Happy Fitness Friday, operathletes! Group fitness classes have always held a special place in my heart; yes, I may be biased as a group fitness professional myself, but I can honestly say that I learned almost all of what I know about safe, effective exercise in the group fitness room. Ultimately, my experiences as a group exercise participant not only prepared me to become an instructor, but the enabled and empowered me to become an independent exerciser. This doesn’t mean that I don’t attend group classes anymore — I still attend classes as a participant at least once a week! Both the fitness newbie and veteran can learn something new in the group exercise room.
Today, I’m sharing my top group fitness picks for performers. Hopefully this guide will help you discover where to get started if you’re a newbie, and where to find new inspiration if you’re a veteran. Ideally, you should test any group fitness class during an “off-season” time in your performance schedule to see how your body reacts, but I’m also including a list of classes to be cautious of — this doesn’t mean you should NOT take these classes, but it means that I highly recommend experimenting with these classes at a time when your paycheck doesn’t depend on it!
1. Yoga | This popular, low-impact exercise form earns its spot at #1 for its emphasis on diaphragmatic breathing and meditation. Attention to the breath is the foundation of almost every discipline of yoga, making the yoga studio a very welcoming environment for singers. Aside from being an opportunity to silently practice the “singer breath,” the yoga studio is an ideal space to meditate, slow down, and mentally process. Let’s face it: a career in performance is hard, stressful, and emotionally taxing. The fact that yoga creates a space where one can invest in themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually brings it into our #1 spot.
Although yoga makes an excellent choice for beginners, exercise veterans should not underestimate the power of this medium: many yogis are die-hard fans because it takes years of practice and immense strength to master the hardest positions, making yoga a life-long journey–just like singing! 🙂
2. Zumba® | All dance-based classes are great choices for performers. Many Zumba® instructors are dancers and/or musicians themselves, so they understand how to choreograph any piece of music properly. My favorite thing about Zumba® is that it’s not about perfecting the dance moves or being the best performer in the classroom. Instead, it’s about letting go, having fun, and embracing the “silly.” There’s no paycheck on the line, no critic in the audience, and no high note to nail, so take this chance to truly enjoy music with nothing on the line but a good time!
3. Indoor Cycling | I’ll admit it: I have an addiction to cycling. My physical therapist recommended I give it a shot after a few nasty bouts of shin splints, and I have been hooked ever since. When you enter the cycling studio, prepare yourself for a high-intensity cardiovascular workout with minimal joint impact. As an instructor, perhaps my favorite aspect of indoor cycling is the fact that both exercise beginners and veterans can get a workout that suits their fitness level in the same classroom by adjusting the tension knob and/or RPM (“revolutions per minute,” or pedaling rate). I’ll be the first one to tell you that I didn’t even make it through my first cycling class, but going to that class was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
4. Kickboxing | Let’s face it: pursuing a career in performance is stressful, and sometimes, you just need to punch something. I love kickboxing because you can get your frustrations out while getting an amazing workout in! Sometimes I feel like I’m living a double life when I go to kickboxing; the contrast is nice.
One thing to note: In kickboxing, proper form includes tucking the chin toward the chest. Some instructors encourage participants to hold a tennis ball under their chin to help practice proper head positioning, which I personally find it to be irritating to the larynx and surrounding muscles. If you find this position uncomfortable, simply explain to your instructor that you are a singer and that you’d prefer to practice without a tennis ball — they should let you off the hook, no questions asked!
5. Cardio Circuit / Tabata | Expect a very sweaty, full-body workout from cardio circuit and tabata classes. The amount of variety in these classes make an hour go by very quickly. Since these classes are not regulated by one overarching company (like Zumba®) or base-move set (like yoga or kickboxing), don’t be surprised when you have a completely different class experience with different instructors. This makes for an exciting experience, because although you have some idea of what to expect, you’ll inevitably be surprised every time!
1. TRX® | Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE TRX®. Suspension training is quite the challenge, and is extremely effective. However, I have just heard too many horror stories about students leaving TRX® classes with injuries — and an injury has the potential to wreak havoc on a performer’s work schedule.
My tips for performer-participants: Ensure that the instructor is experienced, and is (ideally) a certified TRX® instructor. Aside from ensuring you have an experienced instructor who truly understands TRX® basics and safety, also trust your gut: if a move seems potentially dangerous, ask the instructor for a modification, or do not take the risk at all.
2. BodyPump™ | Anyone who knows me will be shocked to find BodyPump™ on this list, since I am an avid participant. However, new exercisers in particular should understand what they’re getting into. BodyPump™ is an intense weight training course, where resistance routines targeting each muscle group in the body are choreographed to music. The idea is to use low weight while performing a high number of reps to promote full-body muscle toning. Although you will be using lower weight, most BodyPump™ veterans probably shared the same experience after their first class: an almost complete inability to walk for multiple days due to soreness. Being that sore during a busy performance season can be crippling–literally! That said, as you continue to attend classes and weight train, your body will become stronger and thus post-class soreness will slowly become less intense. [I actually like a bit of post-lifting soreness in my legs while singing–I find that it helps me feel grounded]
My tips for performer-participants: If you want to try BodyPump™, I suggest trying it out during your performance off-season. Additionally, be sure to pay extra close attention to the instructor’s advice on form. Improper form during resistance training is a recipe for injury.
3. Butt & Gutt / Ab centered classes | There are still conflicting opinions on the role of abdominal strength training for singers, but I personally believe abdominal training can enhance vocal performance, if it is done properly. Claudia Friedlander wrote a great article on singing and abdominal exercise. [Stay tuned for a “Singer-Abs” workout video in the future!]
My tips for performer-participants: In general, singers should avoid exercising just one abdominal muscle, instead favoring a core routine that works all of the core muscles with plenty of stretching afterwards. Butt & Gut and/or ab-centric classes do not always follow this suggestion, which is why I feel that singers should take caution. Consider communicating your concerns to the instructor before class to see if their program works the total-core.
4. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) | A common misconception about working out is that fat-loss is better encouraged during low-intensity workouts. Although it is true that a higher percentage of calories from fat are burned during low-intensity workouts, the fact is that when you perform a high-intensity workout, you will burn a higher total number of calories, thus a higher number of calories from fat.1 For this reason, HIIT classes are a great choice for many regular exercisers. However, some of the moves can be complicated and potentially dangerous if your form is not spot-on.
My tips for performer-participants: HIIT is probably better suited for more experienced exercisers than for beginners, due to the vigorous intensity. If you’re new to HIIT, consider communicating with the instructor before class about potential modifications to lessen your risk of injury. There is NO SHAME in performing “regressions” — since it is YOUR instrument we’re dealing with here, so it’s better to be safe than sorry!
5. Pilates | I know many of you probably just gasped at the fact that this is on my “proceed with caution” list. There is only ONE reason why it landed itself on this list, and that is in regards to the Pilates breathing technique. In Pilates, participants are encouraged to breathe deeply and expand the abdominals on the inhale, and allow the ribs to close in and downward during the exhale. In appoggio breathing, the goal is to resist the collapse of the rib cage, giving singers the feeling of “leaning out” against the rib cage. Since the Pilates breath encourages the opposite, it has landed on my “proceed with caution” list.
That said, there are numerous health benefits in practicing Pilates. It makes a great choice for individuals rehabilitating from an injury since it is low-impact, and has the potential to correct postural imbalances. The bottom line is that Pilates is an excellent way to strengthen the body, much like yoga.
My tips for performer-participants: As long as singers are aware that the exhalation in the Pilates breath may counter what they have learned in voice training, a performer interested in Pilates should absolutely consider taking a class!
1 American Council on Exercise ACE Group Fitness Instructor Manual, Third edition