decision.

yet, for each individual, there may be a different level of muscle build-up that is the most optimal for violin playing. the same may apply for golf, tennis, swimming... if in the process of muscle training, violinsts become more aware of rototar cuff muscles and learn ways to strenghen them, why not?

may be mr sun can pack some 15 pounds of USDA fat free lean meat to his frame and his violining is not adversely affected, while others may feel great restriction with the same muscle load. bulking up is essentially creating muscle cell inflat the ballons. it is not like you bulk up and there is no return. you stop lifting, atrophy sets in. there is no clinical evidence suggesting that the hypertrophy-atrophy route will affect violining permanently.

one interesting area actually not discussed so far is reaction time. to me, reaction time is very crucial for high level violin play. there are many ways to test that, but essentially, it is a way to check the sensory-brain-motor loop. for instance, if we put earphones on some very advanced players vs not so advanced players (even though both groups have played similar number of years), you ask them to clap hands or tap fingers when an audible signal is heard, there is a good chance that you will see, on the average, the advanced groups react faster and more accurately than the other group. this simple test has been used in many sports, including golf, which i am familiar with. the top 10 golfers in the world have much better reaction time than the pack. why is this important to violin players?

because timing is everything. when and how to execute the fingering, when and how to catch the bows... some players seem to breathe through tough new pieces, some struggle, partly because, i speculate, of the different reaction time. with "weight lifting", may be some can improve the motor part of the loop, while others find too much muscles will impede the pathway.

last, one needs to be cautious about looking good or too good because looking too good is not good looking or necessarily healthy, especially for guys, but that is my opinion. there is a reason why the best looking guys usually do not get the girls:), nor do they get the best out of violins apparently, hehe.

January 3, 2007 at 04:19 PM · My discipline has nothing to do with esthetic (looking good) or to "catch " girls has you pointed out...And about my violin playing, I had skills, but not enough in my opinion to make a , not an extreme...My point here is a fair warning about violin playing and weight lifting...I never heard about Kreisler, Heifetz or Milstein doing these kind of exercises to achieve perfection or high standards... A healty life is important, sports are also, but stiffening the muscles? I am not sure about that...Moderate and natural musculation done with healty exercices ( running, swimming, biking) are enought for a violinist in my opinion...



January 3, 2007 at 04:47 PM · marc, thank you for the clarification. take whatever i write with a bucket of salt:)

with me, since i am not good looking, i thought i will get the girls as consolation, but apparently there are exceptions.


January 3, 2007 at 04:57 PM · Al, I am not upset...I think that conversation is amusing...When you feel good inside, you look good !!!


January 3, 2007 at 05:14 PM · exactly. or, if you set out to do something very challenging and against all odds you do reach the goal, that feeling is priceless.

currently, in the USA at least, i am very familiar with the use of steroids to bulk up, from the legal anti-aging medicine, to illegal use by prof athletes all the way down to junior high kids.

the prof athletes scandals hit the wires easily, but the bigger issue is the vast number of grade school kids taking steroid to bulk up, to compete with bigger competitors and boost self esteem socially.

i know of kids in early teens buying steroid meant for horses from mexico and inject themselves. for some sports, there is no turning back because everyone else is doing it. they walk around with bigger frames, bigger pimples, high blood pressure, glucose intolerance, testicular atrophy and the infamous roid rage..

all in all, the only sport left i think will not have to worry much about drug use is golf (try putting after a cup of coffee). classical music the way it is played will also be unadulterated.

January 3, 2007 at 07:17 PM · Many athletes do not make use of steroids and it is very frustrating when you compete with others and you know they use them and all sorts of stratageme not to get cut...but I still love olympic greco -roman wrestling, even if I was not a top...It is a wonderful discipline, and one of the oldest sport in the history, even if not very popular...


June 13, 2012 at 05:43 AM · You guys can train your legs and abs with no restriction.

For the upper part do swiming and if you are planning on lifting weights for working out chest, back, bicep and tricep, I would recommend you to get the Isolator Fitness.

The key is to isolate your forearms and wrists from being worked out. Involving forearms and wrists is the worse thing if you play the violin.

The fact is that we have all the tendons in the fore arm while we need flexibility on our right wrist and fingers.

When we work our back with pull downs, we are also involving our fingers to be worked. Therefore, they get strong but les flexible.

With this device you dont have to grab anything.Therefore, you isolate the wrist and the whole forearm.

When I found this thing, I got extremely happy.

Just got it 3 weeks ago.

Good luck.. another tip RELAX YOUR RIGHT SHOULDER!! Gives you better tone ;)

June 13, 2012 at 12:35 PM · I don't know much about weight lifting but my general impression is that the whole idea of buying all these "supplements" sounds like a tremendous waste of money. I don't think a violinist is going to be weight-training to the extent that these kinds of things would be necessary anyway. Just have a bigger breakfast.

June 13, 2012 at 01:06 PM · I can sympathize with the original poster. In college, I was 5' 10" and 135 lb. I looked like a rifle cleaning rod.

For me, bulking up is not really the issue. If you count flab, my body got really good at that, starting at about age 35. But adding some mass and strength buys a lot other things, like having more "engine" to burn off the excess fat. It's also easier to haul around woodworking machinery. :-)

Now I'm not a physiologist or anything like it, but the one point I'd like to make (that I did not catch in the thread, so far) is that you may want to be sure to have balanced muscle strength. As a runner, I found out pretty fast that quads and hams need to balanced. It's not 50-50, and my reference on the matter is not at hand (Healthy Runner's handbook), but you can look it up.

I'm thinking that a lot of the issues weighty maties have with posture (and other unpleasantries) could be muscle balance issues -- everything else aside. It's really easy to like doing one weight station, and neglect the opposing muscles. Resist the temptation: DAMHIKT.

June 14, 2012 at 05:36 AM · The idea that weight training will somehow give you these big muscles that impede playing violin is complete nonsense. Playing the violin is itself an athletic activity. Strong muscles do not mean uncontrollable muscles or inflexible muscles/joints. If all goes well maybe at some point you can get to having enough of a deltoid or pectoralis to not need a shoulder rest.

The whole notion that large or strong muscles are counter productive to anything is a myth that is perpetuated by people who do not have the focus or discipline to get the strong muscles to begin with.

June 14, 2012 at 02:37 PM · Anyone can achieve a Greek statue body without lifting too much weight. People who doesn't like to be sore should buy BCAA.

P.S Vengerov train his body too (I have seen on a documentary!).

June 14, 2012 at 03:08 PM · I've worked out regularly with weights since 1988 -- barbells, dumbbells, some machines -- and have never had any conflict between this activity and violin-playing. I'm not a competitive bodybuilder -- I gave up that ambition around 1994, partly because I don't want to invest the time to go to such extremes, and partly because I don't think I'd have the stomach for the crazy dieting involved.

I'm not big -- not about to end up looking like Joe Football Player or the next Arnold S. But this sport remains very much a part of my life -- a real plus. I've seen the gains from it.

My recommendation to anyone starting out: Get a trainer -- at least for the short term -- so that you get good 1:1 guidance at the start and careful monitoring of your form. Don't work the same muscle group -- like back, chest, arms -- more than once in 48 hours. If you work more than one muscle group per session, start with the bigger muscles and work your way down to the smaller ones.

June 15, 2012 at 06:33 AM · Remember. Erick Friedman played football and he turned out to be a fine violinist.

June 15, 2012 at 01:47 PM · I was just recalling this morning that some people thought Rafael Nadal would not make it to the top of tennis because he previously was a bodybuilder and he would be too muscle-bound to have the agility and speed of someone like Connors, Sampras, or Federer.

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