“I want to work out, but I’m afraid I’ll build up too much tension in my abs.”
“Can I develop a six-pack without screwing up my voice?”
“If I do crunches, will I still be able to take a deep, low breath?”
The concern about exercise I most frequently hear from singers is whether, and how intensely, they ought to work out their abdominal muscles.
A strong, balanced core musculature provides exceptional support for your singing technique. My advice is therefore to develop as much strength and flexibility throughout your core muscles as you can, making sure to take a comprehensive and balanced approach.
Balance is key.
If you’re experiencing a problematic residual tightness in your abs, it is likely that you are emphasizing some muscle groups while neglecting others and/or failing to stretch properly after your workout.
Fitness regimens offered by magazines tend to emphasize building up the glamor muscles – those that are easiest to see and will most swiftly enhance your appearance. Where your abs are concerned, that means developing a six-pack, a.k.a. working for size and strength in your rectus abdominis.
The rectus abdominis flexes the spine and moves your pelvis and rib cage towards one another. The classic exercise targeting this muscle is the crunch.
While the rectus abdominis may be the most visible of the abdominal and core muscles, it is only one of many muscles that work together throughout the torso to support good alignment and breathing. If you do lots of crunches on a regular basis but do not devote equal time and energy to the muscles governing spinal extension, rotation and stabilization, it is indeed likely that you will develop chronic tension in your abs that yields undesirable consequences for your breathing. If you also do not lengthen and stretch your six-pack after a work out, that chronic tension will intensify.
This is the basis for the widespread concern that exercising the abdominal muscles is bad for singing technique. However, far from being an inevitable consequence of exercising your abs, this problem is the result of poor exercise strategies. Your singing technique will not benefit from weak, underdeveloped abdominal muscles, so the answer is not avoiding abdominal exercise. What you need is balanced core strength.
Crunches and sit-ups train spinal flexion and develop the six-pack and hip flexors. When performing these movements, make sure to engage only the abdominal muscles you intend to train and keep your neck relaxed. Place your finger tips behind your ears and keep your elbows pointing directly out to the side throughout the movement.
This will prevent you from pulling on your neck or using momentum to get up and down. It will also make the exercise more challenging, but the whole point is to challenge and fatigue your abs. Perform your crunches with excellent form and protect your neck.
The Superman is a great exercise for the muscles of spinal extension.
Spinal extension is the opposite of the flexion trained by crunches. It builds strength that will balance and counter the rectus abdominis. This exercise also serves to stretch and lengthen the rectus abdominis.
Spinal rotation exercises are best performed with cables or a resistance band.
These movements train the internal and external obliques and require the stabilizing effort of the transverses abdominis, all which play important roles in breath management for singing.
The ability to dynamically stabilize your spine is crucial for maintaining good singing technique during stage movement. The Plank is the classic exercise for core stabilization.
When performing a plank, make sure to keep your chin slightly tucked down rather than using your neck to pull your head back – this will avoid unwanted neck tension. Retract your scapulae to make sure not to hump up your shoulders.
Stretch Your Six Pack
When you’re done with your work out, make sure to stretch out your rectus abdominis. One highly effective way to do this is to drape yourself backwards over stability ball, reach over your head, and take several deep, slow breaths.
The development of chronic tension and holding in the abdominal muscles can indeed negatively impact your ability to inhale fully and mess up your breath management, but this is only a concern if you engage in an exercise regimen that does not prioritize the sports-specific needs of singers. Follow a fitness program that develops your core and abdominal musculature in a balanced fashion, and you will build strength and coordination that will do great things for your singing rather than cause any harm.
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