Musicians: Are we athletes?

Almost two months ago, I was taking off a sweatshirt and felt a *POP* in my left shoulder and felt a good amount of pain. I thought “That was weird…” and went about my daily business. That weekend, my shoulder continued to hurt especially when I was playing my instrument. Two or three weeks later and I was still dealing with pain in my shoulder and decided I needed to see a doctor. A short visit to my orthopedic surgeon later and I had confirmed that I had damaged my rotator cuff. It could have been worse. I could have torn my rotator cuff, but it ended up being a strain not a tear. However, I am still dealing with the pain and lost endurance in my shoulder while playing violin and especially viola.


    This journey over the past two months has brought me to the realization that playing an instrument (especially a stringed instrument!) needs to be approached with the same amount of training as an athlete would train to run a marathon. I have done extensive work over the years ensuring that my posture, balance, stretching, exercise (when I have the time!) and a whole host of other things are in place so that I do not injure myself. However, I have left out a crucial piece of the puzzle. I have not been strength training


    Over the past several years, I have been diving deeper into the cycling world (okay, maybe dipping my toe!). One thing that I have discovered in my training for long cycling events is that if I only train outside hitting hills as they come I have to train for much longer to reach a point where I can comfortably climb any hill and potentially injuring myself in the process. However, if I get on my bike in the house on my trainer and run 20 minute HIIT sets (High Intensity Interval Training), I can climb just about any hill that I encounter (slowly! but without feeling like I am going to die!). It is that targeted interval training that prepares my body to push through the obstacles as they arrive.


    I think many (maybe most?) musicians, including myself, approach performing like I used to train: encountering the physical nature of practice and performances as it comes, rather than targeted preparation for the physical task at hand. If we build up practice and performance time slowly, this might work and not cause injury or problems. However, at least in my experience, this is rarely the case. Often, I have huge bursts of performance and practice activity followed by lulls (because I am so exhausted). If we were consistently training our bodies for these activities, we might be more successful at them and prevent a whole host of injuries. I know from my cycling training, that it doesn’t even take a lot of time to prepare your body for climbing those hills.

It just takes focus.


    As I continue my journey of healing my body from this most recent injury, I will be posting more updates and tips to get your body into performance shape! Stay tuned for some of the targeted ways that I have found help me perform my best!