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!

The title of this post is my vision statement. My 5 year goal is to create a new identity for myself as a physical therapist, Andover Educator, flutist, teacher and writer. How did I get on this path and how do I plan to do it all?

Musicians are quite accustomed to wearing many hats. In addition to just loving music and wanting to engage with it for a living, I’m also attracted to how my routine isn’t so routine. I can be doing any number of different things in a normal day, and I love that. It keeps things fresh.

So maybe you’re saying, “OK. I get that you’re a flutist, teacher and writer but what’s an Andover Educator and how is physical therapy related?” Read the rest of this entry »

This is Your Brain on Music

February 17, 2012

I usually don’t pay attention to fitness magazines, but I flipped through this one the other day and came across some information I thought would be good to share.  This came from Self Magazine September 2011 and is copied verbatim.

Read the rest of this entry »

Some ideas about how to practice color

Any Promising Students?  From the Eclectic Musician, a new blog I discovered this week

Seth Godin asks:  Who is Your Customer?

And, ever seen a timid trapeze artist?

Get a Feel for Fees and see how musicians can use technology to their advantage

From Angela Beeching’s Monday Bytes….I’m using the Pomodoro technique to write this week’s Weekly Digest!

Five minute intro video–

More Pomodoro– here’s a free pdf and the Pomodoro website

Laura’s favorite Pomodoro timer

Five emerging chamber groups discuss programming, publicity, and life on the road

Music Entrepreneurship Retreat, June 3-9!

Arts Enterprise 2012 Summit:  The Creative Economy and You,  March 23-25!

Visualizing classical music as a roller coaster ride

Want To Improve Your Technical Facility? Pay Attention To Your Sound

Improv Game, Substitution (it’s fun AND easy!!)

Traits and Abilities of Creative Thinkers

Why French Parents are Superior (some ideas for parenting and teaching)

Best Practices for Grant Seekers

VIDEO OF THE WEEK:

Gustavo Dudamel and Elmo on Sesame Street

UPCOMING DEADLINE:

Extended application deadline for 2012 – 2013 Fellows Program at NEC

The “Take A Stand” Symposium in LA prompted many inquiries about the Fellows Program, after the original deadline passed.  NEC has generously extended the deadline to February 17, 2012.  It’s not to late to apply for this life-changing, tuition-free, executive leadership program that advances the El Sistema movement in the U.S.  For further information, visit: necmusic.edu/abreu-fellowship.

QUOTES OF THE WEEK:

“It is one of the commonest of mistakes to consider that the limit of our power of perception is also the limit of all there is to perceive. ”  –C.W. Leadbeater

“Associate with people who are likely to improve you.”  –Seneca

“The huge spiritual world that music produces in itself, ends up overcoming material poverty. From the minute a child’s taught how to play an instrument, he’s no longer poor. He becomes a child in progress, heading for a professional level, who’ll later become a citizen.”  –Dr. José Antonio Abreu

UPCOMING BODY MAPPING WORKSHOP IN NEW ENGLAND:


And, lastly, IPAP celebrates ONE YEAR this month!  Happy Birthday to us!

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

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!

Do What You Suck At

June 20, 2011

One of my mottos for awhile now has been “You are only as strong as your weakest link”. This picture exemplifies the idea perfectly. When I was in Army Basic Training, that was one of the things they told us almost constantly. We had to do everything as a team, and if one person was wrong, you were all wrong. If one person wanted to keep the Kevlar helmet on instead of taking it off, we all had to keep it on. If one person got punished…well, that didn’t happen, we all got punished.

The point was that you HAD to learn to do everything as a unit, as a team, and that each person was as important as the next. You are being taught to pay attention to detail and you realize very quickly that even if YOU excel in one area, your Battle Buddy probably doesn’t, and to work together as a team, everyone has to come together to support and encourage and work on their “weakest link” before you can excel as a team.

Your body works as a team as well and if you don’t address your weakest link, you are shortchanging yourself. As a musician, you know that if you don’t work on your weak spots, you’ll never reach your full potential because being a musician is made of several “links” – scales, intervals, tone, technique, body awareness, attitude, work ethic, etc.

As for my title…

You’ll have to pardon the hanging participle and bad grammar….but it got your attention, didn’t it?

Here’s the point if you do what you’re good at, you’ll never get any better. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Sure, but what do we do? We do the things at which we already accel. Why? Because we like doing well, we like feeling that good feeling that comes with doing well, and when you do something well, it’s, well…..easy.

Another way to say “do what you suck at” is to say “work on your weaknesses”. Now, honestly if I had put that as the title, you wouldn’t have stopped by to read, would you? Not nearly as interesting. But the truth is there in both statements. When you take a good look at the areas in which you lack and you go forth and WORK on those weaknesses what happens?

Well, it’s hard.
It’s generally not much fun.
You might fail
….a lot.
But in the end, you end up succeeding and ultimately not only gaining a greater sense of achievement due to the feeling of overcoming something at which you used to not do well, but it gets easier from there for you to get better at it.

Two examples: music and fitness, of course 🙂

Fitness

Take your pick: squat, pushup or pullup.

Sure, there are other hard exercises like deadlifting and benching and rowing but in all honesty, these are tough for me and most women. Most people do a HORRIBLE job of squatting with good form. They either

  • don’t go low enough
  • elevate their heels and squat on their toes
  • have their knees cave in
  • point their toes way out

It’s sad really, because what should be easy to do (we did it as 2-year olds without another thought) becomes so much more difficult as we age.

Side note:
This is why I suggest EVERYONE get some training in Alexander Technique. It’s not just for musicians and you will relearn how to use your body the way God intended and the way you used to, as aforementioned 2-year old but with better motor skills 🙂

Walk into almost any gym in the country and undoubtedly you will see a lot of the same things: the treadmills, ellipticals and bikes will be mostly full (sadly, mostly with women), lots of people using machines, and in the free weight section, the few people you see will be mostly men, mostly doing chest and bicep exercises. Occassionally you’ll see a man doing a squat….probably only going half-way down with too much weight (because it’s always better to improve your ego by using too much weight with bad form than to use no weight with good form, right?) and even more rarely, you’ll see a lady in there, doing “toning” exercises with the pink dumbbells. She’s doing it because she knows she needs to do something but isn’t sure what, so she sticks to what’s safe, what isn’t challenging, and pats herself on the back for venturing into the “guy’s” part of the gym. And year after year the ladies on the treadmills wonder why their bodies haven’t changed the way they “should”.

The guys do their same routines for the same reason: they work the vanity muscles using some outdated routines they found in magazines (that really only work for newbies) because they don’t know any better, it’s safe, it’s what the other guys are doing and hey, what woman looks at a guy’s legs – they look at his GUNS right? And year after year, he does the same stuff, blindly going forward, his gains decreasing every year and wondering why.

I’ll tell you why. It’s because they don’t work on their weaknesses.


Music

Where is your weakness when it comes to music? Ignoring etudes, scales and technique exercises – only focusing on working on pieces? Not really “wood shedding” the music, but just playing it over and over again? Putting off memorizing something? Not practicing much at all?

As a musician, my biggest weakness is 1) not making the time to practice and 2) not giving myself structure during practice time….which leads to feeling like I”m just wasting my time, so I end up not practicing at all! If you are one of those musicians who has been out of school for awhile, you know how easy it is to get out of the habit of daily practice, espcially when you aren’t surrounded by other musicians pushing you, endless rehearsals and recitals. If LACK of practice is your nemesis, ask yourself why? And chunk it into manageable goals: 1) I will practice every day or every other day 2) I will work on these pieces and these exercises, etc. Just write it down and give yourself structure.

If there is something specific you suck at and you’re just avoiding it, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and go after it! If you are a person who plays by ear and has a difficult time deciphering rythms on the page…..well, you need to start reading more music with difficult rhythms. If you suck at sightreading, the only way to get better at sightreading is to sightread a LOT.

See how this works? Identify your weakness, have the courage to put your ego aside and say “ok, what do I really suck at?” and then do THAT.

Take your dreaded evil and look it square in the face and say

“Today , it’s you and me and while I may not conquer you today, maybe not tomorrow, I will not fear you, and I WILL do this”.

And from there, you start with Moyse Gamme Arpegge and work your way through 🙂

So Do What You Suck At

If you are a gym “bro” who splits his workouts into “chest days’ and “arm days”: have the courage to do a full body workout,

If you are a lady who does nothing but stay on the elliptical or do curls and crunches in the “guy’s part of the gym”, have the courage to pick up some 20 pounders or hire a personal trainer and learn how to do a real deadlift…I can tell you, there’s nothing more empowering than deadlifting your bodyweight (with excellent form) in a gym full of men who are doing superflous exercises (with bad form).

If you are a musician and you’ve been putting off attacking Berio’s “Sequenza” GO FOR IT! You just might find that it’s way more fun than you ever realized.

In the end, we all have to work on our weaknesses, because there is only so far you can go in the areas you already excel.



Ask almost any flutist that has pain brought on by playing, and odds are they will mention one of these sites as giving them trouble: wrist, upper back (between shoulder blades), shoulder area or lower back. Sometimes the problem is that the pain is in ALL of these sites.

Studies have been done, but the results are inconclusive as to the results of what causes pain. A study I read recently studied the “History of Playing-related Pain in 330 University Freshman Music Students”. The interesting point is that MOST of the students had pain brought on by playing. The frustrating point was that the study was inconclusive as to the cause of the pain.

I have my own hypothesis, however, because this study did not cover my area of expertise: strength training. This is what the study found:

  • More students did than did not exercise, but pain occurred in 79% of the exercisers and in only 76% of the sedentary. Data were collected though not analyzed regarding exercise type; jogging appeared to be a favorite, as was the use of a variety of exercise machines
  • Most of the pain problems reported by instrumentalists are associated with the musculoskeletal system
  • Several factors have played into the lack of regular exercise for musicians. First, those who start their instruments early in life…often have been warned of the potential injury that might befall especially their hands and fingers by participation in athletics. This avoidance behavior becomes habit as they grow older.
  • There apppears to be an association between poor conditioning and musculoskeletal complaints, and vice versa; those who do have a regular exercise routine appear more resilient.
  • When asked about “regular exercise” …our definition for inclusion here was exercise of at least two times per week for a minimum of 30 minutes. We did not differentiate between exercise modes, but just from casual scanning of the data, jogging was by far the most frequent activity, followed by some kind of machine and/or light weights and biking. A minority did heavy resistance weight training, swimming, soccer and/or basketball.

It is GLARINGLY obvious to me what could possibly be the cause of so many musician’s pain, here, but this was not covered by the researchers.

  1. The type of stretching done, is probably out-dated, static stretching, which has been shown to be more detrimental than helpful
  2. Jogging is a favorite activity….this does NOTHING to help weak muscles. If you play an instrument held in front of your body (aren’t they all?) then your body is forced to compensate after the primary muscles holding up the instrument fatigue. Thus leading to pain.
  3. The MINORITY did heavy resistance training and soccer, swimming and basketball – sports that require a high degree of movement.

Can you see the pattern here?

So getting back to the flutists’ pain points

What are the points of chief complaint?  From what I have heard (though if you have another spot, please leave a comment below!) these are the most common

  • wrist
  • upper back
  • shoulder
  • lower back

With the exception of the wrist, the other three points are located on what we call the “posterior chain”  This is the back half of the body, responsible for a lot of pulling movements and fighting against the pushing movement of the front of the body, including keeping the body upright.  If your posterior chain muscles are weak, it causes them to stretch.

Example:

You sit all day, in rehearsals, driving, typing, practicing.  You probably slouch, meaning your chest comes forward, your abdomen caves in and your back rounds.  You are not balanced on your sit bones.  Your shoulders round forward.  Your head protrudes.

What does this lead to?

Try taking that posture for awhile and I bet the answer will be:

  • my neck hurts
  • my upper back hurts
  • my hips hurt
  • basically, everything on the back half of my body HURTS!

Can you see how this  posture, practiced day in and day out is compounded with holding a heavy instrument (or maybe your instrument isn’t heavy but after several hours of playing it becomes heavy to you) can wreak havoc on your body?

Solutions!!!!

The part you’ve been waiting for!  You can see where the problem lies, by now, I hope.  Weak posterior chain can equal pain.  What to do?  Strengthen it!  Let’s take this on a spot by spot basis.

Wrist

If your wrist hurts, there can be several causes, some of which may not have anything to do with your wrist, but  may actually be a symptom of poor upper body posture, shoulder position, etc.  Assuming you play an instrument that puts your wrist in somewhat of a contorted position (flute, guitar, violin, etc.) there are some stretches you can do.  Hold each for a count of 10, and follow with movement.  It is very important that after you do a static stretch (a stretch you hold without moving) that you follow that with a dynamic stretch (a stretch that involves movement).

                                                                             

These are stretches and of course there are exercises you can do to increase your wrist/grip strength.  However, I’m not sure that that is necessary, as my guess is that the reason the wrists hurt has more to do with being tight and needing to be stretched due to being in an awkward position for long lengths of time, rather than being weak.  However, grip strength is important when it comes to lifting weights.  Diesel Crew has a lot of information on improving grip strength.

Upper Back/Shoulder

This area could take all day to address, and I have in two posts and a guest post by Dr. Perry.  For detailed information see Shoulder Pain Part 1, Shoulder Pain Part 2 – What to Do About it, and Dr. Perry’s Post: Shoulder Pain Secret.

The chief culprits of pain are the rhomboids (the muscles in between your shoulder blades that work to pull them together), lower traps (pull shoulder blades back and down) and rotator cuff muscles.  When you lean forward with a rounded posture, or have your arms extended in front of you for a long time, these muscles that do the pulling in your upper back get stretched the opposite way and get kinda angry about it.  They are designed to pull the shoulder blades back, but if you do not strengthen these muscles, if they do not get used the way they were intended.  You get pain.

I think this is the biggest problem area among musicians and the most overlooked!

Strengthen your rhomboids and upper back by doing pulling movements and see if your pain doesn’t improve, not to mention your posture!

My favorite exercises are:

Lat Pulldowns/Pull ups, any type of rows (inverted, seated, barbell or dumbbell) and exercises for the rotator cuff: soup can pours, prone lower trap raises and wall slides.  You can see all three of the rotator cuff exercises in Shoulder Pain Part 2.

Before doing any of these exercises, however, it’s not a bad idea to stretch the muscles that are tight, before strengthening the muscles that are weak. That’s another post for another day. 🙂

Lat pull downs/Pull ups.

     Good form                       BAD FORM!!!

(Coaching cues – keep spine neutral – curve in lower back, no leaning backwards, and keep shoulder blades down)

The big thing to remember here is to that before and DURING the movement, keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down.  This will prevent you from going into full shoulder extension and increase shoulder stability.

Huh?

That means that when your arms are as far away from you as they can be, if your shoulder blades are properly retracted and depressed you will still be able to let your arms go farther away.  So, when you are reaching up for the bar, don’t let your shoulder blades float away – keep them back and down.  If you find you can still let them go a bit farther (like in the second picture), you know they are not properly retracted. Think of keeping the bottom of your shoulder blades squeezed together throughout the movement.  This may cause you to not use as much weight as you would like, but so what?  If you use more weight than you can with good form, what are you really accomplishing?  THAT’S where you get into more pain and injury.

Inverted Row

Coaching cues: keep body “straight”, keep shoulder blades back and down.

Coaching cues: keep shoulder blades back and down, keep neutral arch in back, do NOT round your back when reaching for weight or pulling forward

Lower Back

If your lower back hurts, ask yourself how much you sit.  If the answer is “a lot”, you may have found your problem.  When you sit, your hips “flex”, this means that the knees come towards the body by means of the hip flexors   The hip flexors are pictured here and I know the Alexander Technique teachers will jump all over the psoas, as they should! That’s where I first found out about this very important muscle.  You can see how it attaches to your leg AND your low back. When you sit, this muscle flexes, or shortens, which (especially if your abs are too strong – aka, don’t do situps or crunches!!!!) causes you to bend forward, this muscle pulls on your low back.  The muscles on your low back (Quadratus Lumborum and spinal erectors, etc.) get stretched, just like the upper back muscles.

Solution?

Stretch the tight muscles, strengthen the weak muscles.  In this case, stretch the hip flexors, strengthen the low back muscles  and muscles of the core.  The CORE is actually made up of your entire torso and if you want an EXCELLENT book on strengthening the core in the non-traditional way (there is not a single “ab” exercise in this book!) I HIGHLY recommend getting New Rules of Lifting for Abs. 

I’m just finishing up this book myself and not only has it improved my posture, it has improved my balance, core strength and overall body strength.  I can lift heavier weights than I have in a long time and I have better posterior chain activation as well!

There are WAY too many exercises to list here for strengthening the core and lower back, and in fact, if you want more information on that, I cannot recommend anything here safely, which is why I recommend hiring a personal trainer to help you do these exercises, because done incorrectly you can cause more pain or even injury to yourself.

As for stretching the hip flexors, I have some great ones.

You can do this standing as well.  Make sure when you do this stretch, you lean backwards with your torso until you feel a stretch in the front of your hip and SQUEEZE your put on the stretched side.  When you stretch the hip flexor, you want to activate the opposing posterior chain muscle, in this case, the glutes.

This exercise is one you can do during rehearsals, while typing, or while lying down.  It will stretch your piriformis muscle (the angry little muscle in your butt that gets stretched out when you sit for too long).  I recommend doing this lying down: take the chair out of the picture and put the person on his back.  Grab the vertical leg and pull it towards the chest.  The horizontal leg (the one that is bent across the other) will feel a stretch in that glute and hip.

A good stretch for the psoas is this stretch:

Lie on the edge of a bed, bench or table and pull one leg towards your chest.  The other leg should dangle off the edge of the table.  DO NOT do this exercise if your doctor has told you not to or you have major back pain.  Check with your doctor first if you have concerns.  When doing this stretch, you should feel a deep pulling feeling in your abdomen, that is difficult to identify.  This is your psoas.  Hold for a count of 10-30, depending, and switch sides.

You can also do this on the floor to test for hip tightness.  Lie flat on the floor just like in this picture.  If your lower back comes off the floor and rounds, it can be a sign of hip flexor tightness.

What are some exercises I need to NOT do?

As you can see in this post, training the posterior chain is of utmost importance.  Therefore, training the frontal chain, is not as important.  If you have muscular imbalances, you do not want to add any more strength to those muscles.  The opposite of the muscles covered in this post would be: chest, quads, biceps.

Exercises I do not recommend if you are in pain:

Chest presses, bench presses, cable flyes (basically any chest pushing exercise), crunches, situps, any kind of oblique twisting ab exercise,  leg extension machine.

Other GOOD exercises to include would be exercises that train the entire body:

Pushups

Deadlifts

Squats

Make sure you perform these exercises with permission from your doctor and under the supervision of a properly certified personal trainer.  If you have any kind of health condition, check with your doctor first.

Related articles

As I was reading through my Google Reader this morning, I came across this blog post: 3 Stability Exercises to Strengthen Core Muscles. (I’m going to use her images here, I give her credit for finding them!) As I was reading I thought “what a great idea for flutists!” Americans as a whole are horrifically lacking in core stability. We sit for most of the day, hunched over, with our spines in flexed positions and our heads jutted forward, our hip flexors are shortened and to make a long story short: we force our bodies to keep us upright using muscles that were not meant to be used, and our core muscles (which ARE meant for just that purpose of keeping us upright) get weak.

Every musician needs a strong core, and by strong core I don’t mean rock hard abs and a visible six-pack. The core is made up of several muscles, the diaphragm, transverse and rectus abdominals, obliques, and back muscles: mutifidus, erector spinae and QL and your pelvic floor muscles, among others. These muscles serve to keep your internal organs in place, your body upright and in balance and if you play a wind instrument, like flute, your core has to be strong to support all that internal pressure you are creating.

Side note:

Let’s talk about support for a minute. What does that vague word “support” really mean? Can my diaphragm do the work? To clear things up, your diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscles that cuts across the entire middle of your body and serves most basically to facilitate breathing. More on that later. It is an involuntary muscle, meaning, it cannot be consciously controlled (under most circumstances). Support, therefore, does not come from the diaphragm. What is meant by “breathe from the diaphragm” is to breathe low, your belly should move outward, instead of “shallow breathing” where your shoulders move upwards.
Support is basically where you take in a deep breath, and notice how the waistband of your bands moves outward. When you breathe out (through your flute embouchure) you need to keep the waistband of your pants out. You are not pushing out, rather you are keeping the natural tension that is there from breathing in. THIS is support and keeps your throat, lips and face muscles free from tension.

So, now that we understand support and can see why a strong core is beneficial, what are these exercises? Well, let me show you. I have done all of these myself and actually love them. They are a lot more difficult than they look, but give them a shot and see if you don’t enjoy them, too!

Vertical Pallof Press

You may have heard of the Pallof Press, which consists of pressing outward, this version presses upward. Nick Tuminello shows his version.

Band Hip Rotations

The goal here is to not twist too much, and to brace your abs against flinging to either side and using your core muscles to contract to twist you.

Standing Cable Anti-Rotation Chop

This is similar to the exercise above, but you twist even less. You use your arms to move and your abs to brace against movement.

Just because I’m a rebel, I thought I’d add one more and show you the Palloff Press. You’ve seen the vertical, now see the original! Notice how the body is not moving? The more weight you add, the more difficult this becomes. You are using your abdominal muscles to brace you and keep you from moving.

You do not need a “core workout” or a dedicated “core day”. Just put 1-2 core exercises of 1-2 sets in your workout each day that you lift and you will be doing just fine. You can also do these at home if you have bands, you do not even need a cable station. Just get a selection of bands and tie them to a door knob or put them in the door frame. The JC travel bands are fantastic for this!  See my webpage for a link for those.

Let me hear your thoughts…have you tried these?

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