TFS: How did you start your health/fitness journey?
NE: I think my attention to cleaner eating really started around the time that I was finishing my degree at University. Between a busy school schedule and my teaching and performance schedule, I had really started to neglect my body. I was having ongoing stomach issues and found that I was often eating unhealthy “comfort” foods and not making any time for exercise. As a result I was carrying some extra pounds and overall, just felt like my energy was not what it should be. The desire to pursue a performance career post university really helped me to focus in on what my body needed - not only was I in poor physical shape, but I was also compromising my heath, making me more prone to the virus of the day. Being sick makes my job nearly impossible, and traveling can sometimes make those goals harder to achieve. With a good plan, some research and a commitment to making a change I found that the pounds came off and I felt so much better and stronger. I even started craving the healthy foods and snacks that I had incorporated in to my diet.
TFS: What does your normal fitness routine consist of?
NE: I try to move my body in some way every day for a minimum of 30 mins. I have a number of exercises that I enjoy and I rotate them throughout the week to make sure that I am getting a good total body workout. My workouts also are also portable so that I have no excuses. Body resistance training for strength and conditioning, running for my longer cardio days and yoga for recovery seem to work best for me. Best of all, I don’t need a gym membership to do it. I just have to wake up in the morning and commit to getting it done. Sometimes that means getting up a bit earlier, having one of my daughters follow me on a bike, or shutting off the media distractions earlier in the evening to decompress with some yoga. It’s me time, and I always feel better after doing it.
TFS: What impact have you noticed on your voice from your healthy lifestyle?
NE: Staying healthy is key - especially with two young girls who both go to school and have brought home some nasty viruses. If I am eating healthy my body has a better chance of fighting of those virus. I also take supplements daily such as Wellness and B vitamins to keep my immune system in top form. It is not always possible to get the best nights sleep or to avoid stress, but fueling your body with nutritious foods and supplementing wisely can help you stay on track.
TFS: How do you maintain your lifestyle while traveling?
NE: I am committed to finding the healthiest non processed foods no matter where I am. Often asking locals where the best produce or organic selections are will help to make sure that I can cooking or eating healthy on the go. Otherwise, I can always simplify what I would normally cook in my own kitchen by cooking with whole ingredients and using jarred spices to add flavor.
TFS: What do you do on a performance day?
NE: I try not to do anything to different from a normal day, except that I will try to relax and meditate in the afternoon before heading to the performance venue to hit the “reset” button. Having two young girls who often travel with me means that I am still on duty during the day and I although they know that we won’t be doing any big activities on work days, we still spend time together and sometimes even share a meal before I leave. I still workout on performance days and find that a good sweat will open up the body and make my vocal warm up faster.
TFS: What’s your guilty pleasure? NE: Chocolate - dark chocolate and a glass of white wine.
TFS:What advice do you have for other singers?
NE: Treat your body with respect and it will perform for you. Be realistic about your goals, both personal and professional and don’t compare yourself to others.
TFS: Where do you see yourself in 5 or 10 years from now?
NE: I plan to just keeping doing what I am doing for as long as I can. I love being a mom, and Music is such an integral part of my life. I can’t pinpoint anything too specific that I hope to have achieved, but I know that the health and happiness of my family is very important to me and I will strive to hold that as my goal as the years go by.
TFS: What have you found to be your most physically demanding performance?
NE: I recently performed in a “Beethoven Marathon” performance with the SF Symphony Orchestra, which was the combination of two concert programs, one beginning at 7:30 and the second beginning at 9:30 wrapping up around midnight - the challenge, however, was that I got up at 5am the next morning to run a Half Marathon and still somehow managed a sub 2hr pace. :)
TFS: That is amazing! Thank you so much Nikki. Hope the rest of the run of Mice and Men goes well. The opening night performance received great reviews!
If you happen to be in Winnipeg you can still catch performances of Of Mice and Men on Tuesday, April 26 at 7 pm and Friday, April 29 at 7:30 pm at the Centennial Concert Hall.
I’m not big into making New Year’s resolutions myself. When I feel my life is in need of a change I start then and there. Lots of my long term goals and dreams that actually will be coming true this year started last May and June and there are always new things about myself I would like to work on – if I waited for all of it to start January 1 I would have missed opportunities and it may have all been far to intimidating to tackle it at all.
Nonetheless many look to the New Year for a fresh start (and despite what I said there is one new habit I would like to develop starting January 1, which I’ll tell you about later). A fresh new chapter in our lives. Too often it’s a fairy tale chapter of all the wonderful things our life will be with the changes they will make. All too often that fairy tale bubble bursts by Valentine’s Day.
According to Time Magazine, the most commonly broken resolutions are:
So how can we make our resolutions stick?
Don’t overdo it. Choose only one to three resolutions to start with. Tackling too many resolutions is certainly going to lead to failure (if being less stressed was one of them you are actually going to set yourself up for more stress). All three resolutions don’t have to start at the same time either. Staggering them out through the year can make it more manageable as well.
Decide on your WHY. Why is it important to change that? Is it simple it would be nice to do or is there a real need that deeply affects the quality of your life? For example, you want to drink less. Is it because you spend too many Sundays with a hangover or is it because your relationships, your work or your health are on the line because of your drinking? The latter is surely a more compelling WHY, which will more likely make you stick with it.
Set realistic goals. If you want to travel to new places, but are racked with debt, now is not the time to plan a trip to Australia. Likewise, don’t expect to lose 50 pounds in two months (by the way, healthy weight loss is 1-2 lbs/week, so 15 lbs in two months is more realistic).
Set specific goals – specific in time frame to complete, specific in quantity, specific in actions to take. Remember these should all be realistic. For example you want to save $2000 for a trip to Disney World in March - it is specific, but is it realistic? Can you save $2000 in three months? Make it more realistic – Save $2000 for a trip to Disney World next Christmas. You have 50 weeks to save! So open a special bank account and put in $40 each week.
Make it enjoyable. Want to exercise more? Don’t get lured into the gyms unless you know they have something you would enjoy doing. If you like the idea of lifting weights, fine. But that’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Maybe a group class, but which one? A Zumba class might be more fun. It feels less like exercise and more of a party and that may be the thing you need to keep you moving. Volunteering? Serving at a soup kitchen, though very noble, may not be for you. As a singer, perhaps you can sing at shelters or nursing homes instead. Don’t underestimate the gift of your music.
Get an accountability partner. You are more likely to stick with it if you have someone to be accountable to. This could be a friend or family member. It can be someone that will join you in making those changes in their own lives or just someone with whom you’ve shared your goal. You can join an online accountability group where there will be other likeminded people with whom you can share your journey. It can be a trainer or wellness coach like me (I work with people online in accountability groups and one on one) or other professional as required (example – financial planner).
Make an appointment with yourself. Write it in your calendar. Exercise time. Meal planning time. Family time. Time for budgeting and going over accounts. If it’s scheduled you are more likely to do it.
Reassess frequently. Every month take a look at where you’re at with your goal. Is it moving forward? Do you need to tweak your action plan? Can you make further improvements on this goal? Is it time to start on the next resolution on your list?
Remember any resolution you make is making a new habit and it doesn’t happen magically. It will require work and dedication. Sometimes it requires the breaking of old bad habits, which is sometimes the greatest challenge. But it will be so worth it when you come to next New Year and can reflect on what you accomplished in the past 12 months. If you need help with nutrition, health, fitness or weight loss goals, the free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook community would be a great place to start!
And what’s my resolution, for one who doesn’t usually make New Year’s resolutions? It took this past week with a Christmas Day bout of stomach flu and convalescence through this week where I made use of the adult coloring book my daughter gave me, I read books for pleasure and not just knowledge and self-improvement and allowed myself a couple of Netflix marathons to realize that it’s ok to slow down and not to be constantly thinking about my next project. So my resolution is to savor the quiet moments without guilt.
Happy New Year! May this year bring you all the blessings you deserve!!!
I don't know about you, but I'm far from ready for Christmas. I haven't even started my shopping. Not necessarily a surprise when there was so much to do preparing my students' Holiday recital. It was a huge success! Now it's time to seriously think of gift giving. With that in mind I've put together a wish list. For a singer, maintaining health is important, so here are some ideas beyond scarves and water bottles. You might want to put these on your own wish list or maybe get a gift idea for a singing friend. This is certainly not a definitive list, but these are things that I have found very useful in my own life as a singer and hope you will too.
1. What Every Singer Needs to Know About the Body by Melissa Malde, MaryJean Allen and Kurt-Alexander Zeller.
2. Voice at the Center by Ruth Williams Hennessy (DVD).
3. PiYo (DVD) by Beachbody.
PiYo is a workout routine that changed my life. I had suffered from chronic back pain for over 20 years until I did this 60 day DVD program. It is a stretch and strength workout inspired by movements from Pilates and Yoga, but more dynamic, so you get a good cardio workout as well. You will build lean muscle from this with body weight exercises and improve flexibility and range of motion. It’s a low impact workout and has modifiers to follow if you’re just a beginner. Celebrity trainer Chalene Johnson originally developed this workout as a live class and leads you through all the DVD workouts. I loved it so much that I have now become a PiYo Live instructor. It’s great for singers, as we don’t need to bulk up in muscle and it helps with posture and alignment. The workouts are short only about 30 minutes long, so they fit into a hectic schedule and very cost effective too. Click here for more information about PiYo. Or contact me.
4. Stability Ball.
5. Resistance Bands.
6. Foam Roller.
7. Massage gift card.
Who doesn’t like a massage to feel relax, rejuvenated? Though self-massage with a foam roller, tennis ball or other method can be helpful to ease tension, nothing beats a professional massage by a registered massage therapist! They aren’t cheap though, so make sure everyone know that you have this on your wish list, maybe you’ll get a few gift cards and will be set for massages for the year.
9. Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ by Guilia Enders.
,Branded as “The Healthiest Meal of the Day”, it truly is. It’s not your average protein or meal replacement shake. The whole foods in it are chosen for their nutrient density with minimal processing. There are no artificial colors, artificial sweeteners, soy or high fructose corn syrup. It contains digestive enzymes and probiotics – important for gut health (see 9). It certainly helped me with my gut health and I have experienced greater energy and mental clarity. One of the best things for busy singers is that it is great to make sure you have a healthy meal on the go or when traveling. Click here for more information about Shakeology.
I hoped that's helped you for the singers on you list or even for yourself. I better get started on my shopping, decorating, card writing (yes, i still do cards), baking...
Merry Christmas to all you Fit Singers!
As singers we usually need to present a total package. Across all genres image and looking the part is important. Even in the classical world and opera in particular, there has been a growing trend in the last 10 years or so to have singers look the part of the young lovers they play, especially the consumptive ones. Singers, sometimes ones with immense talent, are passed over by directors due to their size. In our visual world with big screen broadcasts of operas, movie versions of musicals and images of singers constantly parading before us on our tv and computer screens, it’s no wonder that there is pressure for singers to slim down. Though I don’t agree with discrimination based on size, there is a more important reason for singers to be concerned with their weight and try to slim down.
Yes, it comes down to health. By being overweight you are at greater risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes and some cancers. You are more prone to acid reflux, joint and back pains, mood disorders and reduced energy levels. How can you effectively deal with the demands of a singing career if you are weighed down with health problems?
Let’s start with what is healthy body composition and how to measure that. There are a number of measurements that you can take with the aid of your doctor or a personal trainer. No one measurement is going to give you the whole picture, but together you can get a picture of where you lie. First of all we can start with the body mass index (BMI). This is a ratio of your weight to height squared (kg/m2).
Where you carry your fat also makes a big difference. Apple shape means that you are carrying more visceral fat around your middle that will constrain your thoracic cavity with the pressure of adipose tissue, which may make breathing more of an effort. It pushes against organs, which can prevent the free circulation of blood. It will also put a strain on your back making it harder to maintain good alignment. It puts you at greater risk of metabolic syndrome. If you take a measurement of your waist circumference a measurement of greater than 102 cm for men and greater than 88 cm for women puts you at higher risk.
Skinfold measurements are another way to determine body fat. This is taken by using a skinfold caliper to measure the thickness of a double fold of skin and underlying fat at various locations of the body. This is best done by a professional with experience of taking these measurements and compared to a chart.
So if you know you are in need of losing weight for your health it is important to undertake it in a healthy manner. No fad diets, no overly restrictive diets, no yo-yo dieting. These are not going to give you long lasting results and if anything, this approach could be detrimental to your voice. Some of these diets do give good short term results, but are not maintainable once you go back to normal eating patterns and in studies it has been shown that the majority of these people go back to their pre-diet weight and sometimes even gain more.
Healthy weight loss will involve a lifestyle change that you will be able to maintain even once you are at your target weight. This lifestyle change will have to include physical activity and nutrition. Neither one on it’s own is sufficient to bring you to optimal health. It is safe to lose up to 2 lbs a week. Eating a healthy well-balanced diet with no processed food is the best way. You may still need to have a slight calorie restriction to achieve your goals, but once you get to your goal, you will have already developed healthy eating habits that you should be able to maintain.
By eating healthily and being physically active with a proper balance of cardio, strength and flexibility training, you shall find that your voice will not suffer at all from your slow and steady weight loss.
Why have there been claims that heavier singers had more powerful voices and that they were ruined by weight loss? There are a number of reasons attributable to this. One is that it was rapid unhealthy weight loss that left hormone levels unbalanced, as well as insufficient nutrients for the body to function properly. Another is that not enough effort was made to develop strong core muscles. An overweight singer has to use more musculature to breath and keep the ribcage open against the pressure of the adipose tissue. As weight is lost, the muscles don’t need to work so hard and can lose their strength if not conditioned properly.
So healthy weight loss with no detriment to the voice is possible. In fact, the fitter you get the more you will find you have freedom in your instrument and the energy to keep up with all of the demands placed on you on a daily basis.
If you would like advice on how to achieve healthy weight loss contact me by clicking here, I’d be happy to answer any questions or sign up for the Fit Singer Boot Camp by clicking here. The next boot camp starts on November 30th, 2015.
Google exercises for singers and you will find many lists that include yoga, pilates, walking and swimming, while cautioning against weight training, extreme sports and sometimes dancing. In a world where what the human body can do is constantly being challenged and new ideas are evolving in sports medicine this is a very traditional and limiting view.
There was a time only a few decades ago that women were discouraged from running for fear that their ovaries would fall out. Now nearly half the field at the Boston Marathon is women; 61% of half-marathon finishers are women. If attitudes to women and exercise are changing so dramatically, then why are many sources for singers still behind the times? Luckily there are many singers that are pushing the frontiers of fitness and singing. There are singers who are marathon runners, triathletes (including me), and more. Some of these singers are very successful in the world of opera, too, an art form that is steeped in tradition. In the next few months I will be doing some interviews with these singers, so stay tuned.
But back to the original question: What makes a good exercise program for singers? Well, since presumably singers are humans, we require the same elements as anyone else. These elements will help prevent disease, improve body composition, help prevent injuries and make everyday activities easier to perform. The three primary components are cardiorespiratory training, resistance training and flexibility training.
Cardiorespiratory training improves lung capacity and strengthens the heart, increasing stroke volume so more blood is pumped through with each contraction of the heart, which means more oxygen is delivered to the cells and used at the cellular level to create energy. Read more in my previous article Why Cardiorespiratory Training is Important for Singers: How Hip Hop Changed My Life.
Resistance training (also called strength or weight training) improves muscle endurance and muscular strength, increases basal metabolic rate, improves joint strength and overall posture.
Flexibility training, by increasing range of motion, decreases the risk of injury, improves bodily movement and improves posture.
I’m sure as a singer you see the benefit of it all. For all singers posture is important for freedom of sound. Making sure any muscle imbalances are corrected through resistance and flexibility training will help with posture in an efficient manner. Energy and muscular endurance are important for performance when we have to deal with moving in heavy costumes, dancing, lifting props and any other stage craft needed to make it through a whole show sounding fresh right to the end. Even choral singers have physical demands placed on them to stand through a performance holding music.
So we need the three primary components of fitness, what else? The secondary components of fitness are comprised of balance, coordination, agility, reaction time, speed, power and mental capacity. All of these, even when exercised on larger muscle groups, will prime your brain to carry these components into singing, as well.
Now we know all the components to fitness, but how do we build a program from that? Ideally, you should have an assessment and work with a personal trainer who will design a customized program for your particular needs. We are all unique in our goals. We all have areas of weakness or muscular imbalance that a trained professional can help you with on an individual basis. They will also help you find something that you will enjoy doing so that you are successful at reaching your goals.
For many singers the cost of working with a trainer can be prohibitive or if you are traveling just not possible. The Fit Singer offers programs that can help you that are cost efficient and available to do from anywhere. For more information check out The Fit Singer Boot Camp.
If you already are doing some physical activity that’s wonderful! Just make sure you are including all the components of exercise. I would love to hear about what you do for your singer fitness. Let me know by commenting or send me a message at The Fit Singer.
At the end of my very first formal yoga class at a Bikram studio, the instructor came up to me since I was new and asked what yoga I had done before. I told her this was my very first class. This seemed to surprise her a bit because she said I had done very well if it was my first time. Before this, I had dabbled with yoga poses on my own and in dance classes and I suggested to her that it might have been the dance. She replied with an emphatic “NO”. She went on to explain that dancers did not necessarily make the best yogis since they seemed to hold tension and it was more to do with my breathing. When I mentioned that I was a singer her face lit up and she said, “Well that explains it!”
As singers we all know the importance of breathing. It’s the first thing that most of us are taught when we begin formal training. We learn to take deep low breaths and how to manage our breathing musculature for efficient sound production. If you haven’t mastered this yet, I hope your voice teacher is spending time helping to develop this very important part of your instrument. The specific mechanics of breathing are not what I want to discuss today. Rather I want to talk about how deep breathing will benefit not only your singing, but also athletic performance and your general well being.
Many singing teachers that I’ve had in the past and even some current discussion groups and blogs that I read caution against vigorous cardio activities for singers under the misconception that this encourages shallow breathing. Nothing can be further from the truth! Yes, inexperienced exercisers sometimes tend to breath in a shallow manner, but this is not correct and usually due to bad breathing habits at rest, as well. Elite athletes all breathe deeply – they have to. Oxygen = energy for aerobic activity. The very word “aerobic” means “with oxygen”. Athletes need to use their full lung capacity to get the greatest amount of oxygen possible that will be picked up in the blood and pumped through the heart to the muscles being used.
I remember my triathlon coach telling the rest of my team to inhale deeply on their bike ride and feel the expansion of their gut as the diaphragm descends and displaced the organs making room for the lungs to expand fully. He said if you watch the Tour de France racers, these guys who are so slim and fit, you would see they look absolutely pregnant when they inhale.
Exhalation is also important and that abdominal contraction that happens on exhalation can help with the power in your movements. Think of martial artists letting out a yell as they punch or kick and the weightlifter’s grunt.
So some quick tips on breathing as you exercise:
When doing aerobic exercise find a rhythm to your breathing. Swimming has it’s own unique rhythm and is great for controlling exhalation. For running or biking it depends on the effort. For a hard effort you can inhale for 2 steps/pedals, exhale for 2. For an easy effort try 3 and 3. There are other patterns, but that is beyond the scope of this article.
When doing resistance training, exhale on the effort/contraction of the muscle and inhale as the muscle lengthens.
Finally in stretching, relax with the exhalation and feel a deepening of the stretch, but be careful not to over stretch.
Read more about why cardiorespiratory training is important for singers here.
The benefits you will gain from deep breathing will not only help your singing and athletic performance, but will carry on into your life. Here is a list of benefits of deep breathing.
So as a singer, you already have an advantage to reap these benefits. It’s no wonder singers are known to have above average life expectancy!