Right shoulder(bow arm) exhaustion

November 23, 2015 at 12:17 AM · As a 24 year old University student, staying in shape is very important for my health. I used to go to the gym daily, and that has been reduced to 3 days a week since I've been playing my violin consecutively.

I am starting to find that my fitness has been declining and started paying a little more attention to that, and reducing violin practice nights.

So, the balance is 3 days at gym, and 4 nights with violin currently. Even then, it seems that my right arm hasn't recovered entirely for regular practice.

How do other violin enthusiasts, or professionals deal with right shoulder exhaustion?

Replies (27)

November 23, 2015 at 12:54 AM · Greetings,

I suppose it depends what kind of fitness you are referring to. I dont know from your post what you did in the gym but I do have fairly extensive experience of weight training from my youth . So i do I agree that there are certain variations of training that do require a faily visit to the gym. For example the 'one body part per day' routines actually worked best for me. It took a lot of trial and error to find that out . But in general , even doing a split routine, it should not be necessary to train with weights more than four times a week and three is usually better. The importnat time is when you are recovering as much as the relatively short period you should be spending with weights. So what were you doing the rest of the time on the daily visit schedule?Alternating with swimming, cycling, running on a treadmill or whatever? It s quite possible you were in in the realm of overtraining anyway..... I am very very very familiar with the addictive nature of being in a gym and pushing yourslef to the absolute limit, but its not such a good idea in the long run.

In terms of real fitness, there is quite a strong consensus these days that short intense workouts using primarily your own body weight ' cross training' kind of stuff is the best overall. The leisurely stroll for half an hour in the morning just doesnt cut it for maintaining peak health into your old age.

So where are you in this general scheme of thigs, and what is really important to you?

Mildly interested,


Sorry, getting back to your actual question. I think you should stop training immediately and get your rotator cuff schecked. If it is injured then a competent therapist can give you very light, somewhat specialized weight training exercises to help protect the area. Surgery is very much a

ast resort.

November 23, 2015 at 02:21 AM · Hello Buri,

At the gym, I spend the most of my time doing cardio, usually half hour to an hour run, then I'm off to free weights mostly focused on my back, shoulder and arms.

I have had 2 surgeries to my left shoulder, so I do a lot of strengthening exercise for both arms and shoulders. I know for a fact that the right shoulder faulter here and there from playing violin because it's strained and exhausted, not due to a damage.

To me, all aspects of health is important, both mental and physical. I guess playing violin helps my mental health, because it is almost the only stress reliever I have nowdays.

November 23, 2015 at 03:30 AM · Greetings,

two surgeries sounds is pretty awful.

Of course I don`t know your situation so many pinches of salt needed , but three days a week on back , shoulders and arms is probably over training depending on what your doing, of course. My two cents would be to do back on Monday as an individual workout. (As you know, that is quite standard given how tough deadlifts and the other suspects are.) Then train -legs= on Wednesday. That should be mind blowingly tough as well. The much lighter and less stressful shoulder and arms (a very good combination) is FRiday. Then after a relaxing weekend hit the heavy stuff again. Without the leg work the other training is very much less valuable than it should be.

Violin playing, in of itself,should not tire the right shoulder at all. Especially if you already have some serious muscle their anyway. Possibly some crossover effect form the left shoulder?

For the mental health, hanging round with the loonies on v.commie is usually very effective. Or so Ive heard...

Take it easy,


November 23, 2015 at 06:06 AM · Hi Steven, I am actually an avid gym goer myself,(5 days a week) and also a university student. I think the biggest thing is to not be so tense with your shoulder when you play the Violin. I know this probably sounds really obvious, but sometimes it's hard to change your mindset when two activities require different types of thinking. While weightlifting, the proper way to perform it is to tense the muscle that you are working before your lift the weight(to promote a type of connection between your brain and your muscles), but while playing the violin, the opposite is often true, and you must relax. Overall, this is something to think about, and it would be in your best interest to make this distinction I think. Given your history however, I would probably go real light on the shoulder workouts, and maybe just go with volume, and stay off the heavy weights.

Also, what type of a routine are you using? There's no reason at all to work your shoulders everyday. I actually only work upper body like two days a week. If you don't give your muscles times to recover, they won't grow. I also have a hunch that your shoulder is probably too high while playing the violin, because when I remember when I had any type of shoulder soreness/pain, that was usually why. I would probably go to a teacher to check your setup again, if you have the time. I think shoulder problems can get pretty serious if left untreated. An example is this article.


Probably not a lot of people on here know Nina personally to comment, but it seemed that even a very good violinist/virtuoso can and might have had some set up issues.

November 23, 2015 at 10:12 AM · If the violin is important to us, it's the other physical activities such as gym, brick-laying, etc, which have to adapt.

Obvious, really!

November 23, 2015 at 11:30 AM · As I read your note it seems to imply that you think you have to work out in order to have the arm strength to play?

This is strange. As Buri said above, you need virtually no strength to bow a violin. The real challenge is relaxation - that is NOT using your muscles - if you need strength then I find it hard to imagine how you can generate a good tone.

Just look at many (in particular women) soloists - they have tiny arms and yet play with full tone and have no problem completing full concertos.

It would be interesting to see a video of you playing - would you like to link to one?

November 23, 2015 at 12:11 PM · As Buri mentions, you would probably benefit from a "split routine" at the gym, and probably shouldn't be working any body part more than twice a week. Things need time to recover and strengthen.

(I've been a regular in gyms for 40+ years)

There may also be some issues with less-than-ideal posture when playing, so a video could be helpful, as has already been suggested.

November 23, 2015 at 02:17 PM · Basically my routine involves back and shoulder strengthening every time, a lot of cardio. I don't do separate legs because I do intense cardio.

Often when I get to my violin, even picking up the bow feels like a stretch from time to time.

I am just frustrated by the fact that I am losing muscle mass so rapidly, I am noticing that I feel weaker. I'm seeking to find a balance between strengthening exercises and still being able to play my violin.

November 23, 2015 at 03:25 PM · Steven,

I play violin 6 days a week and work out with free weights at a gym for 2 hours on 3 days a week. I do plenty of shoulder exercises, e.g., bench press, overhead press, row with weights, medicine ball throws, etc. The violin, in comparison, should be almost effortless for the shoulders. Both shoulders should be relaxed and 'down' in a natural position.

Its hard to give advice without seeing and hearing. That said, I suspect one of 3 things: 1. your stance may be 'hunched up' and creating sustained shoulder and neck muscle tension. If so, you need a new teacher. 2. a shoulder tendon or the rotator cuff may be injured. If so, you need to stop everything for several months. Tendons take 6 to 9 months to heal. 3.You say you are losing muscle mass. If you are losing weight (not just muscle ability), you may have a medical issue. See a doctor.

Listen to your body. When it gives strong messages, strong changes in action are necessary.

November 23, 2015 at 03:30 PM · Steve, losing muscle mass as rapidly as you say doesn't sound normal. I think you should visit your doctor, sooner rather than later.

[later edit: I didn't see Mike's post before I posted mine, but I was thinking along the same lines.]

November 23, 2015 at 04:00 PM ·

In the periods when I did lift weights on a regular basis, I felt more fatigued when I played. In fact, even on an every-other-day schedule of lifting, my arms were in a near-constant state of either exhaustion on the day-of or or fatigue on the day-off. So rehearsals would be torture--it was tiring to just hold the fiddle up. Of course it depends on what kind of weight one is attempting...I was usually trying for a lot.

But I think if one does not regularly lift weights, then one should not experience muscle exhaustion unless there is excess tension or faulty technique.

November 23, 2015 at 10:40 PM · This is a good read, but you probably know this already....


One thing I do periodically is blow up a rubber dingy. This increases our oxygen intake, helps repair muscle and strengthens our lungs. I did it to help with my singing.

I notice my bow arm gets tired when the bow starts loosing grip. I now do bow hair alcohol baths and cleaning ever 2-3 months to keep the grip strong.

Poor posture will decrease oxygen intake.

November 23, 2015 at 11:17 PM · I'll have to blame my muscle mass loss to violins really, I went from 7 days/week gym to none for 2~3 months, this almost annihilated all muscles I have in the upper body.

That is why I want to pay more attention to my physical fitness. The fact that I am constraint to desk studying doesn't help too much.

It's not really my posture or anything that's hurting my arm. If I have a 1 week break then get back to playing, no problem whatsoever, it's just the fact that I am not getting enough rest in between gym and violin.

November 24, 2015 at 08:02 AM · Just a thought, maybe your problem is not solved by working out more but finding a way to make it more efficient.

I find that fascia training and massage (I regularly use the Blackroll tools (www.blackroll.com), which are fantastic to release muscle tension and improve flexibility) does indeed help a lot with muscle regeneration and performance, especially after training.

November 24, 2015 at 10:40 AM · There really shouldn't be any incompatibility between moderate-resistance weight training (with proper recovery time between workouts), and playing. I used to run into the associate concertmaster of the Detroit Symphony quite regularly at the gym, doing weight training.

Less-than-ideal posture and ergonomics while playing usually aren't recognized by the player themself, so it can be useful to get some outside help from someone who specializes in this. For me, spending just 15 minutes with an Alexander Technique coach was quite an eye opener. Improving some of these old and largely automatic routines took much longer, of course.

November 24, 2015 at 11:41 AM · Steven, forgive me but I am puzzled at how you seem to equate muscle mass with health. Of course there are plenty of people who live a healthy life, eat healthy food, eat not too much, sleep enough, have a normal active life without doing some kind of sports expressly, and are very very healthy.

Edit: add to that list of healthy lifestyle: are outdoors often enough.

November 24, 2015 at 01:14 PM · Jean, regular exercise is of benefit to almost everyone.

November 24, 2015 at 04:25 PM · David,in don't think Jeane is disparaging exercise, but rather the fetishization of muscle mass that happens when you go to a gym regularly. It becomes a neurotic obsession.

This statement by Steven would seem to indicate this obsession: "I'll have to blame my muscle mass loss to violins really, I went from 7 days/week gym to none for 2~3 months, this almost annihilated all muscles I have in the upper body."

First there was the 7 days /week at the gym, followed by the perception that all of his muscles are disappearing. A schedule of daily working out is different than light fitness lifting--it's the realm of body dismorphia not unlike anorexia.

November 24, 2015 at 05:19 PM · Well, let's put it this way, in February, I weighed 230lb, mostly muscle. Now I weigh 180lb, and I was having a hard time moving some clothes when I was returning my gears back to the military.

November 24, 2015 at 05:33 PM · Hi Steven, I am a food scientist, health enthusiast, and avid weight trainer. I am able to play the violin every day without physical limitations.

I have been fortunate to learn weight training from an experienced mentor who strongly upholds safety, good form, and positive mindset. For a guy like me with a handful of serious obsessions, my motto is MODERATION. You will otherwise find your improvements and gains to be counterproductive and unsustainable.

My advice to you is to re-calibrate your expectations in the short term and to reach for your long term goals. This also means to take a rest when you feel fatigue. Do not forget the point of weight training is for your own health benefit and quality of life. Anything otherwise would be ironic.

Best wishes in your speedy recovery!

November 24, 2015 at 07:16 PM · Wouldn't a young active adult losing 50 lbs in 9 months mean a trip to the doctor?

November 24, 2015 at 08:35 PM · Steven, the weight loss likely has absolutely nothing to do with your training or violin playing, and everything to do your diet. If you are burning more calories than you eat, you will lose weight, regardless of whether or not that weight is fat or muscle. Not going to the gym for a couple of months is not going to make you lose that weight unless you are literally starving(which is unlikely). It's either that or a medical issue. Also, if you used to weigh that much and were all muscle, you would be competing in the mr Olympia qualifiers or something. Given the fact that you don't train your lower body at all, and your uninformed posts about your training, I highly doubt that. Sorry if that sounds kind of rude.

November 24, 2015 at 09:36 PM · Steven; I have 3 athletic adult children and a husband who is a marathon runner. I am quite familiar with the effects of diet, exercise etc., on the body.

If you lost 50 pounds that rapidly for no particular reason...I second the suggestion that you have a check-up with a doctor...

November 24, 2015 at 10:15 PM · Yes, if you lost that much weight in so short a time by not going to the gym you have other problems besides the violin...

November 26, 2015 at 02:57 AM · On average,annually, I gain and lose 30lbs. This is because at the end of the summer, I'm at the best shape I could be, then it slowly breaks down over autumn and winter because I'm usually busier at those times.

For me to lose 50lb in 9 months is not too excessive.

I have noticed that I've selectively avoided upper body exercise in months because I didn't want to be fatigued when playing my violin.

December 6, 2015 at 02:02 AM · I've never heard of this happening before. You might face that from playing viola but I've never experienced or heard of this happen to violinists before. I've never heard of this happen to violists either but I think it's possible in both cases if you play for long periods of time, especially viola because you have to put more weight into the strings.

February 6, 2016 at 10:27 PM · I decided to give you an update.

I've had my violinist colleague give me a brief lesson on bowing. It turns out that I've been raising my shoulder too much to compensate for the limited range of motion in my left shoulder.

I've had 2 surgeries in the left shoulder, and I hold the violin "crooked", so, when I am trying to play on G and D string, my right shoulder is up.

After a few trial and errors on how to compensate, I'm now able to use my elbow properly, and the exhaustion is gone.

It may be the case that because I stopped going to the gym due to lack of time in the past few months, but hopefully I'll find out in the summer.

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