Violin compatible sports

December 22, 2019, 5:09 AM · We need exercise to keep our bodies fit - but not all are compatible with, or even sensible, for playing the violin. I recently took up badminton again and am loving it. Its relatively low impact and hence, I hope it won't result in muscle build up that hampers my violin playing. Of course, there are hazards of injury, but that is probably true of all competitive sports.

What do you guys do to stay fit - other than go to the gym (which I find too boring) - what sports and how have they worked with your violin playing?

Replies (64)

Edited: December 22, 2019, 5:39 AM · I play tennis! It's a great sport that won’t hurt you if you look after your technique, and if you don’t play with stiff racquets (<65 Ra) and stiff strings (multifilament and syn gut strings are great). Also, stringing at lower tensions is better for your arm. If you do otherwise, you’ll probably hurt your elbow or your shoulder.

Also, jogging is good. But definitely more boring than tennis.

December 22, 2019, 6:18 AM · Same as Miguel. Tennis. It's a great sport.
Edited: December 22, 2019, 6:40 AM · I don't care about being sensible -- it has to be something you enjoy in order to get the full benefit. For me, team sports are the only realistic option, because individual sports tend to cause me to ruminate and think depressive thoughts. So I play soccer and sometimes basketball. I know the risk of injury is high, but I'd rather take risks than hate my exercise.

(Besides, so far, none of the injuries that have forced me to take breaks from the viola have been from contact sports. Two were from bike accidents, and one was a repetitive stress injury that probably resulted from home repair work.)

I may differ from most, though. I played soccer competitively through college and music didn't overtake it as my most important recreational activity until I was in my late 20s.

December 22, 2019, 6:39 AM · Best sport ever invented - walking.
December 22, 2019, 6:47 AM · Does anyone know a violinist who is also a golfer? Highly compatible I should think.
December 22, 2019, 6:58 AM · It is hard to think of any sport that is a problem for violin playing. The main thing you have to do is try to avoid injuring your shoulders, arms or hands. Getting tennis elbow, shoulder bursitis, breaking your arm or getting some hand ailment is not going to help your violin playing, but those injuries result from how you do the sport rather than being intrinsic to the sport itself. I bicycle and work out on the elliptical; both avoid any real involvement of the hands arms or shoulders.
December 22, 2019, 7:44 AM · How about body-building Tom? Or related isometric sports. I remember someone who had problems playing because of the muscle buildup.
Edited: December 22, 2019, 7:52 AM · A round of golf is a good morning's violin practice spoiled.
December 22, 2019, 7:53 AM · I practice archery (mainly indoor). I shoot with barebow (no aim aids, balancing, etc), and i chose to shoot as a lefty, so to have a symmetric position relative to violin playing.

It's difficult to believe how similar can be archery and violin playing ..... , yet..... :)

December 22, 2019, 7:56 AM · I really love boxing but I find I have to be really careful with actually damaging my hands, I couldn't practice one day because I had been training pretty hard the day before. It has never been too bad as of yet so fingers crossed it stays that way.
December 22, 2019, 10:18 AM · Gordon I don't think that walking was invented
December 22, 2019, 10:34 AM · I'm considering taking up frisbee golf.
Probably can't get injured in that...
December 22, 2019, 11:34 AM · Gordon wrote: "Best sport ever invented - walking."
And so we would love to think. For over 15 years this was all I really did - and I walked ~8 km a day to and from work 5 days a week at a good pace. However, when I started badminton again I realized that while it may be the 'best sport' it is not a 'best exercise. Every part of me ached and my calf muscles were woefully weak for anything but steady motions. However, walking is very compatible with playing the violin it seems, I had no limitations and the chance of injury to a violinistic body part is minimal.

I'm hoping that badminton will actually up my violin game, if only in giving me more stamina for long orchestra gigs.

December 22, 2019, 11:54 AM · Heifetz did tennis. Basketball should be included in the dangerous list for musicians. I broke a left hand finger doing basketball.
December 22, 2019, 12:30 PM · Like Joel, I broke a left finger playing basketball (in middle school).

I work out with weights, but pay careful attention to the strain on my arms. I occasionally end up with muscle aches that make it difficult to practice for a day or two.

December 22, 2019, 12:40 PM · I've had a saying now for 40 years: When in doubt, do Yoga
Edited: December 22, 2019, 12:50 PM · Agree with Nancy. The physical version of Yoga is very good, it helped me get through joint problems. I just would not call it a sport.
December 22, 2019, 1:19 PM · A similar topic came out a few years back and this seemed popular.
December 22, 2019, 1:21 PM · Mind, my aunt (aged 70) has done her knee in doing yoga (reverse warrior?), so it's not that good on your joints.
December 22, 2019, 1:38 PM · Elise - if you want your limbs to ache, try judo. A one-minute "fight" after a session of exercises was the longest minute of my life, and I ached all over for a week, recovering just in time for the next session. I soon decided "no pain, no gain" is a myth.
December 22, 2019, 3:24 PM · A few odds and ends come to mind -

Casals was a very good tennis player in his youth (some say international level). Bearing in mind the weight of a tennis racket in his time, that could go some way to accounting for his marvellous tone and projection.

I did judo at school, continuing into my mid-20s, and cycle racing for 25 years from the age of 18. Neither sport did my my cello playing any harm.

My violin teacher did martial arts while at the Suzuki School in Japan, which would explain the useful comments she sometimes made about posture and body control when playing the violin.

December 22, 2019, 6:22 PM · TaiChi is a good companion activity. I do Sun style, it isn't as explosive as some other styles, good for flexibility and keeping arthritic joints moving. It's also fun, I combine with hiking as weather/schedule permits.
December 23, 2019, 3:28 AM · walking and pingpong (table tennis)
December 23, 2019, 8:36 AM · My personal "sports"/exercise generally include running/walking and hot yoga.
I think if you are a professional or serious musician you should exercise some caution in your choice of sports, but if you really love a certain sport or activity you should go ahead and do it.

I have several students who are serious volleyball players on competitive teams,black belts in Tai Kwon Do, and play tennis, basketball, soccer, football, and ice skate yet few of them have had an injury that has interfered with violin/viola playing.
Students who have sustained injuries that interfered with playing (in the last few years of teaching) were caused by:
Falling while running around on the playground.
Slamming fingers in a car door
Falling down the stairs.
Whacking a hand against a door frame.
Swimming with improper form.
Only the skiing is an activity that musicians would be likely to avoid for fear of injury. The rest are as a result of living a normal life. Unfortunately we can't wrap ourselves in bubble wrap.

December 23, 2019, 10:10 AM · There was a recent topic of a mountain climber - and the comments suggested that the required finger/hand motions would ruin the ability to play with either hand. I don't think I would take up martial arts either because of the likelihood of straining fingers or limbs.
Edited: December 23, 2019, 11:13 AM · I started learning Karate about the same time I took up violin at 7yrs old. At age 9, I added judo, basketball, and soccer. Even before that, I was already active in swimming. I played basketball and baseball through high school, while also active in playing the violin and piano.

My children are taking Karate in addition to their piano and violin lessons. Both their piano and violin Suzuki teachers are very much aware that they are taking Karate, and has not said anything against it.

My children are also active in swimming, basketball, and soccer nowadays.

As for me, I still play basketball. But mostly, I do cycling and swimming, when I'm not working out at the gym.

I agree with Ingrid, we can't wrap ourselves in a bubble wrap, and you can pretty much injure yourself doing normal life.

As a sidenote: A fiddler playing friend told me she plays pickle ball. I haven't heard about the sport until very recently. Seems safer than tennis

December 23, 2019, 11:27 AM · I also broke a pinky playing basketball. Haven't so much as played 21 since. I kick-boxed, but at a time where I wasn't really playing much. I am back to deadlifting after an injury from squatting earlier this year, and as long as I use lifting straps, my hands are unaffected, although I don't bench press and am careful about any overhead pressing. I think that thoughtful weightlifing through the entire range of motion can be beneficial. My rotator cuff did not take kindly to the volleyball I was playing this summer, so that's probably out for me (no jammed fingers, luckily).

I think yoga is the best, but you can still overdo yoga.

December 23, 2019, 12:47 PM · To what Ingrid has said: in addition to never having had to stop playing violin or viola because of contact sports injuries, the injury that kept me off the soccer field the longest was not sustained while playing or training either. It was when I sprained a knee getting into bed on my first night in a new dorm room. (I wasn't done unpacking, had open boxes next to the bed, and twisted my leg awkwardly because of it.) I missed almost an entire season.

Everyday life is dangerous.

December 23, 2019, 3:23 PM · Swimming!

It's low impact, balances the sides of the body, good aerobic exercise.. and on top of all that I love the meditative side of being in the pool and swimming laps on end. It's a great time to contemplate and review things in the mind. Sometimes I'll construct a whole piece of music that I'm playing and find I play better when I'm out of the pool

December 23, 2019, 3:38 PM · Elise,

As was said already: the best sport is one that you like to do. Gyms are "efficient" but not everyone likes that. The main thing is to get large muscle groups working, getting your pulse and breathing up.

My personal preference is tandem bicycling with my wife. That being said, I have had my share of injuries including a broken clavicle. Not perfect for the violin but I did recover (although I now need a shoulder rest).

A final note: I couple I know got really fit by doing what they really love - ballroom dancing. They converted a room in their house to a dance room and they dance (and sweat) every day and love every minute of it.

December 23, 2019, 4:09 PM · George: "I couple I know got really fit by doing what they really love - ballroom dancing. They converted a room in their house to a dance room and they dance (and sweat) every day and love every minute of it."

Shucks, that was my previous passion - it gave way to playing the violin mostly because I couldn't find a partner after mine quit (and could not justify the cost for pro-am).

Edited: December 25, 2019, 2:28 AM · Wow just catching up to this thread.

I second (or third) tennis, since the lack of contact (especially in the upper body compared to other sports) greatly reduces the risk of a dislocation or long term strain.

Since I"m left-handed, I actually find that the wide range of motion is actually good for relaxing the arm and building the proper muscles for vibrato. I'm a very mediocre violinist by most accounts, but I've been told both my wrist and arm vibrato are incredibly strong even by "real" violinist standards.

I'm not sure how this translates to right-handed players and bow technique.


I don't think you need to be all "that" careful about the equipment used, as long as you watch your technique. Plus, just like when playing violin, I am trying to use equipment that will maximize my personal improvement, and at this juncture I don't know if I'm willing to sacrifice my workouts for violin improvement (and of course, vice versa).

My racket has a stiffness of 69 and I play with polyester mains and natural gut crosses. Properly hit strokes really shouldn't be about muscling the ball with your shoulder and elbow. It's more of like, a whipping motion with a lot of the power generated from the rotation of your upper body.

December 25, 2019, 3:06 AM · " It's more of like, a whipping motion with a lot of the power generated from the rotation of your upper body." Correct me if I am wrong, but this translates into ball-hitting power through the weight of the racquet that is already in motion. Thus, tennis is very different from many other racquet games that use much lighter 'paddles'. In badminton or table tennis the racquet is so light that it has no momentum; power has to be created by the arm itself. The primary method is actually arm rotation with some help from hand and finger (for flicks) and just a minor component from the upper arm and body (in smashes).

Edited: December 25, 2019, 8:58 AM · Yes. In tennis you generate power using your whole body. You have to transfer momentum to the ball. Same with golf. Ping pong is more about accuracy and finesse. You have plenty of strength from the elbow down to send the ball 20 times farther than it needs to go. You have to get pretty good at racquet sports before they will give you a consistent aerobic workout. If you have never played tennis before, hire a pro for at least a few dozen lessons. That will combine workout and training. I surprised myself by being able to learn tennis (although not to a high level) in my late 30s by hiring a good coach. Lessons aren't all that expensive unless you get them at a posh club. Look for someone who coaches high school tennis. They know how to teach the game.
December 25, 2019, 11:45 AM · Clay target shooting...
It's all about the technique, the learning curve is a frustratingly long one, innate ability helps, but is no guarantee, and one can never completely master it. Sound familiar? (Wear hearing protection)!
December 25, 2019, 2:32 PM · "Clay target shooting". Yes like violin - just be careful that in a fit of practice-pique you don't throw it up in the air and call 'bird!' ...
Edited: December 25, 2019, 3:21 PM · @James T: You’re probably right for most cases. In my particular case, I can’t stand polyester strings even at a low tension or combined with gut/multifilament. They always make my elbow hurt badly 15 to 20 minutes in. I couldn’t even stand them when I competed as a teen (my technique was way better back then. I quit the sport for many years and took it up again last year). I’m not a strong guy, and I’m probably more injury-prone than most people my age. So I avoid these strings like a plague and gladly restring my racquet more frequently and renounce to the extra-spin they provide.

I see many people who play in pain due to the use of inadequate equipment. A stiffness of 69 is not excessive. But a light and stiff racquet is a perfect recipe for injury.

Stiffness is an important factor... combined with the weight of the racquet. It’s not the same using a light racquet of 270gr. than using a 340gr. one. There are many important factors. The good news is that we have so many possibilities that everyone can adjust them and enjoy the sport minimising the risk of injury. And then play some Vivaldi or Bach at home after taking a good shower, without any physical pain (in my case, intonation still can produce some “musical pain”).

December 25, 2019, 5:26 PM · A famous violin teacher once recommended bowling. Good for keeping the right arm loose.
December 25, 2019, 7:57 PM · Bowling is fine but get a bespoke-drilled ball or it will screw your thumb.
December 26, 2019, 4:14 PM · Which kind of bowling did Stephen mean? Noisy indoors with a drilled ball, or traditional with a plain ball (as per Sir Walter Raleigh in the time of Queen Elizabeth 1) outdoors on grass?
December 27, 2019, 6:16 AM · Cricket I think Trevor :D
December 27, 2019, 8:55 AM · When I won my job in the orchestra in 1987 I signed up for TaeKwonDo.It is a martial art that combines flexibilty, strength, speed and endurance.The heavy discipline was an added benefit.Teamwork was highly stressed which I easily applied to playing in an orchestra.GrandMaster Chung Oh was well aware I played the violin professionally so I avoided brick breaking the lower dans of blackbelt.By third dan it was required but I was careful.
Now at 56 I prefer swimming and join my wife in a lovely yoga class once a week.
December 28, 2019, 11:30 AM · Tennis MUST be a disaster - Think what it did to Jascha and Pablo's playing …
And what billiards did to Wolfgang Amadeus's playing! Skiing to Vanessa Mae's! and fencing to Chevalier de Saint-Georges!
Actually, I don't recommend being the wheelbarrow in a wheelbarrow race - I suspect I might be a better violinist but for an injury sustained doing that in primary school.
December 28, 2019, 3:48 PM · Peter - I did just a bit of Taekwondo in college but in our group sessions about half of the lesson was dedicated to 'street-fighting'. Since your opponent was random there was a good chance of getting a nutcase with issues that could easily injure you. That's when I quit.
December 28, 2019, 6:48 PM · A lot depends on the level of the sport. For occasional recreational volleyball, it's probably not too dangerous. I played pretty competitive volleyball for a couple of decades, and accumulated quite a bit of wrist fractures and sprains. While young, it didn't bother me too much, but now I'm in the 60's and all that damage has progressed into arthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome.

I can still bowl competitively (was a PBA member at one time), but I would think that if you're left-handed, the stress on the fingers would not be good. It doesn't seem to bother the bowing hand.

Table tennis (which I have also played competitively) also depends on the level of play. Casual "ping pong" usually is just getting the ball back. At the higher levels, you often need to hit the ball as hard as you possibly can, and I have noticed some shoulder complaints.

Windsurfing hasn't been mentioned, and not likely practiced by many... but I love it, and the only injury I can recall (other than scrapes and bumps) is when I slipped on a slimy shore and sprained a wrist.

Oh, and rollerblading... I'd avoid that.

Edited: December 29, 2019, 2:36 AM · My side of family has sustained a LOT of injuries from both skiing and horseback riding, including broken back (that was so scary), fractured arms and legs, and concussions. Needless to say, I do not let my daughter ski or ride horses.

I'd imagine that doing any sports seriously, competitively, and/or professionally could potentially lead to repetitive motion injuries.

December 29, 2019, 1:34 AM · For bowling, I am pretty sure he meant with the large ball on the wooden lane. He was based in the Midwest at that time.

For tennis, don’t forget that Heifetz and Casals probably would have been using gut strings.

December 29, 2019, 2:11 AM · My father and my aunt both played high level table tennis, and both got quite bad injuries, my father at least one hernia from running into the corner of the table, but my aunt fell over and broke one of her wrists badly.
December 29, 2019, 8:46 AM · I understand Elise.It was rough at times.Im too old to go back now.
Edited: December 29, 2019, 10:51 AM · Hi,

Like Peter, I did taekwondo for years. Did great wonders on many levels, especially balance and movements that I found extremely useful for violin playing. However, sparring can lead to easy accidents and injuries (and did) so I stopped at some point. The risks outweighed the benefits.

For cardio, I was a long time avid cyclist, but with travelling, I found that running was better and with more benefits in a much shorter time.

For weights/body strength, I do a routine of calisthenics (body-weight) training. Because it is symmetrical and balanced and totally natural, and because of the way it works (it has a lot of stretch) so you get two benefits at once. You get stronger, but also never bulky unlike regular weight training with no injury risk in my experience (the results are more along the lines of a ballet dancer than body builder). Super beneficial in my experience.


December 29, 2019, 11:30 AM · The sport of calisthenics... ;)

I wonder if somebody could invent one, the outcome seems ideal.

Edited: December 29, 2019, 12:47 PM · "The sport of calisthenics..."
Now could that be something like body-building competitions? ;)
December 29, 2019, 2:47 PM · Yoga, Pilates, weight training, cycling, and walking work for me.
Edited: December 29, 2019, 8:40 PM · Christian; you probably got many of those exercises from TKD I can imagine!I still use the warm up stretches every morning.The patterns were wonderful to work on.Very much like studies.Sparring was more like improvising.
We had extra patterns called Ki Bon Hyungs(#1 to 9) that were basic symmetrical kicking and punching patterns.Excellent for coordination with violin playing.
Edited: December 30, 2019, 6:38 AM · Hi,

Calisthenics is the name used for strength-training routines based on using body weight. Some of the exercises come from body-building (Frank Zane, 3 times Mr. Olympia, for example was a proponent of some of them back in the late 1970s), and also from things like training regimens used by Navy Seals for example. A lot of actors for action films actually used these kinds of routine, a great example being Jason Statham. And elements of it are added for example in cross-fit. For simple ones, you can use things like chairs or bars that go into door-frames for various exercises and muscle-groups. The results are different than traditional weight-lifting. I mentioned it because someone mentioned weight-lifting. I was always resistant to weight-lifting because of the adverse effect, but this gets the results that I look for, as in strength-building you need the flex and the stretch, and the stretch aspect is more pronounced in using calisthenics so you build strength without bulk.

Peter; I did get some of the exercises and inspiration for them for TKD. The patterns were good indeed, and also the training with pads and other things too. For me personally, overall TKD really made me aware of movements and order of movements, as well as the importance of always maintaining vertical balance for relaxation and grounding from the feet up. Also, release and speed rather than tension and force. It really helped to address a lot of things in my playing and reshape things in a more natural way for me.


Edited: December 30, 2019, 8:31 AM · Well said Christian !The breathing control is an important part of training in TKD and really helped my conducting(youth orchestra, community orchestra etc.)It is an aspect of playing that is sometimes neglected in my opinion.
January 2, 2020, 10:28 AM · Hi,

Sorry Peter, I missed your post. Happy New Year!

Excellent point about the breathing! Absolutely! That is indeed a neglected aspect. For myself, I have found that posture is important for breathing, especially having an open chest and 'sitting' shoulders (for lack of a better expression...).


Edited: January 3, 2020, 6:11 PM · Skydiving, you can even play as you're going down ;-)

Skydiving Fiddle

Edited: January 18, 2020, 9:04 PM · I took up skiing a few years ago as an adult (age 23 or 24, I believe.) Incredibly, I think it has made me a much better violinist as far as the psychological aspect of playing goes. When you are skiing a really steep slope or tight run, ie so steep you can’t see the other side when you stand at the top, you need to ‘commit’ to the line and just GO! Somehow it helped me get over my fear of playing really fast repertoire and learn to enjoy the speed. Another way skiing is like performing on violin- you need to remain in a state where your body is flexible and supple yet your muscles are actively engaged and flexing all the time, and your mind must be at once relaxed yet very focused.

I chose skiing over snowboarding because statistically snowboarders have far more wrist and elbow injuries. Skiiers tend to have more knee and leg injuries. While not ideal, I would rather have a broken leg than a broken arm. Just be careful- skiing is so much fun that once you get good at it, you might start to fantasize about quitting violin and becoming a ski bum : )

January 19, 2020, 10:29 AM · Good call on the skiing Liz, I hope it continues to work out for you. Well, maybe I chose the right sport too - Badminton - I strained both achilles tendons and its taken 2-3 weeks to be able to walk without limping. BUT this has not affected my playing!

When you ski and know that you are about to fall, is your first thought to protect your hands or what?

Edited: January 19, 2020, 10:37 AM · Just do pushups, plank and run. They're better for what you want than sports, also safer and sports take too much time.
Edited: January 19, 2020, 11:17 AM · Yes, Elise, when I feel a fall coming, I usually try to fall
in the ‘safest’ way possible, meaning on both knees and with my arms outstretched so the weight is distributed evenly, or ideally with my skis under me so it isn’t really a fall but more of a landing! The worst way to fall is backwards because you risk hitting your head, although I do wear a helmet for safety. As I have improved, I fall much less frequently. Now when I fall, it is generally because 1. My bindings released when they weren’t supposed to, like during a jump, 2. a less experienced skiier lost control and plowed into me from the side or behind, or 3. A hidden patch of ice took me by surprise. I wear ski gloves with built-in wrist guards and thick padding to protect my fingers. The good thing about skiing is that most of the time, even if you fall you will not hurt yourself seriously, especially if you are skiing with good form, in control, and in a well-marked area free of obstacles. Skiing in trees, near cliffs, etc becomes more dangerous (but in my opinion also more fun!)
January 19, 2020, 11:29 AM · here, Hilary Hahn demonstrates skiing for musicians (nice to see she's human after all!):
January 19, 2020, 9:22 PM · I have found that playing the violin has made me more ambidextrous: I’m left-handed but I have built up a considerable amount of strength and coordination in my right hand, which has helped me a develop a two-handed backhand (essentially a right handed forehand for a left hander) that feels more natural than my left handed forehand.

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