There is one exercise that seems to be VERY popular with singers. It’s the plank. This isometric exercise is supposed to engage all your muscles of posture.
If you’ve been looking at fitness challenges, you may have seen the now ubiquitous plank challenge where you progressively hold it longer and longer.
There is even a plank challenge for singers to sing while planking.
However, the plank may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. Staring down at the floor while up on your hands and toes at the top of a push up for five minutes may not have the benefits you are hoping for.
Is the Plank the right exercise for you?
Let’s start by examining who should not be doing the plank. Anyone who fits the following criteria risks injury.
If you have diastasis recti you should avoid the plank. This is a separation of the muscles of the mid abdomen usually associated with post-partum women, but really can affect anyone man or woman. It can be caused by obesity, rapid weight loss, weight lifting and improper form in abdominal exercises. Planks can exacerbate the problem.
If you are in the final trimester of pregnancy.
If you suffer from back pain you should avoid planks, though short interval holds may be possible with correct form. More on form later.
If you are obese, aside from the possibility of diastasis recti, the extra weight on the back, shoulders and wrists may be too much and can cause injury.
Watch the short video to find out alternative exercises to strengthen your abs.
How long should I hold it?
So you’ve decided to get on the floor and plank. How long should you hold it for? Well, that depends. The current consensus is that 10 to 60 seconds is sufficient and no more than 120 seconds. What really matters is: HOW LONG CAN YOUR KEEP GOOD FORM?
As singers we are mainly doing planks to improve our alignment and core strength. There is a difference between alignment and posture. As singers we usually like to talk of good alignment over posture because posture implies holding statically, which can mean tension.
Guess what? We hold planks statically. When we sing or for that matter in anything we do in day to day living, we seldom hold ourselves statically, so a long duration plank really does not fit the bill as a transferable skill.
Shorter bursts of 10 to 30 seconds of holding with 5 second rests in between are more representative of what you would do in life. So if you can't hold a full minute, then go with 6 sets or 10 second planks or 3 sets of 20 seconds, etc.
Long duration planks are more about mental toughness and bragging rights, though the longer you hold the plank, the more likely you are to relax form and end up hurting your back.
For the record, before I knew any better, I once held a 6 minute and 20 second plank and had a very sore back for days afterwards, though my triathlete friends were duly impressed. Longer does not necessarily mean stronger.
What is good form?
The common advice given for planking is to keep a straight line from head to heels, keeping alignment. Instead of thinking a straight line from head to heels, think more of keeping your back flat, with a slight incline, so a ball could roll all the way down from head to heel without getting caught in a curved back.
The usual straight line cue can result in hyperextension of the back or a slight dip in the hips for many people. Of course, a flat back may cause a table top surface, which isn't desirable either.
Here are a few more tips to add to the checklist:
IT can sound pretty convoluted and it is actually quite technical. Without seeing yourself and/or having a trainer help you with your form, it can be very difficult to get the proper form and contract the abdominal muscles correctly.
Watch the short video on plank form to see how to get the form you need.
Remember, when doing planks, only hold as long as you can maintain good form and keep the abdominal muscles engaged.
If you do want to sing while planking, doing it as a short warm-up or as a tool to find the correct engagement of the abdominal muscles will be helpful, but holding it for the full duration of a song is not recommended, as form is likely to suffer.
Singers, in our competitive industry the total package matters. There I said it.
It is a sad truth, but it's there. No matter how glorious your voice, for some companies, directors and fans that just isn't enough.
If it was a perfect world we wouldn't have to put up with that. However, we still should be concerned about our health and most people will agree that excess weight can be a health concern that can ultimately affect our singing and our day to day lives.
Is weight really the issue though?
You totally want to ditch your scale, don't you?
You may have this weird kind of relationship with your “weight”.
I mean, it doesn't define you (obviously) and it doesn’t prevent you from singing up a storm.
What you weigh can matter (as I said, it's unfortunate that some casting is based on the outer package more that the voice for singers), but if we’re talking about health, then weight only matters to a certain extent.
Let's look at your waist circumference (well...you look at yours and I'll look at mine).
Waist Circumference (AKA “Belly Fat”):
Do you remember the fruity body shape descriptions being like an “apple” or a “pear”? The apple is kinda round around the middle (you know – belly fat-ish, kinda beer belly-ish) and the pear is rounder around the hips/thighs.
THAT is what we're talking about here.
Do you know which shape is associated with a higher risk of sleep apnea, blood sugar issues (e.g. insulin resistance and diabetes) and heart issues (high blood pressure, blood fat, and arterial diseases).
Yup – that apple!
And it's not because of the subcutaneous (under the skin) fat that you may refer to as a “muffin top”. The health risk is actually due to the fat inside the abdomen covering the liver, intestines and other organs there.
This internal fat is called “visceral fat” and that's where a lot of the problem actually is. It's this “un-pinchable” fat.
The reason the visceral fat can be a health issue is because it releases fatty acids, inflammatory compounds, and hormones that can negatively affect your blood fats, blood sugars, and blood pressure.
And the apple-shaped people tend to have a lot more of this hidden visceral fat than the pear-shaped people do.
So as you can see where your fat is stored is more important that how much you weigh.
Am I an apple or a pear?
It's pretty simple to find out if you're in the higher risk category or not. The easiest way is to just measure your waist circumference with a measuring tape. You can do it right now.
Women, if your waist is 35” or more you could be considered to have “abdominal obesity” and be in the higher risk category. Pregnant ladies are exempt, of course.
For men the number is 40”.
Of course this isn't a diagnostic tool. There are lots of risk factors for chronic diseases. Waist circumference is just one of them.
If you have concerns definitely see your doctor.
Tips for helping reduce some belly fat:
Get continuing motivation, tips and accountability to reach your goal when you join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community. Join now by clicking here.
Recipe (High fiber side dish): Garlic Lemon Roasted Brussel Sprouts
1 lb brussel sprouts (washed, ends removed, halved)
2-3 cloves of garlic (minced)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
dash salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 400F.
In a bowl toss sprouts with garlic, oil, and lemon juice. Spread on a baking tray and season with salt and pepper.
Bake for about 15 minutes. Toss.
Bake for another 10 minutes.
Serve and Enjoy!
Tip: Brussel sprouts contain the fat-soluble bone-loving vitamin K. You may want to eat them more often.
Hippocrates said, “All disease begins in the gut.”
For singers the topic of gut health is usually restricted to gastroesophogeal reflux disease (GERD) and it's cousin Laryngopharyngeal Reflux (LRP), but with so many other health conditions beginning in the gut that can ultimately affect a singer's ability to perform it's time to look at the full picture.
While "All disease begins in the gut" may not be 100% true for every disease in every person, more and more research shows that our gut (digestive system) has a bigger role in many diseases than we used to think. And we're not just talking about heartburn (which includes GERD and LPR), constipation, diarrhea, IBS, IBD, etc. We're talking about all kinds of issues like allergies, which is a common complain among singers, as well as pain, mood disorders, and nutrient deficiencies.
There are a lot of reasons for this. Our gut is the portal to the outside world. It's here where we take in disease-causing bacteria, viruses, and parasites. We also take in nutrients (and toxins) through our gut. The nutrients we ingest and absorb are the building blocks of every single part of our body. We're just learning the connections between our gut and other areas of our body, like our brain (have you heard of "the gut-brain axis"). Not just our gut per se; but, its friendly resident microbes too. These guys also have newly discovered roles in our gut health and overall health.
So, let's talk about the roles that our gut and our gut microbes play in our overall health. Then I'll give you tips to improve your gut health naturally.
Our gut’s role in our overall health:
Our gut’s main role is as a barrier. To let things in that should get in, and to keep things out that should stay out. Think of “absorption” of nutrients as things we want to let in; and “elimination” of waste as things we want to pass right through and out.
This seemingly simple role is super-complex! And it can break down in so many places.
For one thing, our guts can "leak." Yes, like a long tube with holes in it, it can allow things to get into our bloodstream/bodies that can wreak havoc (bacteria, undigested food, and toxins). You name it, whatever you put into your mouth can be absorbed by your gut and get into your bloodstream, even if it's not supposed to. And when your gut wall gets irritated, it can "leak." When this happens, you get inflammation, which is a starting point for many diseases that don't seem linked to the gut but have a sneaky connection there. This includes colds, flus and sore throats, which every singer dreads!
FUN FACT: 70-80% of our immune system lives in and around our gut.
A healthy gut is not a leaky gut. It maintains its barrier and shuttles things through to be eliminated. Maintaining a healthy gut barrier is the first pillar of gut health.
The second main part of your gut are the billions of friendly health-promoting microbes. Gut microbes help us digest and absorb nutrients. They fight off disease-causing microbes, make some vitamins for us, and have all kinds of other health benefits, like mental health benefits, reducing inflammation, and stabilizing blood sugar.
So, keeping your gut microbes happy is the second pillar of gut health!
How to improve gut health:
There are a lot of natural ways to improve gut health. Let’s start with what to stop. It’s always best to eliminate the cause, so let’s stop giving our guts junk to deal with. How about eliminating added sugars, processed foods, and alcohol? Try that for a few weeks, and you may be amazed at how much better your body (and gut) feels.
You may also want to eliminate other gut irritants. Dairy and grains contain common compounds known to irritate some people’s guts. Sometimes you only need to eliminate them for a few weeks to see if it makes a difference for your health.
By eating nutrient-dense foods, we allow ample macro- and micro-nutrients into our gut to maximize the chance for absorption. These nutrients help our bodies build and repair our gut, and every other body part as well. Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, colourful fruits and veggies, and fish.
The second pillar of gut health is our microbes. By ingesting probiotic-rich foods and drinks, we can help to replenish our gut microbes. These are found in fermented foods like kombucha, kefir, miso, sauerkraut, and kimchi. Make these a part of your daily diet.
Whole foods are full of gut-friendly fiber. Not eating enough fiber increases the risk of heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and obesity. Fiber plays lots of roles in our gut, including whisking away some of those pesky bad bacteria and toxins so they can be eliminated. Fiber also helps to feed our friendly resident microbes that help us absorb and digest our food better. What foods have a lot of fiber? Fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and even cacao.
And don’t forget the uber-important lifestyle factors like getting enough sleep, stressing less, and getting the right amount (and intensity) of exercise for you. It’s easy to forget some of the simple, but key links there are between what we do with our bodies and how well they function.
The function of your gut is key to your overall health. There are two pillars of gut health: maintaining a good barrier and maintaining healthy gut microbes.
The main ways to improve both of these naturally is by eating nutrient-dense whole foods. Foods filled with nutrition, probiotics, and fiber. And eliminating common gut irritants like added sugar, processed foods, and alcohol.
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Recipe (Probiotic-rich): Fermented Carrots
Yield: 12 servings
1 L warm water
4 tsp salt
4 carrots, medium, peeled, sliced
1 clove garlic, smashed (optional)
Make a brine by dissolving the salt in water.
Place carrots into a clean canning jar, packing them in tight. Make sure to leave about 1 inch of head space at the top.
Fill the jar with brine, making sure to cover the carrots completely. Weigh the carrots down to make sure they don't float (you can use a "fermenting weight").
Close the jar and let it sit at room temperature for 1-4 days. The longer it sits, the more the flavor will develop. Feel free to open and taste.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Use this as a side dish, or even a snack.