This is a question that comes up often.
A big reason many teachers site as for discouraging students from trying to achieve those six-pack abs is the fact that there is too much tension which interferes with freedom of breath, but it's not really true. (If you don't want explanations and just examples involving shirtless men, then just scroll down now.)
Ok, this can be true in an untrained singer who already has developed a bad habit of clenching their abs tightly. Dancers and body-builders are usually the worst offenders. A lot of work needs to be done to re-educate their breathing, but not really much more than the average new student who tends to breath in a shallow manner.
What about experienced singers? Really all it takes is to inform them that they should continue to practice their singing breath when they workout.
Honestly that’s all it takes if they already have good breathing patterns. In fact, most athletes do practice good breathing technique. My triathlon coach used to tell us that as we rode our bikes. “Breath into your belly!” he’d yell, “Those Tour de France guys look like they’re pregnant when they breathe!!!”
And it’s not just on bikes. Running, swimming; they all require that deep breathing that we use for singing. And these athletes hit the gym for strength training as well, so it’s not just about the weights. It about how you breathe when you lift the weights.
Let’s take a look at a few examples. I know this is going to be difficult for you ladies, but let’s make the effort to look at the breathing patterns of Chris Helmsworth (as Thor) and Michael Phelps. Try not to get too distracted.
Notice how Thor lifts his shoulders with every breath. He is concerned with maintaining his glamour muscles. The tension may be dramatic, but it’s going to affect his fighting capabilities with poor oxygen exchange. Good thing he has a magic hammer.
Now take a look at Michael Phelps. This is the way you breathe to win! Look at those ribs and abs move. You can have those abs and breath with complete freedom too.
But I’m not going to leave it there. We also want to see whether a SINGER can have a six-pack and still breathe for singing. So here is your proof with William Burden and Nathan Gunn in the Pearl Fischers duet. You can especially see the working abs at 2 minutes.
So yes, singers, you can have awesome abs and breathe freely. We don’t necessarily build tension from creating those abs, we just have to learn how to keep them flexible.
After all our abdominal muscles are important to maintaining our posture – good alignment is always encouraged for singing and those abdominal muscles are part of the recipe for achieving that. They will protect your back and allow you to move athletically while on the stage (or off).
Just remember that as you sing you cannot maintain the lean magazine-cover look. Your belly will expand as you inhale deeply.
It’s also good to note that to be really ripped also requires a low body fat percentage that just is not sustainable and may not be compatible with singing. Bodybuilders and fitness models often get dehydrated to make the muscles pop, so it’s not a look I’d recommend singers go after.
If you want to find out more about how you can get your abs and still sing with freedom, join the FREE Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice Facebook group where I share exercises every week.
Its causes are absolutely everywhere. Would you agree?
While I’m here at Resonanz Opera this summer, it’s certainly something that many singers are telling me about. How they feel stressed. How they feel anxious. How it affects their performance.
Our natural “fight or flight” stress response can sometimes go a little overboard. It’s supposed to help us escape injury or death in an emergency and then return to normal after we’ve fought or flew. But, that doesn’t happen too much in our society - it becomes a long-term reaction. It becomes chronic. If you’re a singer you definitely know what I’m talking about - work, rehearsals, practice, school, gigs, family. We try to do it all and it can take a toll on us.
You’ve probably heard of the main stress hormone, called “cortisol.” It’s released from your adrenal glands in response to stress. It’s also naturally high in the morning to get you going, and slowly fades during the day so you can sleep.
Did you know that too-high levels of cortisol are associated with belly fat, poor sleep, brain fog, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and even lowers your immunity? If you’ve ever experienced a pre or post show cold, it was probably brought on by stress.
Do you experience any of these? Well, then read on because I have a list of foods, nutrients and lifestyle recommendations to help you lower this stress hormone naturally!
Foods and nutrients to lower cortisol
Let’s start with one of the biggies that increase your cortisol… sugar. Reducing the sugar we eat and drink can be a great step toward better health for our minds (and bodies).
High doses of caffeine also increase your cortisol levels. If coffee makes you feel anxious and jittery, then cut back on the amount of caffeine you ingest.
Also, being dehydrated increases cortisol. Make sure you’re drinking enough water every day, especially if you feel thirsty. I’m constantly surprised by how many singers still aren’t getting enough hydration.
Eat a variety of nutrient-dense whole foods; this doesn't just help reduce stress hormone, it helps all aspects of your health.
Lower your cortisol levels with tea and dark chocolate (not the sugary milky kind!). Have a bit to unwind.
Don’t forget your probiotics and prebiotics! There is so much new research about the gut-mind connection, and how taking care of your friendly gut microbes is key! Make sure you’re eating probiotic rich fermented foods and getting a healthy dose of prebiotic fiber.
Lifestyle techniques to lower cortisol
It’s not just food, but there are things you can do with your time that can lower cortisol.
Reduce your stress with mindfulness. Many studies show that reducing stressful thoughts and worry reduces cortisol. Every singer should develop mindfulness strategies that don’t only reduce stress, but can improve your performances.
Get enough exercise (but don’t overdo it). While intense exercise increases cortisol levels temporarily, it can reduce overall cortisol levels. Even on those busy days dry to squeeze in a few 5 - 10 minute walks or even better - a 20 minute HIIT workout.
Get enough sleep!
Getting adequate sleep is way too underrated. Sleep reduces cortisol levels and also helps improve your overall health in so many ways.
Relax and have fun. Things like deep breathing, massages, and listening to relaxing music all reduce cortisol. They also happen to be things that will aid your singing in other ways.
Be social and bust loneliness. Would you believe me if I told you that science has shown health risks from social isolation and loneliness? It’s true! Maintaining good relationships and spending time with people you like and who support you is key. Luckily, most singing involves getting together with others to make music. What could be better!
Too much of the stress hormone cortisol can have several negative impacts on your health and voice. There are many proven ways to reduce levels of cortisol naturally.
In terms of foods and nutrients, have less sugar and caffeine. And have more water, fruit, tea, dark chocolate, probiotics, and prebiotics.
Lifestyle factors are huge when it comes to cortisol. To lower yours, exercise (but not too much), get more sleep, relax, and have more fun.
In the comments below, let me know your favourite ways to bust the stress hormone cortisol!
Recipe (High fiber prebiotic): De-Stressing Chocolate Pudding
3 ripe avocados
¼ cup cacao powder (unsweetened)
½ cup Medjool dates (pitted and soaked for 20 - 30 minutes)
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 dash salt
Place all ingredients into a food processor and blend until smooth.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try adding a pinch of cinnamon for a deeper flavour.
Though I usually recommend that singers try to stick to eating whole unprocessed foods, the truth is that packaged foods are part of the landscape of our dietary lives. And many unprocessed foods are found in packages as well.
Now if we are eating packaged foods, the priority is to read the ingredients list to make sure you are not getting a food full of artificial sweeteners, colours, preservatives and other chemical additives.
After that we can move on to the Nutrition Facts.
The Nutrition Facts table is on the side of most packaged foods. It’s often found close to the ingredient listing.
The purpose of it is to help consumers make better nutrition decisions. When people can see the number of calories, carbs, sodium, etc. in food, they should be able to eat better, right?
Whether you like the Nutrition Facts table or not, let’s make sure you get the most out of it, since it’s here to stay!
Here’s my four-step crash course on reading the Nutrition Facts table.
Step 1: Serving Size
The absolute most important part of the Nutrition Facts table is to note the serving size. Manufacturers often strategically choose the serving size to make the rest of the table look good. Small serving = small calories/fat/carbs. So, it's tricky.
All the information in the table rests on the amount chosen as the serving size. And, since every manufacturer chooses their own, it’s often difficult to compare two products.
In Canada, in the next few years (between 2017-2022), serving sizes will be more consistent between similar foods. This will make it easier to compare foods. The new labels will also have more realistic serving sizes to reflect the amount that people eat in one sitting, and not be artificially small.
Let’s use an example - plain, unsalted walnuts from Costco.
As you can see, right under the Nutrition Facts header is the serving size. That is a ¼ cup or 30 g. This means that all the numbers underneath it are based on this amount.
FUN EXPERIMENT: Try using a measuring cup to see exactly how much of a certain food equals one serving. You may be surprised at how small it is (imagine a ¼ cup of walnuts).
Step 2: % Daily Value
The % Daily Value (%DV) is based on the recommended daily amount of each nutrient the average adult needs. Ideally, you will get 100% DV for each nutrient every day. This is added up based on all of the foods and drinks you have throughout the day.
NOTE: Since children are smaller and have different nutritional needs if a type of food is intended solely for children under the age of 4, then those foods use a child’s average nutrition needs for the %DV.
The %DV is a guideline, not a rigid rule.
You don’t need to add all of your %DV up for everything you eat all day. Instead, think of anything 5% or less to be a little; and, anything 15% or more to be a lot.
NOTE: Not every nutrient has a %DV. You can see it's missing for things like cholesterol, sugar, and protein. This is because there isn't an agreed "official" %DV for that nutrient. The good news is that the new Nutrition Facts tables will include a %DV for sugar. Keep your eyes out for that.
Step 3: Middle of the table (e.g. Calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, potassium, carbohydrates, and protein)
Calories are pretty straight forward. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts has 200 calories.
Fat is bolded for a reason. That 19 g of fat (29% DV) is total fat. That includes the non-bolded items underneath it. Here, 19 g of total fat includes 1.5 g saturated fat, (19 g - 1.5 g = 17.5 g) unsaturated fat, and 0 g trans fat. (Yes, unsaturated fats including mono- and poly-unsaturated are not on the label, so you need to do a quick subtraction).
Cholesterol, sodium, and potassium are all measured in mg. Ideally, aim for around 100% of potassium and sodium each day. It's easy to overdo sodium, especially if you grab pre-made, restaurant foods, or snacks. Keep an eye on this number if sodium can be a problem for you (e.g. if your doctor mentioned it, if you have high blood pressure or kidney problems, etc.).
Carbohydrate, like fat, is bolded because it is total carbohydrates. It includes the non-bolded items underneath it like fiber, sugar, and starch (not shown). Here, 30 g of walnuts contain 3 g of carbohydrates; that 3 g are all fiber. There is no sugar or starch. And as you can see, 3 g of fiber is 12% of your daily value for fiber.
Proteins, like calories, are pretty straight forward as well. Here, a ¼ cup (30 g) of walnuts contains 5 g of protein.
Step 4: Bottom of the table (e.g. vitamins & minerals)
The vitamins and minerals listed at the bottom of the table are also straightforward. The new labels will list potassium, calcium, and iron. Yes, potassium will drop from the middle of the table to the bottom, and both vitamins A & C will become optional.
Manufacturers can add other vitamins and minerals to the bottom of their Nutrition Facts table (this is optional). And you'll notice that some foods contain a lot more vitamins and minerals than others do.
I hope this crash course in the Nutrition Facts table was helpful. While you can take it or leave it when it comes to making food decisions, it’s here to stay. And it will change slightly over the next few years.
Do you have questions about it? Have you seen the new labels with a %DV for sugar? If so, leave me a comment below.
Or join our free online community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Recipe (walnuts): Delicious and Super-Easy Walnut Snack
This is a great snack for singers on the go!
8 walnut halves
4 dates, pitted
Make a "date sandwich" by squeezing each date between two walnut halves.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: Try with pecans instead.
This week is the final week of my first session at Resonanz Opera in Mentor, Ohio. All the singers enrolled in this program have come such an amazingly long way in understanding themselves and their instruments.
I’ve been putting them through their paces with physical workouts designed for singers, as well as teaching them about health from a singer’s perspective.
We’re often given a list of vocal health tips that include a bunch of dos and don’ts. One of these is often – eat well. But what exactly does “eat well” mean and how does it affect the voice?
That is what these singers have been learning. And I’m going to share with you seven ways that good nutrition will aid your voice.
What is good nutrition?
When speaking of voice care, many sources will state what not to eat before performing, such as:
Or you may get very general advice such as:
Or advice of foods to avoid if you suffer from acid reflux.
This can leave you asking, “What are nutritious foods?” So you Google, you read labels at the grocery store and you’re still confused.
With so many seemingly conflicting diets out there how are you supposed to know what to do? Well, one thing they all have in common is that you are to reduce the amount of processed food in your diet and increase the whole foods, that is foods as close to their natural source as possible.
In addition, all of these diets stress eating more plant-based foods, especially vegetables.
7 Ways Good Nutrition Helps Your Voice
So if you are eating a more plant-based diet, here’s what it will do for your voice:
1. Improves energy levels.
The Standard American Diet (SAD), now adopted by many Western societies, is full of processed foods that have your blood sugars unbalanced, with a sugar high followed by a sugar crash. This can leave you feeling sapped of energy.
Eating whole foods, rich in fibre allow for a slower release of sugar into the blood stream maintaining a steady blood sugar level. Healthy sources of carbohydrates and fat are your bodies primary energy sources, but the nutrients in vegetables, especially in dark leafy greens will give you even more of a boost in energy.
2. Improves immunity.
The SAD diet is low on many immune boosting nutrients. Vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that aid in warding off those colds and sore throats, and even allergies that singers dread are missing in processed foods. Taking vitamin pills or having vitamins and minerals added into these foods is not the same, since they don’t get absorbed into the body as well and are limited to only a few nutrients versus the thousands of nutrients available in real whole plant foods. Whole food sources are designed for our bodies and have a wealth of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and phytonutrients that will keep your immune system strong.
3. Balances hormones.
Keeping hormones balanced can have a big impact on the voice from keeping the swelling of the vocal folds associated with PMS at bay to managing stress responses to keeping your mood at an even keel. Diet plays a large role in this. You can read more about hormones and the voice here.
4. Keeps collagen and elastin fibres in the vocal folds supple.
The tissues of the vocal folds consist of collagen and elastin fibres. These proteins are responsible for flexibility and resiliency of tissues. We see it especially in our skin – wrinkles form as less collagen and elastin are formed. It’s not just superficial aging we need to worry about. We need to maintain elasticity of the vocal folds. Vitamin C is vital in the formation of collagen, as well as other nutrients such as hyluronic acid, omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, sulfur containing foods, vitamin A and plant steroids. A healthy diet rich in a variety of plant foods like fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, and beans and legumes will ensure that you have all the nutrients to keep producing collagen.
5. Speeds up recovery between vocal use.
As we sing we are using many muscles; laryngeal and respiratory getting the most use. With athletic use the muscles will start to break down and need to repair. You may also be experiencing some inflammation from overuse, as well as a build up of lactic acid. Hydration is essential, but so is a diet rich in anti-inflammatory foods and lean protein to repair and re-build the used muscles so that you will be ready for the next singing session.
6. Maintains appropriate body composition.
Body composition can definitely have an affect on your voice. Energy levels are higher because there is not excess adipose tissue to carry around. It’s easier to carry out the demands of a director (Does he ask you to fall to the ground? How many times do you need to do this over and over in rehearsal? Can you do it without effort and maintaining support of the voice as you do it? Or maybe you’re a musical theatre performer and need to dance while you sing.) Also, if you are prone to yo-yo dieting it’s hard to maintain a sense of support as your weight fluctuates widely. By eating a healthy plant-based diet, you will be easily able maintain a consistent weight that will service your voice and your health and keep cravings at bay.
7. Reduces risk of vocal injury.
Ultimately, every singer wants to enjoy a lifetime of singing. Avoiding vocal injury is one way to ensure that. When you have improved energy levels, less inflammation and less illness you will be able to sing with less effort (provided you also have good technique in hand). This will reduce the risk of damaging your vocal folds either through a hemorrhage, nodules or polyps. A healthy diet high in plant-foods, which are rich in anti-oxidants, vitamins, minerals, phytonutritents and omega-3 fatty acids, can be highly anti-inflammatory. Some especially anti-inflammatory herbs include ginger and tumeric, so if you feel inflammation, load up on them. Try this tumeric milk recipe.
So make sure you are cutting the processed foods and eating a wide variety of fresh or frozen plant foods. As they say: “Eat the rainbow”. Your voice will love you for it.
Get more guidance on how to eat healthly in our Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
There has been a lot of conflicting information about dairy products for singers. Some say it causes excess mucus, some say that it’s a myth that’s been debunked. Most singers will agree that it feels icky if you have to sing right after consuming dairy.
For those that have dairy intolerance to lactose, casein, and whey it can be a concern and affect your ability to sing at your peak. Read on to find out the low-down on dairy...
Having a food intolerance is not fun. It can cause abdominal pain, discomfort, and nausea. It also causes embarrassing symptoms like flatulence and diarrhea. Other symptoms linked to food intolerances include muscle or joint pain, headaches, exhaustion, and even skin symptoms like rashes and eczema.
Definitely no fun to sing with abdominal pain, bloating, muscle pains, headaches or exhaustion.
Dairy is just one of those foods that many people seem to be intolerant of. Let’s talk about the main components of milk that people react to: lactose, casein, and whey.
Milk sugar (lactose) intolerance
It’s estimated that up to 75% of adults are lactose intolerant. Lactose is the carbohydrate “milk sugar” naturally found in most dairy products. Lactose intolerance is so common you can buy lactose-free milk in your regular grocery store. Lactose-free products are treated with the enzyme “lactase” that breaks the lactose down before you ingest it. It’s this lactase enzyme that is lacking in most people who are lactose intolerant.
The lactase enzyme is naturally released from your intestine as one of your digestive enzymes. It breaks down the lactose sugar in the gut. When someone doesn't have enough lactase, the lactose doesn't get broken down the way it should. Undigested lactose ends up being food for the resident gut microbes. As they ferment the lactose, they create gases that cause bloating, flatulence, pain, and sometimes diarrhea.
Lactose is in dairy but is in lower amounts in fermented dairy (e.g. cheese & yogurt) and butter. Steering clear of lactose isn't that easy as it is added to other foods like baked goods, soups, and sauces. And if you're taking any medications or supplements, check to see if it's in there too, as lactose is a common ingredient in them.
If you have symptoms of lactose intolerance, keep an eye on food, medication, and supplement labels.
Milk protein (casein & whey) allergy
Milk is a known, and common, food allergen. In Canada, it is considered a “priority allergen” and must be declared on food labels.
So, what are the allergens in milk? You've heard of "curds and whey?" Well, these are the two main proteins in milk. The solid bits are the curds (made of casein), and the liquid is the dissolved whey.
Unlike lactose intolerance, casein and whey can cause an actual immune response. It’s an allergy. And this immune response can cause inflammation, which can put you at higher risk of vocal injury. In fact, we don’t know how many people have these milk allergies, but most estimates put it far below that of lactose intolerance.
Like lactose, these allergenic milk proteins can be found in other products too. They're not just in dairy but are often in protein powders as well (Have you heard of "whey" protein powders?).
Some of the symptoms of milk protein allergy differ from that of lactose intolerance; things like nasal congestion and mucus (phlegm) are more common here. And casein seems to be linked with belly fat.
Interestingly, people who have gluten intolerance are often allergic to milk proteins like whey and casein as well. These can go hand-in-hand.
Like lactose intolerance, if you're allergic to casein and whey keep an eye on labels so you can avoid these.
If you get gassy, bloated, or diarrhea after eating dairy, you may have a lactose intolerance. If you often get a stuffy nose and mucus, then you may be allergic to casein and/or whey.
While dairy may be an entire food group, it is not an essential nutrient. All the nutrients in dairy are available in other foods. If you experience these symptoms, you can try removing dairy from your diet. You may find improved digestion and fewer gut issues. Or you may find improved nasal congestion, or even less belly fat. You may even find you recover faster from vocal fatigue since inflammation places a large part in this.
If you decide to (or have already) removed dairy from your diet, let me know your experience in the comments below.
Recipe (Dairy-free): Chocolate Ice "Cream"
3 bananas, sliced and frozen
2 tsp cacao powder, unsweetened
1 tbsp almond butter
Place frozen bananas in food processor and blend until smooth (a few minutes). You may have to stop a few times to scrape the sides.
Add cacao powder and almond butter and blend until mixed well.
Serve & enjoy!
Tip: You can make this in advance and freeze in an airtight container.
To get more great dairy free recipes, join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
This summer is a whirlwind for me this year. Often I spend my summers enjoying some time to myself, training for triathlon, some light planning for the fall and teaching voice one day a week. My online world continues, but not teaching really frees up a lot of time.
This summer however, is vastly different – and in a good way. I’d say even a GREAT way.
It started of with a bang with five days in Vegas at the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) conference .
That was loaded with inspiration; refreshing old ideas and exploring new ones.
With my head still swimming with all of that, I made my way to Resonanz Opera in Ohio, where I’m pulling triple duty as director of the high school internship program, teaching health & wellness for singers in my LIVE Empowered Singer program and stepping in for the Abbess in Suor Angelica. This last one was impromptu as the originally cast Abbess could not make it. Good thing I brought my score!!!
We started off our Empowered Singer program talking about mindfulness and ways of thinking. And it was also the subject of a couple of sessions at the NATS conference. This is a subject of growing importance to singers.
In an industry where we can feel such negativity - feeling examined under a microscope, dealing with rejections, feeling the heat of competition, being our own worse critic, struggling with finances and so on, it can all affect our ability to free our voices, to open ourselves to our own vulnerability, to be confident in that vulnerability, to be able to cope with the stresses in the face of that negativity, and to bring out our true creative nature.
Great performers have learned to overcome this. In part this is due to these traits that they have in common:
A fighting-spirit: That doesn’t mean you’re going to get in a catfight with that arrogant soprano with a diva complex (she’s probably dealing with issues of her own). What it means is that you have the fight in YOU to carry on no matter what obstacles come your way, to fight to make YOURSELF the BEST you can be, to keep improving in all aspects of your life.
The ability to focus their attention: In times of stress if the stress levels get too high we can hyper-focus, that is we narrow our range of focus and often to the negative. At the same time if there is too little feeling of stress or nervousness then there is a lack of focus and can become easily distracted. Finding that middle ground of our stress response allows us to focus on the task at hand with detachment from emotional responses without sacrificing expressivity – sometimes this is called the Flow State.
A positive attitude: Towards yourself and others. Being willing to learn and grow. The ability to forgive.
Self-Confidence: So often we think of self-confidence associated with body image and as the opposite of shy, and though to some extent that’s true, it’s also confidence in the skills you have, and being confident that you will master the skills you don’t yet have.
Self-Discipline: Of course, we know we need self-discipline to practice, but it is also the self-discipline to practice effectively. There is also the self-discipline required to keep detached during performances and detached from distractions, and finally, self-discipline in other areas of your life that may have a bearing on your instrument, such as looking after your health.
Determination: In the face of all odds you are determined to get the outcome you want. Whether it is to perform your best at your next concert, get a handle on your finances or the determination to make this career choice work for you, your determination will find ways to tackle any obstacle.
You can have these traits, too!
The good news is all these traits can be learned and practiced. The most effective path is through mindfulness.
Mindfulness can be used in many ways:
Studies have shown that meditation and other mindfulness practices do actually make physiological changes to your brain.
Mindfulness can be informal or formal.
Formal include practices such as prayer, transcendental meditation, visualization practices and yoga.
Informal practices can be washing dishes, eating mindfully, walking or running (when runners get in the zone), taking a shower.
Most likely you will use a combination of different types of mindfulness to achieve different outcomes.
You may use informal methods to calm yourself or unleash creativity (the best ideas always seem to come in the shower) or even learn to focus (focus on experiencing your meals, slowly chewing, tasting, smelling).
Formal methods can help you reach deeper into yourself to make changes. Get over performance anxiety or learn how to control your temper by practicing visualization of the situation you are going to be in that may trigger the unwanted responses. You can use visualization to improve motor skills, as well – a great way to practice when you’re traveling and won’t be able to properly vocalize.
Mindfulness practices usually will cross-over to other benefits, just the focus of attention may change. Example: A visualization practice will help you focus, de-stress, release tension and master a skill.
There are many apps available that can lead you through guided meditations. Choose one and get started to reach heights of awareness you didn’t think were possible. You can start of with as little as 5 minutes a day.
The key to success with mindfulness is to practice it consistently. Focus on one area of improvement at a time and stick with it for at least three weeks before moving on to another skill or goal.
If you want more guidance on mindfulness join our free community at Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
Follow The Fit Singer on Facebook or Instagram to follow my adventures at Resonanz this summer and get more tips on all things vocal health.
I've just got back from a wonderful five days in Las Vegas. But I wasn't there to play. I was there for the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) Conference. This biennial event is a must for any teacher who is committed to professional development.
There were so many sessions to learn from. It runs the gamut from really geeky voice science talks to more spiritual aspects such and mindfulness and yoga for singers. There is also so much wonderful singing! The guests artist this year were Christine Brewer and Stephanie Blythe with Craig Terry at the piano. All I can say is WOW!!!
It's also a great opportunity to network with other teachers, exchanging ideas and making new friends.
One of the highlights of the NATS conference this year was to interview Claudia Friedlander about her newly released book "Complete Vocal Fitness - A singer's Guide to Physical Training, Anatomy, and Biomechanics".
Grab a cup of tea, sit back and watch our interview here, then scroll down to find out how you can get your copy with a 30% discount!
You can get "Complete Vocal Fitness" at most major booksellers and Amazon. However, Claudia is giving The Fit Singer readers a special 30% discount by ordering directly from the publisher Rowman & Littlefield. Click here to order and then enter your promo code: 4eNATS18. This offer is good until September 26, 2018.
Also check out Claudia's blog The Liberated Voice at claudiafriedlander.com
And don't forget to join our online community dedicated to singers' health and fitness - Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice.
If you don't have time or the background chatter of the conference is too much for you then have a glance through the transcript (you may want to look at the video from 14:30 onward as Claudia give a demonstration of a couple of exercises):
FS: Hi Claudia, So happy to have you here with us.
Claudia: Oh, I'm so excited to be talking to you about fitness.
FS: It's a passion, right?
Claudia: Well, yeah and one of the nice things about having the book out is that I have more opportunities to just nerd out about anatomy of fitness with other people who are interested in singing and body issues.
FS: Can you tell us a bit about your background; what brought you to this?
Claudia: I became interesting in singing and fitness at around the same time. I always wanted to be a singer, but when I was a kid nobody wanted to hear me sing because I had a sort of harsh disorganized voice. I couldn't get cast in any of the school musicals, it was very heartbreaking, so picked up clarinet and became very good at that. Everybody wanted me to play the clarinet, so I just settled for that.
It was around the time that I finished my undergraduate degree that I had the opportunity to do some body work with a therapist who was really good at helping to relieve chronic muscle tension and I found I had all this muscular tension around my breathing, my throat and my articulators that had been keeping me from being able to sing freely and so all this tensions started to go down and I was able to have access to my body and I discovered I did have a pleasing voice.
So I started taking singing lessons and began formal study and I was surprised to discover when I went to graduate school that not everybody had the same expectation that I did, which is that it is possible to affect structural changes in your own anatomy that would then make your voice better. And I found out most voice teachers expect that the voice that the student brings into the room is the instrument that they have, that they will teach them how to use that instrument when I knew that it's possible to improve upon your instrument. In my case it had made the difference between not being able to sing at all to singing well.
As I became more interested in vocal technique I became really interested in finding out ways that I could help singers improve their own instruments, so that they could really optimize their bodies for peak performance in singing the way athletes do for peak performance.
FS: How do you view singers as vocal athletes? It's a very physical, demanding thing that we do with our voices that involves the whole body, so do you feel we need to train more like athletes?
Claudia: We need to train both more like athletes and more like instrumentalists. Instrumentalists learn things about repetitions, motor learning, self-habitualization skills because they have to integrate an external object to coordinate well with their own bodies, so they learn some things about that. They also...instrumentalists generally learn about how their instrument functions and how it's constructed so they know if there's a problem with the instrument they know how to repair it. If I have a missing pad on my clarinet It's not going to play, but I know either how to do that myself or take it someplace where it can be repaired. So I think we have a lot to learn from instrumentalists and we also have a lot to learn from athletes and fitness trainers because we are athletes, what we do is so similar to what elite athletes do because an athlete doesn't stop being an athlete once they step off the court. They view their bodies as an athletic tool at all times, so how you care for your physical health, how you eat, how you sleep is all going to have an impact on how you do your job.
FS: So being a singer is a lifestyle.
Claudia: It's a lifestyle choice.
FS: If you want to optimize performance you do need to make that... I know for myself when I started training for triathlons all the triathletes would say "This is a lifestyle, it's not just the training and doing races, we live it". So similarly singers should be approaching...that we are living it...our instrument is a living instrument, too, so it needs that extra care.
Claudia: It does. I mean we're also hedonists. We're not going to have anything to sing about if we don't have full lives, as well. There is a chapter on nutrition in the book, but I'm not advocating that people adhere to some really stringent diet, so they're always able to... it's not quite what you need to do if your in training. We do need to be mindful of using food as fuel the same as athletes do and making sure we are fuelling appropriately and tending to the health and development of our bodies and our instruments, but we also need to have...
FS: We have to let our hair down...
Claudia: have some crazy experiences.
FS: There are also limits we need to draw, too. Like post-performance going out drinking with your cast-mates when you know you have to perform the next day is probably not a good idea. You need your sleep, you need to make sure your re-fuelled so that you can recover well for the next thing that's coming up.
Claudia: Absolutely! We need to be mindful of what our bodies need to do and I've discuss this in the chapter on nutrition and what best practices are for singers. They moderate what they're eating and drinking. We're in NATS in LAS VEGAS, so...
FS: Of course, Vegas, what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.
Claudia: There's a section in the chapter on how to drink reasonably and how to avoid a hangover and I thought about printing out a "Here's a PSA on what to about a hangover" that I thought about leaving in my publisher's booth, but you know, you don't want to presume that your colleagues will be drinking and maybe we won't go there so I didn't...but there's some good advice on how to make sure you're not drinking too much and what to do about it the next day.
FS: Most singers when they talk about fitness, they usually hear, from so many teacher, that they should limit it to yoga and I know there are singers out there are training more and are running marathons and stuff, too, but it still seems to be there's a stigma about working out to hard. What are your views on that?
Claudia: Traditionally voice teachers have been very concerned about having there students workout to much, and I think the reason for that is because when, especially performers, they want to look good on stage. they want to look good in HD, as there are more and more opera broadcasts, and if you have a workout regimen that is limited to pumping up your glamour muscles, you're probably going to throw your whole instrument out of balance because when we think about the muscles that are usually most aesthetic, we're talking about wanting six-pack abs, we want nice well-defined pecs, women want to define their arms, but if you just focus on those parts, rather than looking at the body as a whole and asking how can I optimize my physical structure for peak performance in singing what you end up doing is over-developing the glamour muscles, under-developing the muscles that need to stabilize them and your going to throw things out of whack. For example, if I want to go just pump up my chest a lot, the pectoral muscles are going to get tight and it's going to push my shoulder in like this [rounds shoulder] and my heads going to come forward like that [juts head forward]. and then where is my larynx, right? Whereas, if you go about developing strength in a way that's balanced I can build up my pecs and stabilize my shoulders and I'm going to have a better base of support for displaying my glamour muscles and I'm going to be able to maintain alignment. So what I've tried to do with this book is to explain how sports scientists go about assessing an athlete and noting where do you have some weaknesses, where do you have some overactive muscles, where are there imbalances and then just assigning a program to bring the entire musculature in balance. So the aesthetics are something that you can pursue within a program that is achieving balance and the kind of strength and stability we need as singers, but if you pursue a fitness regimen for the purpose of only aesthetics you might do damage to the voice, if you pursue an athletic regimen with the purpose to optimize your body for peak performance in singing you can also reach your aesthetic goals.
FS: The aesthetics are the icing on the cake. Actually pursuing a healthy lifestyle and balance in the workouts, it's [the body] going to get there, so you don't have to focus on particular things. If you focus on the whole - it's like any other athlete, too, they do cross-training because they need to have that balance. You're going to overwork certain muscles and be more prone to injury, of course for singers, throwing off alignment, it's going to throw off your whole voice.
Claudia: One of my mantras is form follows function, which is that if you do everything you need to do to be a spectacular highly functional vocal athlete, you're going to look the way that someone who was striving to be an athlete looks. It's going to be different for each one of us. Our bodies and our voices are so incredibly unique. This is why I encourage people to really just pursue what they feel is important for their own balance, their own strength and find out what is the aesthetic that will evolve into because if we just take some sort of aesthetic ideal or make ourselves look like "that" is no more useful than saying this is my favourite singer I'm going to try and sound exactly like her. You might be able to mimic that, but you'll never be as amazing as developing your own individual voice.
FS: That's so important, your own individuality involved in all aspects of your instrument. How do you feel that yoga and other somatic bodywork can fit in or complement weight training or resistance training?
Claudia: Yoga's fantastic! Yoga is wonderful. We have yoga teachers out there who are specializing in helping singers, connecting what they're doing with their yoga practice with what they're doing with their singing. Shout out to Mark Moliterno and Sarah Whitten, who are both doing wonderful work in this area. It's not instead or in addition to, it's just another modality. I found yoga to be a wonderful practice. I need to get back to do more of it. It's just a fantastic whole ancient practice that's also good, not only strength and flexibility, but also body-mind integration. It's a wonderful practice for singers to engage in.
What I'm promoting with my book is just more of a sports specific approach to training. What fitness trainers do when they've got an elite athlete that their trying to prepare to win that gold medal or do better for their team of their sport and that's just taking a step back and looking at what are the assets that an athlete needs to do their job well. What movements do they need to excel at, what do they need for strength and flexibility. Do an assessment of that athlete to know where they've got some strengths and some weaknesses, what they need to bring them into better balance, what you need to focus on to make them excel at the movements they need to engage when they're playing their sport. So a bit of an analysis of that for the vocal athlete in the studio and there's a collection of exercises and directions in the book, but you don't need to use these exercises. You can go to a yoga studio or work with a fitness trainer. What I want the readers to understand is that these are the things that I need to work at, these are my goals and so what's the modality, what's the routine, that's going to be the most enjoyable to stick to in order to achieve those goals.
FS: Great! Now I know you said we need to look at the WHOLE body, but if you had to give just three exercises that a singer should include in their workout routine, what would they be?
Claudia: Well as I said in the book, I was reluctant to say this is "the singer workout" because everbody needs such individual special things for the same reason that the voice lesson you get from your voice teacher is not necessarily the same lesson as your other colleagues in the studio are going to get from that teacher. That said, one of the things that I think is most important for singers is to be able to stabilize their shoulders so that they can maintain an open and relaxed ribcage, a dynamically engaged ribcage while they're singing. A common problem I see in singers of all stripes is that sometimes the chest collapses, so it's pressing down to drive air out of the lungs as you sing and this is not going to be great for the biomechanics of the larynx and that's one of the reasons I got into this because I would see students doing this and I would say, "No you need to let your sternum stay high". Well how do you do that?
Having high sternum means that you are able to stabilize your shoulders [brings out resistance band, 14:30 on the video], the rhomboids, the middle and lower trapezius are those muscles that are between the scapula and stabilize your shoulders. You can try this yourself. Slump forward a little bit then bring yourself back up into good alignment. You're going to feel how those muscles between your shoulder do that. Though I don't recommend doing exercises in isolation this is one I do in the studio, which is to engage those muscles and I would put my hands on a student's shoulders to feel it going. [Holds resistance band out in front with both hands shoulder width apart]. And have them exhale and vocalize while pulling on the resistance band so that those muscles in the back stay engaged. My sternum actually gets pulled up as I do this. So focusing on engaging, strengthening, stabilizing the scapula the muscles between the shoulder blades, the rhomboids, the mid and lower trapezius and also massaging the upper trapezius. There's another thing I can recommend. We all tend to be overactive with our upper trapezius and if I'm elevating my shoulders all of this is encroaching on space that I need around my neck for my vocalizing, so being able to release that muscle is important. One good way to do that is take a small massager and I can hold this on my trapezius [demonstrates massager on trapezius], going around to the back and I'm going to elevate my shoulder a roll it to the back and down and then straight up, I'm not going to come forward, while I'm massaging it. That's going to help the trapezius release so it will be easier for me to engage my shoulder stabilizers and avoid having the shoulders come up to my ears.
I think that's a pretty good example. These are a couple of things I think are important for most singers. I don't think you have a teacher who wants you to elevate your shoulders while you're singing. If they do that's ok, I can help you strengthen that too, but I rather that we didn't. [Laugther] Just being able to release that muscle and stabilize the shoulders, there are certain things I can't really help you to do withing the context of a voice lesson, but if I take you to the gym I can show you how to work on these muscles and do things that can keep your sternum elevated very easily while you sing so you don't have to think "keep the sternum up, keep the sternum up", it will just stay there.
FS: Thank you so much for being here this has been a lot of great information.
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All singers have experienced the effects of hormones on the voice. We know they are involved during puberty and the dramatic change in the male voice. Women may continue to experience the effect through their monthly cycle and through menopause.
What exactly are hormones?
Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the blood stream delivering the message from one group of cells to another. The hormones and the organs that produce them are call the endocrine system. There are about 50 known hormones active in the human body. They are responsible for just about every physiological process in our bodies.
The hormones that I mentioned in the opening paragraph above are just the reproductive hormones, but there are so many other hormones in the body and they can likewise affect the voice.
Keeping our hormones is balance is crucial for our health and will help protect our vocal health, as well. The problem is that the Western lifestyle is one that is prone to putting our hormones out of balance and this can lead to serious problems. In fact, experts in endocrinology estimate that more that half the people in Western societies will develop hormone related diseases in their lifetime, diseases such as diabetes, polycystic ovarian syndrome, osteoporosis and hypothyroidism.
Hormones and the voice
There are hormones that will have a direct impact on the voice and have been studied. There are likewise many hormones that have a more indirect effect.
Let’s start by having a look at the direct effects that have been studied:
As already mentioned the sex hormones have their drastic effect on the voice during puberty. Ask just about any female singer and she can tell you that it’s tied to her monthly cycle, as well. In fact, we do know that there are estrogen, progesterone and androgen receptors in the laryngeal tissue. When estrogen levels are high, as part of premenstrual syndrom (PMS), the vocal fold can thicken due to fluid retention. This can affect range and effort of singing.
The other drastic change for women comes at menopause when estrogen levels fall drastically. This can leave higher levels of androgens, which can cause a drop in the voice.
The thryroid gland, located, right under your larynx, is central to regulating your metabolism. It controls virtually every function of your body and interacts with all the other hormones. About 12 % of the American population suffers from a thyroid disease.
Hypothryroidism is the most prevelant, that is the under-production of thyroid hormones. Up to 80% of those with hypothyroidism have vocal complaints. Effects on the voice include hoarseness, vocal fatigue, a feeling of a lump in the throat and loss of range. Many of these symptoms are likely caused by thickening of the vocal folds due to fluid retention.
Hyperthyroidism, and over-production of thyroid hormones is much less common, but can have similar effects on the voice.
Insulin resistance can lead to Diabetes, which can have effects on the voice. Dry mouth (a common problem with diabetics) may cause difficulty in phonation due to decreased lubrication. Neuropathy, a weakening of peripheral nerves, may lead to weakening of the phonation muscles and loss of control. Diabetes can also cause hearing loss, so important for a singer.
Indirect effects on the voice:
There are so many hormones in the body that control so much that can affect our ability to sing well.
The hormones of our adrenal glands, like cortisol and adrenaline, if not in balance, can cause us to be in a state of chronic stress (elevated cortisol levels) or can fail us and drop production to a point of burnout, sometimes called adrenal fatigue.
Our mood, which can have an affect on our performance is reliant on hormones such as dopamine and seratonin. If the hormones are out of balance we can be left with mood disorders that can disrupt our life and our singing.
There are hormones that regulate our appetite. A rise in ghrelin signals us to eat. Leptin is an appetite suppressant and rises as we eat, so that we don’t overeat. When these hormones are out of balance it can cause unwanted weight gain that can have an affect on our breath control and stamina.
Acid reflux may be affected by estrogen levels and by melatonin. Melatonin is also responsible for preparing our bodies for sleep. Lack of sleep will definitely affect your voice.
Keeping it all in balance
Hormonal balance is largely based on our lifestyle.
Diet plays a huge role. The Standard American Diet (SAD) is high in processed foods, refined sugars, conventional meat and dairy that is pumped with antibiotics and hormones. These foods are low in nutritional value. For your body to function properly it’s vital to have a healthy diet.
There have been studies that show that the hormonal levels during PMS and menopause can be better balanced so as to not have such a drastic effect. In one study women with very painful periods and PMS were placed on a plant-based diet and had significant reduction in duration and severity of the pain. Another study looked at using vitamin D, which was also effective.
For singers, these are certainly better options than NSAIDs like asprin and ibuprofen, which can put you at risk of vocal fold hemorrhages.
In general, a plant-based diet (high in vegetables, lignans, omega 3 fatty acid, healthy fats and fibre) has been associated with prevention of many diseases, including some protection against thyroid disease.
Other lifestyle factors that can affect hormonal balance are:
Exercise – too little or too much can both disrupt balance
Sleep - Make sure to get 7 – 9 hours a night
Stress – Learning stress management techniques is important.
Toxins – many toxins are endocrine disruptors that block hormones from delivering their message.
The functioning of our bodies are vastly complex and many hormones work in cascades, that is, a number of hormones are released by various organs in turn to get a specific outcome. For example, our stress response (fight or flight) starts with the hypothalamus in the brain releasing hormones to the pituitary gland, which signals a release of another hormone to the thyroid, which then send it’s messenger to the adrenal gland to release the “stress hormones”, which in turn go to various other parts of the body, such as cortisol going to the liver to release glucose.
An imbalance along any part of this cascade can have repercussions. So it is important for us to try to balance our hormones by making the appropriate lifestyle changes - for your health, for your voice.
Stay on top of your hormonal balance by joining our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
It’s been a long evening of performing and you come home feeling vocally tired and want to unwind.
Golden Milk may be just the thing for you. Not only does it have a name fit for a diva, but this incredible drink has some exceptional health benefits, especially when you drink it in the evening.
The main ingredient is the powerful spice tumeric, which has been used in ayurvedic medicine for centuries. The main compound of turmeric is curcumin, a polyphenol, has the potential to create more than 150 therapeutic activities. It’s non-toxic, antiseptic and natural.
It also has anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and anti-cancer properties.
That already sounds like just what your poor tired and inflamed vocal folds are asking for.
But there’s more! You can boost the bio-availability of curcumin by pairing it with black pepper. The piperine in black pepper allows for an increase in absorption of curcumin by 2000%. That means way more anti-inflammatory action in your bloodsteam.
More benefits of turmeric:
– Boosts memory and brain function
– Improves insulin sensitivity
– Aids a healthy digestive system
– Detoxifies the liver
– Helps maintain cholesterol levels
– Strengthens the immune system
– Help with stress management
– Help speed post-exercise muscle recovery
How to make Golden Milk:
First make a turmeric paste separately by following these instructions:
Mix all the ingredients together in a small cooking pot, stirring them over a medium heat until the mixture becomes a thick paste. Let the mixture cool and store in a jar in the fridge.
Next, make the Golden Milk by adding ingredients and some of the turmeric paste:
Mix all the ingredients together in a cooking pot on a medium heat except the honey, do not let boil. Add the honey to taste.
Drink Golden Milk every night before you go to bed to really see the health benefits. This may be especially beneficial if you are rehabilitating a vocal injury.
At the very least drinking Golden Milk once a week alongside a healthy and balanced diet should also improve your overall health and keep down any voice-use related inflammation.
Looking for more ways to help your vocal health? Then join our free Vibrant Body Vibrant Voice community.
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.
Hi, I'm so glad you found my wellness coaching site. I am a singer, voice teacher of over 20 years, certified personal trainer and nutrition coach.
A singer is a vocal athlete. Just like an athlete, a singer requires strength, agility and stamina. I teach singers to take care of their instrument, their body, through a holistic approach encompassing fitness, whole food nutrition, mindfulness and natural solutions.
In joining me you will learn:
Take a transformative journey to become an empowered singer that performs with outrageous confidence. Go from feeling exhausted, worried about your vocal folds, deprived, overwhelmed and stuck, to feeling comfortable in your own skin, completely energized, with renewed mental clarity and reinvigorated in a matter of weeks.
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