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How does Weightlifting affect the singing voice?

Dear Choralist,

I think I hit the jackpot with a hot topic here. We seem to have a
lot of buff singers, especially tenors, out there on Choralist! Here
are replies to my question about a weightlifting tenor whose voice
doesn't blend when he works out right before Madrigals rehearsal.
Some emphasized breathing, some emphasized lifting-technique, some
were discouraging, most were encouraging. A variety of levels of
expertise, too! I've forwarded most of these to my student.

Thanks to all:


>The secret is to attack the problem of building tension while
>lifting. The problem is the incorrect breathing technique while
>lifting most likely. If he breathes correctly as if he were
>singing, It will increase his ability to lift (somtimes as much as
>40 lbs on the bench) and will eliminate the storage of tension while
>singing. The increase in aerobic capacity should help both the music
>and the athletics. Tell him to turn his head during lifts, breath
>correctly while lifting, and it should help both areas.
Earl G. Presley, MM, BMEd.
Brenham High School, Brenham TX

>As a weighlifting bass baritone, I can advise you to tell your
>student to first of all make sure he is exhaling as he lifts and not
>holding his breath. That severe breath compression from holding the
>breath as one lifts really agravates the tightness of the throat.
>Secondarily, I would also suggest that he do a brief cool down at
>the end of his workout, some stretching and some relaxed deep
>breathing to loosen things back up. Also, if he or all of you can do
>some easy breath warm ups (sighs, etc) right before rehearsal, that
>may also help him.
>I have found weight training to be very helpful to my singing on the
>whole, though I too had to buy a new tail coat.
Dr. Curt Scheib
Chair - Division of Visual and Performing Arts
Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA 15601

>Tell your tenor to concentrate on his breathing
>when he lifts. Sometimes lifters hold their breathe with glottal pressure
>instead of releasing during the lift. It would be a good time to discuss
>good diaphragmatic breathing which he will find to be more powerful in the
>gym than clivicular breathing.
Ric Soto
Orange Coast College

>My graduate student (Melissa Wieczorek) suggests that he is closing
>his throat at the larynx when he lifts, rather than exhaling during
>the exertion part of the lift/push/pull. Sounds good to me, but what
>do I know ... I'm not exactly a weight lifted myself :)
Eric Stark, D.M.
Assistant Professor of Music, Butler University
Artistic Director, Indianapolis Symphonic Choir

>My trainer says to exhale on each excertion. That should relieve some of
>the tension buildup. I sing in the DAle Warland Singers and work out every
>other day, and make a point of exhaling-I am singing better than ever.
David Nordli
Director of Music
Robbinsdale UCC
Robbinsdale MN

>I ran into the same problem earlier this year. My football players have a
>mandatory lifting session in the hour preceding Glee Club rehearsals. We
>discovered, by accident, that if the guys will "ooh" and "aah" very quietly
>in head voice, including some vocal sighs, in the 15 minutes or so that they
>have between the two activities, the strident quality of the sound is
>controlled much better. One of the guys also tells me that he has to
>readjust the way he breathes. He does this by hissing as evenly as possible
>over 4, 8, 12, & 16 beats (paced by his walking to rehearsal).
Lewis Worthington
Assistant Professor of Music
Hampden-Sydney College, VA 23943

>To begin with, he needs to find another time to lift. Lifting before
>rehearsals will always be a problem. Not only with this throat, but his
>abdomen, back, shoulders and chest must be free to open and expand, and they
>won't if the are are tight, or worn out.
>Also, tell him not to grunt or set his breath in his throat while lifting.
>This is a must! He can damage his voice doing that, as it puts a lot of
>pressure and tension in the throat. Rather, have him expel the breath
>deeply, pushing out with his abdomen, sounding a little like Darth Vader.
>That should help keep his throat more relaxed, and stress and tension away
>from the area. It will probably be the opposite of the manner in which he
>breathes to sing, but unfortunately, there's not much that can be done about
>that, if his heart is set on lifting weights.
Craig D. Collins
Director of Music Ministry
Mt. Zion United Methodist Church, NCNC 28031

>I'm not sure how much this suggestion might help or if you have
>already tried this. But you might want to simply focus on some deep
>breathing relaxation techniques, almost meditative. I find myself
>tense after a workout or a jog etc. But usually after 5 to 10
>minutes of focused relaxation I find myself in a much better state
>to work vocally, or on anything for that matter.
>Perhaps also your group would be comfortable doing a massage circle
>as part of the warm up. I know these are common place in high
>school so having one in college may not pose to much of a problem.
>I'd say the main emphasis must be that this is guided meditation or
>focused meditation. If you simply try to sit quietly and hope to
>relax nothing will happen. From my Experience.
Nicholas D. Mercier
Student, Crane School of Music


>The problem most likely stems from improper lifting technique. This can be
>overcome with proper instruction. It is inadvisable for singers to attempt
>to build up the neck muscles as such. Only wrestlers and football players
>have an actual need for strenghthening this area. It also looks ridiculous.
>Tell the singer he should concentrate workouts on the chest and legs.
>Abdominal work can improve breath support. Extensive work on the stairmaster
>improves gluteal definition which would be more likely to attract the
>favorable attention of the opposite sex, assuming that this is his goal.
Thomas Head.
Tenor/Bodybuilder and Neurologist

>The problem is "effort closure" caused by the fact the vocal folds have a
>sphincter use in the body to balance the lifting of heavy objects. You
>can look in the vocal therapy literature under "effort closure" and share
>this with him. The use of light weights can actually help as long as
>they are under two lbs. But heavy weights changes the purpose of the
>chords from vibrating folds to the same purpose as other sphincters on the
>body which is to hold something back.
Ray Evans Harrell, teacher of vocal anatomy
The Magic Circle Opera Repertory Ensemble, Inc.

>As a voice teacher, it is my opinion that you won't be able to keep it from
>affecting his singing. If he wants to keep that area around his vocal
>mechanism free, he's really going to have to limit the type and extent of
>lifting he does. As a high school kid, he doesn't have the fine muscle
>memory to be able to relax that area at will, even if he doesn't stress it.
>Ask him to think about how long it took him to learn how to (fill in a sport
>here...) and the point will be made. Also, the finer the motor skill, the
>longer it takes to get mastery of it.
>Ask him to concentrate on areas that don't stress his throat too much. (And
>I know how hard that will be - I teach HS kids, too and I have a son who's a
>senior.) Another consideration is the difficulty of managing the tenor
>voice anyway, even if you're an adult. It's a tough voice to keep loose and
Sandra LaBarge-Neumann
Unitarian Universalist Church, NH

>Boy, do you have a problem. I assume you know the
>physiology of the voice. Weight-lifting can devastate
>a post adolescent voice. The male voice really doesn't
>settle until late 20's or early 30's. The BEST thing
>he could do is NOT weight-train just before rehearsal.
>The fine muscle control needed for intonation, tone
>control, well... singing, is fatigued and unresponsive
>after such activity. Laryngologists I have talked with
>advise 12 hours of rest following strenuous activity
>like weight-training. SERIOUS damage can be done if he
>continues. I'm afraid he must choose one or the other
>for now.
Jim Dorr
Alvarado High School, TX

>If Steve's neck isn't relaxing after lifting it's because he hasn't
>stretched it properly which can be harmful not only to his voice but
>his muscles as well. Stretching will allow him to relax any area he
>worked while using weights (provided he does the right stretches)
>and as an added bonus will eliminate most of that "morning after"
>soreness. I work out regularly and used to have a personal trainer
>who insisted I stretch out thoroughly after each excercise. I found
>I could excercise (including lifting) longer and with better form
>and I wasn't achey the next day even though I was still seeing
>results. Perhaps Steve could speak with a physical therapist or
>personal trainer to learn some good neck and shoulder relaxing
>stretches. Keeping in mind that if you don't stretch each muscle
>(including each arm) for 30 seconds at least, it doesn't do a lot of
Stacey Campbell
Six To Six Interdistrict Magnet School, CT 06610

> I am a tenor and have been lifting rather seriously for about
>six years.
>After any physical workout, cardio or lifting, I find I am in especially
>good condition to sing - my range is extra ordinary along with exceptional
>breath economy. This is to say that your student is participating in an
>activity will make him, physically, a better singer! However, that does not
>equate to musicianship - manipulating the voice organ to compensate for
>blend and balance are musicianship qualities.
> After his workout his adrenaline is pumping and mega amounts of
>endorphins have been released into his body to compensate for stress he has
>just asked his body to accept. He may benefit from spending at least half
>of his work out time at the end performing some centering stretching. This
>will calm him and allow him to refocus his mind and body to the next tasks
>at hand.
> Short of that he will have to monitor his level of tension and adjust as
>any musician should - musically!
Paul Dease

>Nina, what an interesting predicament you have. My name is Aaron Sala,
>a tenor from Hawai'i, and I also work out. The challenge is that after
>working out, those muscles that were worked on are tight (not to mention
>the heart beats faster, metabolism is going crazy, etc.). There are 2 ways
>to release that tension: 1. time; and 2. stretching and stretching and
>stretching and stretching (which takes time). Is there no way for him to
>train his body to be energized enough to work out at a different time?
>Good Luck!!!
Just food for thought,
Aaron Sala

>I have been lifting weights for many years now. Just as with any
>activity, the muscles in the neck and throat will swell with intense
>exercise. This is likely the problem. It should however not effect
>his voice...I sang with the St. Olaf Choir for 4 years while
>lifting. You just need to find time to either let the body fall out
>of the "burn" (swelling of the muscles) (a few hours) or lift after
Jay Dixon

>I had this same problem in college. The way I got around it was to slowly
>move my head and and chin left and right during warmups. What also might
>help is to have him his upper body workout frist and finish with legs. It
>might give him a little more time to let his neck relax.
Tyler Harper
MVAO High School, IA


>One of the by-products of weight training is a great deal of glottal strain.
>This comes from holding back a tremendous amount of sub-glottal air pressure
>with the vocal folds creating the weight lifters grunt. You may find that
>your student may lessen this strain by keeping a steady stream of air moving
>as he lifts. He may feel that he can't do quite as much weight this way
>because the body isn't quite as energized but it will help protect the voice.
>This comes from a choral director who also likes to do resistance exercises.
Bob Jones
Mesa, AZ

>We have had some problems with this from time to time and after some
>study found that the problem is in his weight-lifting technique. He is
>probably holding his breath while lifting weights rather than exhaling.
>He needs to work on that as well as work on some stretching of his upper
>body before rehearsals .
>Hope this helps.
Neena Taylor

>Steve will need to adhere to some basic rules of weightlifting in order to
>solve this problem. First of all, when you lift weights, the cardinal rule
>is to keep breathing normally. The tendency is to hold the breath, which
>puts undue strain on the body, even causing hernias. A normal breathing
>rhythm can help keep the larynx free from pressure.
>Second, pause often to drink water.
>Third, try some "cool down" time with basic yoga relaxation exercises. Since
>these are very mental and involve the breath, they can relax the body in ways
>nothing else can. If he doesn't know yoga, I urge him to learn some.
>You can also include some basic standing yoga stretches into your vocal
>warm-ups with your group. There are some that free the neck and shoulders,
>and some that open the rib cage and hence the lungs. Find a yoga teacher to
>help you with this. I find that the breathing of my singers really improves
>when I add a few seconds of yoga to their warm-ups, just from a couple of
>standing stretches. I recommend them highly!
micki gonzalez

> In the first edition of Larra Browning Henderson's How to Train Singers
>she mentions weight lifting as a potential for vocal damage because the
>cricoid muscles which support the vocal chords are unduly strengthened.
>The vocal chords are closed tightly cutting off air escaping from the
>lungs. In doing so, the torso is stiffened. She recommends moderate
>weights without specifying what weights are appropriate.
> When I first read this admonition years ago, I remember the vocal sound
>of the Gymnast Mary Lou Retten which, while she was competing was rather
>Chip or Dale-like. If you remember, her neck a upper body was very
>muscular as was, no doubt her glottis.
> Your Steve will need to warm down before he warms up. Again,
>How to Train Singers (Parker Publishing) is very good for this. Her
>excercises designed
>to treat vocal nodes (an vocal stress in general) should be beneficial.
>Head/neck rolling could also releave some tension as would slow (MM60 or
>slower) voiceless recitation of hhhah, hhhhheh, hhhee, hhhoh,hhhoo to help
>warm and relax the cricoid muscles. I should think forward tongue-rolls
>(tip of tongue at back of bottom teeth, rolling tongue forward while swing
>jaw slightly down while vocalizing Gah 3 or 4 times) should be a help as
>well. All of this, of course, presupposes proper diaphamatic breathing.
Stephen A. Stomps
Auburn High School Choirs, NY

>I have been a weight
>lifter/singer for over 30 years, and still love both.
>I suspect Stever is very young and just developing technique in both of
>these areas. I would encourage him to have someone check his breathing with
>his lifting. At NO TIME should he be holding his breath. During the
>exertion phase, he should be exhaling. In order to increase energy and
>efficiency, he should also learn to expand the lower abdominal area when he
>inhales for weight trainging, just as he does for singing. Unless he's
>training for football, I also question whether he should be doing exercises
>specifically for his neck.
Dave Faber

>As former collegiate athlete who majored in music ed/voice perf, I
>also found it difficult to lift and sing in close proximity.
>What I discovered is that I "grunted" or "pressed/stressed" my
>cords, and vocal track whenever I lifted a weight, be it light or
>optimal. I had to consicously change this habit- as I believe now
>that the "grunt" is not needed, as it just a habit that we "think"
>we athletes should do- to simply exhaling sharply through [u] shaped
>lips and puffed cheeks, as if I were inflating a balloon.
>It took all the pressure off the larynx, and allowed me to be less
>fatigued vocally, to boot. If he works hard to change the habit,
>then he should be in fine vocal shape coming to rehearsal, with a
>relaxed larynx, yet a "juiced" body.
patrick walders

Sounds like we have some useful experience and expertise among us!
Again, many thanks.

| Nina Gilbert
| gilbertn(a)
| Director of Choral Activities, Lafayette College
| Easton, Pennsylvania 18042-1768
| phone 610-330-5677
| fax 610-330-5058
| -------------------------------------------------------------

on April 20, 2003 10:00pm
As a weightlifter and tenor choir singer/soloist/director, I must say that the weightlifting actually helps my vocal performance. It is correct to say that you must not grunt or tense the throat in anyway during exercise. Instead, I will exhale as I am lifting. This helps with breathing most of all and, if done properly, can encourage good posture with your students.
on August 18, 2007 10:00pm
I am a vocal instructor and I lift light weights myself. I am very careful not to close my glottis while training, and careful also to exhale while exerting the greatest force. I have had many students who are also lift weights, some serious athletes in various fields. I find that I do have to teach them not to use their upper body strength against themselves when they sing. I have them stretch before vocalises. I am relentless in discouraging them from tensing pectoral, shoulder, throat or neck muscles as they sing. Many times I have to first cause them to be aware of tension they habitually hold in these areas. Vocally trained in this way, they have always been successful in learning to use the right coordination and strength to support their voices without any adverse effects. One student did have to recover from a muscle strain in the neck and could not sing until that muscle did heal. I've done a blog post on this subject, and I included this site's wonderful discussion on this subject... thank you!
on July 8, 2008 10:00pm

Is breathing the big issue here? I have another piece of advice that my choral director always demonstrates for us. Try having him hold a coffee can or something similar to that up to his diaphragm and make sure that when he breathes he feels it come out. It's a good way for him to determine if he's breathing from the stomach area instead of the neck.

If blending is another issue, have him close his eyes and listen to the rest of the choir. As a matter of fact, why don't you get the entire choir to do it? Even though they may not ritard exactly how you want them to because they won't see you conducting, I know it'll produce some really cool reactions from them. Let me know what you think.

Best of luck!
on September 1, 2008 10:00pm
I have to take the praxis music content test in November. Is there a way to practice the eartraining portion. I have been out of college for twenty years and I know I will be rusty.
on November 22, 2008 10:00pm
Although I understand the theory of "blowing the weight up," I can't help but wonder if doing what comes naturally, that is closing the vocal folds to help build chest cavity pressure during baring down and heavy lifting, would be a good suggestion for hypophonators.