This article comes from my former flute professor, Dr. Roger Martin, the Professor of Flute at Tennessee Techonological Unviersity in Cookeville, Tennessee, where I got my Bachelor’s in Flute Performance. During my last few years there, we knew he had started to develop a strange problem – his fingers wouldn’t do what he “told” them to do. We knew he was immensely frustrated with this and I am so glad he has written about his experiences. Focal Dystonia is a mysterious and much misunderstood problem and I reprint his article here with his permission.  You can find out more about the TTU Flute Studio by going to their website: ttuflutestudio.yolasite.com

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Flying to learn

September 21, 2012

In the spring I decided it was time overcome my increasing fear of heights.  To do this I decided to take a trapeze class at the local trapeze school, Trapeze School of New York Boston.   Along with my husband I went to a Friday morning class.  The instructors gave us an introduction on the ground and then it was time to walk up two flights of stairs to the platform where we would leap into the air on the trapeze.  I was scared!  When it came my turn to fly, the  instructor held my safety belt  as I hung my toes over the edge of the platform.  I was instructed to grab onto the bar with one hand then the other.  The first hand was easy, it was letting go of the scaffolding at my side with the second hand that was hard.  In my head I heard two voices coaching me, the fist said “just do it!”  the other said “this is scary, don’t let go.”  I admit  I almost threw in the towel but I did finally muster the nerve to grab the bar with my second hand.  The instructor to called out  the commands, “ready,” and then “hep,”  and off the platform I flew.   I did it, and admit it was a little bit fun.

Fast forward six months, I am now signed up for an 11-week Intensive Flying Workshop with my Body Mapping & flute colleague, Lynne Krayer-Luke. The workshops will culminate with a public performance on a Saturday evening.  Together we are learning about learning, movement, and awareness.  The process has enhanced the high level learning I do with the flute and my teaching.  These are some of the things I have learned so far:

  • The process of learning a skill from the ground up helps me to relate to my students, some of whom are learning flute playing and music from the beginning.
  • In learning to fly through the air with grace and ease I am learning about movement and how awareness plays such a huge role in the process.
  • The power of the kinesthetic imagination.  I don’t have the luxury of breaking the sequence of moves down while I am on the trapeze so I use my mind to go through the movements.
  • Leaving my comfort zone.  Every time i learn a new trick I am leaving my comfort zone. At first the voice inside my head would say “me do that?”  Then I told that voice, “I will try it once, if I don’t like it I won’t do it again.”  Last week that conversation didn’t happen.  I just did it!
  • Overcoming fear – I am no longer fearful of heights!  The fear didn’t disappear with the first leap, it took about four classes over a month and a half to move beyond it.  I learned that it is possible to overcome fears. Every exposure to the fear can diminish the fear’s power.   Students who are fearful need to perform more.
  • Awareness – cultivating inclusive awareness in the 15-20 seconds that it takes to perform a trick has boosted my overall sense of awareness.   I don’t need to consciously cue it up, inclusive awareness is now is more readily available.

I am excited to learn new trapeze tricks over the coming weeks and equally excited to learn about learning.  Lynne and I will use the experience to enhance playing and teaching.  You can follow Lynne and my adventure at our blog “Flying Flutistas.”

When someone says to you “you need a strong core” or “you need to train your core”, does that leave you scratching your head in confusion?  I mean, what IS your core, anyway, and what on earth does it do? Is it your insides?  The middle of your body?  Your diaphragm?  Let me help you clear up all the confusion.

The core, in its simplest form, is actually the area of your body called the torso – therefore, not your arms, legs or head.  These aren’t just your abdominal muscles; there are LOTS of other muscles that make up the core.  In fact, some of the key players to core strength are in your back and lower back.

There are an awful lot of muscles in your core, and each one plays a role in how well you play your flute.  Yes, that’s right, your hip flexors, your back muscles, your abs; all those muscles have an impact on how you play.  How is that, you ask?  Well, the easy way to explain it is that all your muscles work together in any activity you do.

  • Standing uses your core muscles to keep you balanced and from falling over.
  • Driving uses more than your arms; your core is heavily involved. An indication of core weakness is pain in your hips or low back when you get out of the car.

The muscles in the front (your abs) serve to pull your body forward. These are the muscles with which you are probably most familiar, and as you know, spending most of our day in a bent over position works them plenty.  What this shows is that your back muscles may become weak from the forward-pulling motion of your abs. To have a strong core, this means that you must train your body to resist forward flexion and side to side twisting.

So how does this relate to playing your flute?  Like I mentioned before, you don’t just use your arms to play the flute.  Remember that old song “the head bone’s connected to the….neck bone” etc.?  It’s true.  Your body works as a whole.  It takes lots of different muscles to lift your arms, turn your head, hold up a flute and breathe to play.  And some of those muscles will get tired.  When this happens, other muscles take over.  If this goes on too long, you get what are called muscle compensations and imbalances, meaning that some muscles become weaker and allow other muscles to do their jobs for them.  This can lead to pain.

Each muscle is made to do a job whether that is its own job, the job of being a synergist (helping other muscles do their jobs) or an antagonist (the opposite of a muscle).  For example, your hip flexors are antagonists to your gluteus muscles.  If your hip flexors get too tight with too much sitting, your gluteus muscles become weak, eventually allowing other muscles (your hamstrings) to do the job of the glutes.  What happens then?  Your knees could hurt, or maybe your low back hurts from the stress of too much tightness in the front.  When your low back hurts because it is weak, this can translate to a weak upper back.  If your upper back is weak, it cannot support your arms which are doing a really hard job of holding up your flute, so when your arms tire, you’re just in pain everywhere, all because your hips are too tight, and guess what?  They’re part of the core!
So what to do?  I think by now we’ve established why you need a strong core to play.  When the body works well as a whole, you can play longer without compensating.  There are lots of good exercises to help with core strength.  My favorite exercise is the plank.

This can be progressed by lifting an arm or a leg, putting your feet on a bench or arms on a ball, or adding weight on your back, and can even be done on your side.  The goal is to keep your hips in line with your shoulders, so your body looks just like a plank; a board.  Even with the progressions: do not twist your hips or sag in the middle.  Hold for 30 seconds or longer, rest, and repeat.

Another of my favorite core exercises are 1) The Anti-Rotation Static Hold and its variation 2) Pallof Presses.  These are just fun, and it’s a great way to work your entire core without having to do a single crunch, or sit-up and if you have bad shoulders, these are an excellent choice without putting your shoulders into a compromising position.

To set up for both: 

Stand perpendicular to a cable station with a weight stack or a pole to which you’ve wrapped around a band.  Grasp the band or handle, pull it in front of you and then push it out in front of you, without twisting.  If you hold that position, that’s the static hold.  If you push it out and bring it back, those are Pallof Presses.  The goal with both of these is to avoid twisting (hence: anti-rotation) which you’ll feel all down the middle of your body. Make sure to choose a heavy enough weight so that the exercise is challenging.

This is a video of the Pallof Press:

http://youtu.be/JmcH0UsXRVw

If you hold the weight out without bringing it back, again, that is the Anti-Rotation Press.

If you are looking for a program of strength training that will train your core from every conceivable angle and get your entire body stronger in the process, I highly recommend a book called “The New Rules of Lifting for Abs” by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.  I’ve done the whole program myself and not only was it fun, I saw my strength increase by leaps and bounds!  They actually have a brand new book out called the “The New Rules of Lifting For Life”.  I just got it today and intend to read through it soon, but the gyst of it is that it is geared for non 20-yr olds, more towards middle agers and people who want to learn how to program their own workouts.

If you would like more exercises and more information, I actually have a longer blog post I’ve written about it with videos here: http://fluteangel.wordpress.com/2011/03/04/3-exercises-1-for-core-strength-and-stability/

As always, I have spots available for long distance training where I can write you a program to strengthen your core, improve your endurance and help you learn to play without pain.  You can find me via my website: www.MusicStrong.com and I’m always around on Face book: www.facebook.com/MusicStrong.  Come by and say hello, or send me an email with your comments and questions to angela@musicstrong.com  I look forward to hearing from you!

Today I bring you a post from Coach Nick Tuminello. He has written a whole series on the rhomboids, lower traps, and all those key areas that can be problem spots to musicians and desk jockeys alike. Whether you spend your day locked in a practice room or locked behind a desk and yearn to have strong shoulders and a pain-free back, this article is for you.

I can’t highly recommend this series enough. The rhomboids are a muscle that has become chronically stretched and weakened in our “bent over” society: when one bends over a steering wheel, table, computer or music stand the arms pull forward stretching the upper back muscles (and the rhomboids) forward when their main job is to contract and pull the shoulder blades BACK. This can cause weakness, pain and ultimately lead to injury.

The YTWL is a warm-up that I have been seeing and using for quite a long time, sadly, I hardly ever see anyone in the weight room using these movements and if I do, they do them incorrectly. Read and learn and if you want more detailed information he has a whole series on his blog, but he sums it up pretty nicely here.

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I recently subscribed to an excellent magazine called “Making Music“.  The magazine is geared towards all musicians, from classically trained to rock bands and everyone in between.  They have several features in their current issue I found to be very helpful – an article about Operation Happy Note, which is a program sending musical instruments to troops overseas, an overuse injury prevention article by Janet Horvath and this little blurb regarding tips for recreational musicians:

 

Recreational musicians will often comment that playing an instrument keeps them active.  However, this is not as healthy as it sounds  Most adults need more – moderate physical activity every day.  And, it may even improve your playing and protect you from injury.

According to the National Institute for Health, regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy.  People who are active live longer and feel  better.  Most adults should get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week.

 

While this may not be ground-breaking, earth shattering news, it does highlight the importance of more strenuous activity being important for overall health, in addition to what most musicians already know: that playing an instrument can be a sport in and of itself.  Playing an instrument demands a lot of the body and if you are using your instrument for exercise to “keep you active” you may be doing yourself more harm than good.  With musicians having the highest rate of work related injuries, picking up an instrument and getting serious about it as a hobby is not necessarily a well-balanced activity diet.  It’s like someone who works at a desk hunched over a computer all day collapsing in front of the TV on the  couch for several hours for “recreation and relaxation” ; it’s counterproductive and actually harmful.

If you are a recreational musician, and a “desk jockey” to boot, make sure you include regular activity in your DAILY life.  Yes, I said daily.  Playing ultimate frisbee once a week is not healthy, just as it is not healthy to work at your desk all week and then spend 3 hours practicing guitar.  The 30 minutes 5x’s a week guideline is a good place to start; running, walking, hiking, biking, weight lifting, anything that has you moving your body in multiple planes of motion.

If you do nothing else to combat your lifestyle, grab a foam roller and roll yourself out once or twice a day, incorporate some stretches and THEN go play your instrument or jam with your band.  Just be aware of the balance in the rest of your life.  Just like 1 hour in the gym cannot overcome the other 23 hours a day of overeating and bad postural habits, once or twice a day of foam rolling and instrument playing cannot countact the 23 hours a day that you spend in other bad positions.

 

 

NFA Recap

September 15, 2011

So I’ve been back from the convention for a few weeks already, and I haven’t found the time to be able to write anything!  My head has been swimming with thoughts and ideas, but, fortunately for me, business has picked up in a big way and, well, I had a lot to catch up on.  You see, the last day of the convention, an article about me and my boot camp class was run in the Sunday paper.  A full page full color spread in the Lifestyle section!  I’ve seen an increase in personal training clients from that, so I’ve been up to my eye balls in writing plans, training clients, running my boot camp classes and responding to the emails and questions I got from NFA.  I have put out a newsletter since then, which gave a big update on the convention, and if you aren’t signed up for my mailing list, you can do so in the bar to your right where it says “sign up for our newsletter” and I will send you the latest one!

Oh yes, and if you want more information about my boot camp classes (the one to the right was taken at our beach location) you can check out the new website! It’s at www.PCBeachBootCamp.com  I’d love it if you left a comment and can give me your feedback.

So what happened at the NFA?
Presentations!!!!
As stated in previous blog posts, I was very blessed to have been able to give two presentations.  The first was on Friday at 5 PM and was a panel discussion titled “Injury Prevention and Pain Management”.  My fellow panel members, Dr. Susan Fain, Karen Lonsdale and Lea Pearson along with myself all spoke on different topics relating to playing the flute and some suggestions on overcoming the special health challenges it presented.  Lea talked about breathing and body mapping, Karen talked about the ergonomics of the flute and how to set up for practicing be it solo or in a band setting and Susan talked about some common injuries and solutions to them with posture and stretching.  I, of course, gave a quick overview on the benefits of strength training for flutists.  I had so much to say and sadly, I ran out of time – 10 minutes just isn’t long enough!

We had a really wonderful turnout and I did not have enough handouts for everyone to get one, so if you would like a copy of my handout for this presentation and did not receive one, you can download it here:

Using Strength Training to Prevent Injury and Improve Pain

My second presentation was just me and it was on Sunday at 8 AM.  I went far more into depth about the benefits of strength training for flutists, and then demonstrated proper weight lifting form (which we all did together), did a little body mapping in finding where our hips are (here’s a hint, it’s not the bone that sticks out) and then we did some sample stretches and some activation exercises.  It was a lot of fun, and again, I ran out of time.
The easiest way to for me to remedy my problem is for flute clubs and associations to hire me to come out for a day or a weekend to give a workshop and then we can really go  in-depth about how things work, and do some exercises together!  In fact, I had a few people approach me about doing that very thing so be on the lookout to see me coming to your area and if you would like me to come to your area, you can get in touch with me by emailing me at angela@musicstrong.com or via the contact link on my website: www.musicstrong.com

Again I had a great turn out and ran out of handouts so if you would like a handout and didn’t get one, you can download it here:

Lift, Play, Love : Basic Weight Lifting for Efficient Flute Playing

I also had a “muscle man” image that I used that went along with both handouts. You can get him here:

Career Development Workshop

I am very grateful to have been selected as a participant in the 2nd Annual Career and Artistic Development Committee’s Career Development Workshop.  The room was not nearly big enough to hold all the people and we had people spilling out into the hallway trying to get in!  We learned a lot of things: from how to write a mission statement, to a bio, to a cover letter, to how to take a good publicity photo and what NOT to do.

In addition, I and two other people got to present our business ideas to the group and ask for help on certain parts of our projects.  I presented my business Music Strong, and while it is not exactly in its fledgling stages and I have a lot of the work done, my biggest problem is in reaching my audience.  I needed help finding out how to go to where the flutists are and where the people who need me are.

I got a LOT of positive feedback from people who heard me; compliments on the business concept, comments on how excited people were that I was doing this and overall enthusiasm for my business.  I also got asked to come give a presentation in Texas, so be on the lookout for information there!

Other wonderful happenings

I had a lot of great things happen at the convention.  Besides my name getting out there and being recognized, I was also asked to help man the Performance Health Committee’s booth.  I was more than happy to do so – not only for the opportunity to socialize and network with my fellow health professionals, but to answer questions and help the myriad of people who came by with health questions.  It is so rewarding to be able to look at someone, listen to their problems and even if you cannot diagnose or fix their problems, you can give them HOPE and that is super exciting.

I made a lot of new connections, new friends and got a lot of great music I hope to be performing soon.  The convention was a success in every way and I’m very blessed to be able to have been a part of it. Now I’m working on presentation proposals for next year for Vegas!

If you went to the convention, if you got the chance to come to these presentations, workshops or even if you didn’t, I’d love to hear your comments about it and if you have suggestions on future articles or presentations, I am welcome to those as well.

Meanwhile, here are some pictures from the convention.  I hope you enjoy!

See you in Vegas!

Activating the Lower Traps

August 10, 2011

Muscles connecting the upper extremity to the ...

Image via Wikipedia

What are the lower traps and what do I mean by activate? This is by no means an exhaustive, comprehensive post, but this should give you a general idea.

There are three parts of the trapezius muscle: the upper fibers (used to bring your shoulders to your ears), the middle fibers that bring your shoulders up and also inward, just like the rhomboids, and the lower fibers (that pull your shoulder blades downward.) If you will, try a little exercise with me for a minute: pull your shoulder blades down. Kind of an odd feeling, isn’t it? When was the last time you remembered performing this kind of action? Probably not very recently, as we don’t spend a good deal of time with our shoulder blades back and down….unless we’re doing a good stretch because we’ve been sitting at the computer for too long.

Now, lift your shoulders towards your ears – fairly easy? This action is performed readily when the “fight or flight” syndrome is engaged; pulling our shoulders towards our ears is a protective mechanism. What else feels tight when you hold your shoulders there? Well, if you hold your shoulders there long enough, you might feel several things

  • tightness at the base of your neck
  • a pain or pulling in your rhomboids or that vague area somewhere “in between my shoulder blades”
  • your chest feels sore from contracting
  • you begin to feel a pulling soreness along your rib cage

and several other things. What happens all too often is that the “shrug mechanism” is seen in a lot of people’s posture today. Our more sedentary lifestyles coupled with movements that encourage a protruding head and neck and arms forward posture have led to an epidemic of sorts of “bad posture”. I say “bad” because really, what we get is altered posture due to muscle compensation.

This is one of the reasons I do not advocate anyone (except bodybuilders who are training for size and symmetry) include shrugging movements in their weight training regimens. Most of us, who train for function and stability (and even those of us training for size) need to be focused on the middle and lower fibers of the trapezius.

When the upper traps are chronically activated, this can lead to dysfunction in the form of the lower (and possibly middle) traps becoming weakened to the point of “sleeping”. This term is used not in a literal sense but to describe the problem of muscle imbalances caused by the upper traps being chronically activated, which causes the lower trapezius muscle fibers to not fire properly.

What to do: Activation Exercises

First off, as stated in several previous posts, you must first stretch what is tight. In this case, that can be several muscles: the pectoralis major and minor muscles (chest), levator scapulae and scalenes (muscles in the neck) are the ones I would stretch first. These can be accomplished with a doorway stretch (at 90 degrees to hit the pec major and with the arm extended to hit serratus and pec minor) and the specific stretches for levators as seen in the previous post: The Flutist’s Pain Points

Once the tight muscles have been stretched (also called autogenic inhibition – or static stretching) one can move into activation exercises: which could also be called active-isolated stretching. This is done by a process called Reciprocal Inhibition which uses agonistic and synergistic muscles to dynamically move the joint into a range of motion. These stretches are done for 1-2 sets of each exercise and hold each stretch for 1-2 seconds for 5-10 repetitions.

Activation Exercises

The lower and middle traps are vital for shoulder stability, so doing exercises to ensure they are doing their job is vitally important. The first rule of strength training form is to retract and depress the shoulder blades. This not only ensures that the middle and lower traps (as well as the rhomboids) are active and functional, it inhibits upper trap, levator and other compensatory muscles from taking over. Use this motion any time during the day as an exercise on its own, and then use it during strength training sessions to make sure your shoulder girdle is stable and lower traps are activated.

Some excellent exercises for activating the lower traps (and rhomboids – as by now you can see they can be synergists) are wall slides, soup can pours, Face Pulls, Prone lower trap raises and LYTP’s. The primary movements, as discussed before, are Adduction (retraction) and depression. This website lists some excellent exercises, shows their movements and gives more anatomical descriptions.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but a few suggestions on some exercises you can do to “wake up” those lower traps. For a warm-up, I might do something like this:

  • Active Pectoral Chest Stretch (major and minor – 90 degrees and extended) 1-2 setsx5-10 reps each. Hold 1-2 sec.
  • Wall slides 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Arm circles 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • Scapular pushups or dip shrugs 1-2 sets of 5-10 reps
  • LYTP’s on stability ball or bench
  • Prone lower trap raises on incline bench

By now, your lower traps should feel a pleasant “burning” or tingling sensation, letting you know that the muscles are beginning to fire. After this, I would probably follow up with a few rotator cuff exercises to help with shoulder stability. In fact, Diesel Crew has put out an excellent circuit for “shoulder rehab” that you might want to check out. You can sub it in for the circuit above. (Always check with your doctor or a qualified medical professional if you have any shoulder injuries, issues or concerns before attempting any of these exercises.)

(By the way, I LOVE the pull up retractions!) And flutists (and other musicians) you should pay special attention to this video! These are great exercises to perform before practicing, or any other time of day you want to counter balance the effects of playing your instrument.

From there, with whatever workout I was doing, I would make sure to include exercises that engage the lower traps and throw in one or two exercises to help strengthen the shoulder girdles, my favorite exercise being face pulls. These are very easy to do incorrectly if the shoulder blades are not depressed and retracted.


The list goes on…

There are lots and lots of exercises to increase shoulder stability and when you make a regular habit of incorporating these activation exercises into your programs, you will not only see increased stability, but an increased range of motion, a possible decrease in pain and a possible improvement in upper thoracic posture.

Make sure to include lower trap activation exercises in every warm-up if not each workout! Please let me know how these exercises worked for you and your own experiences!

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