Maintaining your health and keeping your body in shape while on and off the road as a musician is essential to a long-lasting career. By not taking care of your body, you could inhibit your ability to perform and so it’s important to be fit.
One of the best things you can do to help keep your body in shape is to stretch. The repetitive motion that playing an instrument requires can make your muscles and body tense, so stretching is a great way not only to prevent injury but to ensure your fingers, arms, neck and back maintain their flexibility.
You also risk injury if you push yourself to hard playing an instrument without any breaks or stretching. Just a few of the injuries that can occur are tendinitis, carpal tunnel, and thoracic outlet syndrome. You can find out more about music-related injuries and what can cause them here.
This is why it’s important to take short breaks during long practice sessions or rehearsals to stretch every so often, drink a bit of water, and to give yourself the proper amount of time to heal if an injury occurs.
For many musicians, the long breaks necessary to properly heal after an injury are hard to adjust to, if they’re even possible, so the key is prevention.
Here are just a few stretches that you can do to help prevent injury:
1. First, before we go into any specific stretches, I’d like to point out that you should not bounce while stretching. If a stretch is difficult for you, take it slow and only push yourself to the point of mild discomfort at most.
2. You should also warm up on your instrument before you begin practicing any intense or repetitive passages. Not only is this good for both your technique on your instrument, but your body as well.
3. Stretch your left and right shoulders. First, start by raising your right arm in the air as though raising your hand. Drop your arm behind your head, reaching for your left shoulder so your head rests in the crook of your elbow. Push your head back gently against your arm while trying to keep your right hand on your right shoulder to increase the stretch if needed. Do the same with your left arm, reaching for your right shoulder.
4. Shoulder rolls. Do eight shoulder rolls in each direction (16 total) with both arms simultaneously. Be sure not to just move your shoulders in circular motions, but to really push down, forward up and behind to maximize the stretch.
5. Arm circles. Do eight arm circles in each direction with both arms simultaneously. Just like with the shoulder rolls, make sure you push outward as much as you can.
6. Do neck rolls. Do eight rolls to the right and eight to the left. Push your head down towards your chest, each of your shoulders, and your back as far as you can as you roll.
7. Touch your toes. From the standing position, roll your body forward slowly as though you are folding towards the floor one vertebrate at a time. Keep your legs straight and reach towards your toes. If you can, try touching your palms flat to the floor. If you can’t, just reach down as far as your body will allow. Roll back up slowly, one vertebrate at a time. Do this at least once more.
For all the above stretches I suggest going as slow as possible to maximize their effectiveness.
When you practice, minimize the time you spend sitting. If you play an instrument you can practice standing up, do so. Or, at the very least, spend part of the time sitting and part of the time standing. If you play an instrument that requires you sit like cello, drums, or piano, stand for a moment whenever you have a chance (maybe at the end of a passage or song).
Remember, that the repetitive motion required of your body when you play an instrument can be harmful to your body, so be sure to take frequent breaks, play with good posture, and listen to your body when it tries to tell you something.
What are some of the stretches you do to prevent muscle tightness and to keep your body in top shape? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.
*Please note that I am not a medical professional. If you have any pain when playing an instrument, please see a doctor.