Don’t do ab workouts or it will mess with your breath support. Right?
Let me de-bunk this myth right off the bat: doing ab workouts as a singer is fine, but you need to understand why you’re doing them, how to do them correctly and what to do afterwards! Otherwise it definitely can mess with your breath support – more on that later.
Strength Training for Singers
Yes, this is loaded territory. Many folks out there will tell you that strength training is a no-no if you’re a singer. Your body doesn’t need bulky muscles or tight abs, and it might even cause problems if you do have them.
At the same time, most singers and teachers will agree that to be a singer is to be an athlete. Your body is your instrument, and you need to train it and take care of it.
This usually translates to a wide acceptance of neuro-muscular coordination and a suspicious eye towards muscular conditioning (source).
Muscular conditioning means exercises designed to make you stronger or bulk up your muscles: things like weight lifting, strength training, crunches, squats, et cetera.
Neuromuscular coordination means exercises designed to create greater awareness of the body: things like yoga, feldenkrais and alexandertechnique.
I think we can all agree that increased bodily awareness is great for singers, so I’m just gonna say ‘Try getting into yoga or something similar’ and leave it at that.
But muscular conditioning maybe doesn’t deserve it’s bad rep
I recently read Complete Vocal Fitness: A Singer’s Guide to Physical Training, Anatomy, and Biomechanics by Claudia Friedlander. It’s must-read for singers interested in the physical side of singing: a very serious, in-depth, scientific look at the singer’s body. It gets to be pretty technical at certain points, but if that doesn’t scare you, go get it.
Friedlander addresses muscular imbalances, their influence on the voice and how to fix them, combining neuromuscular coordination exercises with plain old strength training. She has actually convinced me to buy a set of elastic exercise bands with a door anchor so I can work out
in my practice room without having to invest in an entire home gym.
Friedlander explains that strength training for singers is absolutely fine, as long as you do it responsibly. This means:
- No holding your breath during reps. Do not valve off the glottis to stabilise the torso, but keep breathing fully throughout the exercise.
- Keep your face and neck relaxed as much as possible.
- Perform exercises slowly and deliberately, not quickly, explosively and/or erratically. Control is the operative word.
- Always make sure you stretch the muscles you have targeted, especially when doing ab exercises.
In other words, crunches are fine, but you need to make sure you keep breathing, do them slowly, don’t strain your neck and stretch your abs afterwards. The easiest way to stretch your abdominal muscles is with the help of an inflatable fitness ball, or by doing the upward-facing dog maneuver you may know from yoga.
My current training routine (which probably won’t work for you)
At the moment, I do yoga one morning, then strength training the next. My exercise routine looks like this at the moment:
- Lateral pulldown (with elastic band and door anchor) for shoulder stabilisation, 2×12
- Cable chest press (with elastic band and door anchor) for shoulder and core stabilisation, 2×12
- Single-leg scaption, no weights because I don’t have any, 2×12
- Squats, 2×10
- Plank, 2×30 seconds (aiming to get this up to three sets)
- Superman, 2×20 seconds
- Lunge pulses (which is the lazy version, 20 tiny ones on each side)
- Trunk rotation (with an elastic band, precariously looped through a very high and very full IKEA closet that I should probably not be pulling on), 12 slow ones on each side
- Crunches, slowly and only up to my middle/lower back, as I once broke my tailbone and can’t roll on my tailbone like normal people, 2×12
- Upward-facing dog to stretch my abs!
Since every singer’s body is different, that means every workout will be different depending on your body’s strengths and weaknesses. Make sure you choose a workout that suits your individual needs and possibilities.
Do your own research
I highly recommend doing your own research when it comes to stuff like this. It has been extremely enlightening for me to not blindly follow advice that is echoed around everywhere – I’d have been doing way more cardio than necessary or even useful, and not enough other stuff. Did you know there’s no way to improve lung volume, and that since you sing with air, not oxygen, heavy cardio training won’t make a difference in being able to sustain long notes?
Okay, just making sure.
If you want to buy Claudia Friedlander’s book, support your local bookstore or purchase it on bol.com through this link: it won’t cost you any extra money and I get some pennies and dimes.