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.”

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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!

Practice like you train

September 6, 2011

The Road AheadI had a perhaps not so novel idea today. Why should we practice the same things every day? Instead, why shouldn’t we have a larger purpose for every single practice session and take some ideas from runners?

I’m a lapsed runner of sorts. I still run regularly, but I haven’t trained since I was an overly enthusiastic newbie two years ago. I’m in a rut. In this rut I let my subscription to Runner’s World expire, too.

I resubscribed in a hope to get some kind of motivational tip that would spur me back into a crazed training phase. I’ve been reading a few pages here and there and I read today about how and why you should have a purpose before you even begin running. Without a purpose, it’s too easy to get bound up in time contraints, the weather, or any of the million other reasons we usually fail to do what we say we’re going to do.

Yeah, we should have a purpose when we practice. That part is pretty obvious. But have we related our purpose to longer term goals in a meaningful way?

I run about 3 to 4 times a week. One day consists of a long run, which serves to build up endurance and help strengthen the legs and I do speedwork once a week to get faster. The remaining 2 days are easy runs, where I’m letting the work of the harder two workouts settle in.

I hate doing the same thing every day, so I’m not one for making up a routine. Instead, I tend to go with the flow which sometimes sets me up for failure. Translating my running workouts into my flute workouts might help me reach my goals faster. So here’s a quick sketch of how my different training runs relate to my practice sessions:

The Long Run – A longer than average practice session that gives you adequate time to cover all the areas of your playing that need consistent attention. It’s also the time to just enjoy the feeling of being able to play your instrument and not have to watch the clock.

Speedwork – Technical practice. Want to bump up your scales a couple notches on the metronome? Treat this “workout” as speedwork and limit to one or two days a week.

The Recovery Run – Focused, slow practice. Practice what you need to, but let your body assimilate the changes you’re making in your playing. Enjoy the recovery.

The Social Run – Jam session!

The Whatever Run – Play what you want without pressure. Use it as opportunity to explore different areas of your awareness. Or don’t.

*Originally published on The Sensible Flutist, August 2011

© Alexis Del Palazzo 2011

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!

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.

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