How can I improve my vocal health?

By Cari Cole 

Your voice is an instrument housed inside your body, and taking care of your mind and body is essential to optimal vocal health

The state of your body affects your vocal health. I tell my students all the time that singers are “athletes of the small muscles of the voice and breathing.” But as a vocal athlete, your focus on vocal care needs to extend beyond your vocal cords.

Aerobic training, stretching and yoga, realigning your body and spine, and mind/body connection exercises – these are all ways in which we improve vocal health with professional singers and public speakers. The goal is to help you improve vocal function, increase endurance, build performance stamina, and maximize breath control while improving overall vocal health and vocal performance. Plus, you’ll improve your tone, conditioning, and looks, too. Seriously dedicated to re-sculpting your body? Here’s what you need to know about how singers work out and the right approaches to strength training and weight lifting.

1. Stretching and yoga prevent injury and keep your spine flexible.

It’s a fact: yoga, when executed correctly, prevents injury. I’ve been doing yoga almost all my life, and it not only keeps me young and flexible, it helps prevent physical injury – and that includes your voice. My singing students who do yoga stay in shape much longer and have healthier singing careers – just look at Madonna and Sting. Both are devoted yoginis in their 50s and 60s with no vocal problems, and they get toned, fit bodies to boot.

2. Weight lifting is good for singers, but…

Strength is good, but you have to know how to lift without over contracting your muscles as this leads to serious vocal problems long term. A singer needs strong pectorals and abdominal muscles to support the singing voice. The pectorals are the only muscles that anchor the larynx, so having strong pecs improves strength, smoothes the “break,” and provides a rounder, less nasal tone.

Often, you have to stretch the pectoral muscles out before a vocal performance as in most cases pecs are too tight, causing the shoulders to round forward, which in turn creates a weaker vocal instrument. It’s important to use the right form when lifting weights as not doing so can cause injury. One way is to be sure that your back is supported (lie down) when doing arm raises or for any repetitions involving your shoulders or arms. And then be sure to stretch for at least 10 minutes after weight lifting to avoid contraction (and soreness too!).

3. Pilates are better than abdominal crunches.

Six-pack abs are a hit at the beach, but not all toned abs are created equal. More often than not, people do abdominal crunches to strengthen their abs. While it may look good, it’s the exact opposite of what a singer needs to support a healthy voice. Short, contracted abdominal muscles can cause vocal problems because there is no room for the diaphragm (the muscle that supports the singing voice) to descend and it creates constriction in the throat muscles, which will not help you sing better. Pilates lengthens abdominal muscles while strengthening them, giving you support from your diaphragm while improving your vocal technique.

4. Aerobic exercise gets your heart pumping and works your lungs, too.

Cardiovascular health is crucial for singers for more than one reason. First, good cardiovascular conditioning is required to perform at your highest capacity for an entire set without burning out. The benefits your lungs receive from aerobic exercise are also a huge help for breath control. Swimming, running, jogging, and walking are all great ways to get aerobic exercise. Some performers will even sing while on the treadmill to improve vocal strength. Swimming is the ideal exercise for a lunch work out, and it helps to elongate vocal muscles.

5. Take a deep breath.

Kundalini yoga or pranayama give you the benefits of yoga, with some other nice extras as well. The combination of yoga postures with pranayama breathing purifies the body and helps you to breathe more deeply.

6. Get into alignment with the Alexander Technique.

When I’m fixing a voice and it’s in an optimal condition, I still have to help realign the physical body and voice for better vocal production. How the voice makes sound is a coordination between air and muscle. We need to re-align the physical body with the voice so that the overall production is better. The Alexander Technique, originally developed for singers and actors, can play a huge role in this process.

7. The Feldenkrais Method.

Feels subtle, but makes a huge difference. The Feldenkrais Method releases deep tensions in the body, softening the muscles, ligaments, and connective tissues through a series of small, subtle movements.

8. Stress Reduction.

A little relaxation goes a long way. Warm baths, lavender essential oil on your pillow at night, balms, massage, and meditation (even if for only 5 minutes at a time) are all great methods for relieving stress, especially while on tour.

Practice some (or all) of these to help yourself get more relaxed in your body overall and to reduce stress that could damage your voice. How are you keeping your voice healthy?

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Cari Cole's vocal health tips

Cari Cole is one of the most respected and in-demand vocal coaches, technique teachers and clinicians, and artist development experts in the music industry. Cari’s client list includes Grammy winners, American Idol + The Voice finalists, legendary rock stars, major and indie label artists, and thousands of emerging + independent artists. With a passion for holistic health and 25+ years experience teaching technique and finding solutions for singing voices in New York City, Cari is currently writing a manual on vocal health for singers, actors, public speakers and entrepreneurs.

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