A wise person once said, "Use it or lose it." But what do you do to avoid 'over-using' it, or using it to the point of injury? A good personal trainer can really help with that. I've been seeing Barb Queen for about a decade now when I noticed that playing certain passages was becoming more taxing (technically they're referred to as 'the scrubby parts' of the score). Over this time, Barb's kept me healthy and playing 5-1/2 hour operas as if they were only 5-hour operas (that last 1/2 hour is thanks to Ibuprofen and fear). I thought she could share how she works magic on a not-very-athletic person like me, and why it's necessary for musicians not to take their bodies for granted.
How long have you been a professional trainer and where have you worked?
I have been a personal trainer for 25 years. I began my career in NYC at Equinox, then moved to Chicago where I trained at several big gyms, before finally opening my own private training studio in 2007, Grip Fitness, in the West Loop.
How do you best address peoples' physical problems?
The first order of business is to assess how each person’s body functions. Any imbalances in strength or range of motion can set up future injuries. Most injuries result from asymmetry, repetitive motions, poor motor control, and postural imbalances. Take a look at your home and work environment: Is your kitchen full of poor nutrition? When was the last time you flipped over your mattress? How about an ergonomic pillow? Do you schlep a heavy instrument to and from rehearsals? How does your orchestra chair fit your frame? Try to make your environment friendly to your body as it resists the unrelenting forces of gravity.
What injuries do you generally see in musicians?
The shoulder is the most vulnerable joint in the body. It’s not a weight-bearing joint, but it is highly susceptible to injury due to postural imbalances and/or repetitive overuse. It is imperative to strengthen the muscles of the core, upper back, and stabilizers to support the demands of playing an instrument and day-to-day life. Tendonitis is not unusual, especially in the elbow. Prolonged sitting is also a common cause of problems such as weak core & glutes, and disc issues.
If someone comes in with a playing injury, how long can it take to recover? Also, what's the difference in recovery time between someone who can take time off from playing and someone who can't?
Recovery depends on the severity of the injury. Rest is crucial to healing, but that isn’t always possible. It helps to think of the long game: if you return to playing too soon, you may stall your progress. But there are everyday things you can do to reduce stress on an injured area. For example, if you have elbow tendonitis, wear a compression brace and ice. Also avoid using that hand for unnecessary tasks (don’t hold a coffee mug with that hand) until it has healed. The best line of defense is to do prescribed therapy exercises, ice, and perhaps take an OTC anti-inflammatory. I am also a big fan of regular massage and various healing techniques like acupuncture and guasha (an alternative therapy that involves scraping your skin with a massage tool to improve your circulation). Try different things to find the combination that works for you.
How do you use strength training to prevent injury? How does strengthening opposing muscle groups help?
Most people are tight in their anterior muscles (pecs, neck, hip flexors, quads, biceps) and weak in their posterior muscles, (back, external rotators, glutes, triceps). Stretching tight muscles and strengthening weak ones helps to restore better overall function.
Do you think access to a physical therapist is important for musicians? Do you incorporate physical therapy in your sessions?
Every musician should have a good PT on speed dial. A talented physical therapist can perform stretches that are impossible to execute alone, show you exercises that will keep injuries at bay, and utilize techniques not available outside a clinic such as EMS (electronic muscle stimulation) and ultrasound – both of which accelerate healing. I regularly employ many therapy techniques during training such as assisted stretching, myofascial work (myofascial tissues are the tough membranes that wrap, connect and support your muscles), guasha, etc.
Do musicians need to train differently than the general population to avoid injury?
Absolutely! Your instrument requires hours of repetitive movements, which should be counteracted by symmetry-restoring movements.
What's a good way not to ruin your body?
Musicians work late hours. It’s important to establish a consistent body clock and get adequate sleep. Eating after concerts will interrupt good sleep patterns, so try to eat before concerts. Stay hydrated and stretch after each rehearsal and concert. And be active! Four days per week will do the job. I recommend at least 40 min, half of that being strength training, followed by stretching and foam rolling. If you take care of your body, you will enjoy a long pain-free career. One of the best things about professional musicians is that they are disciplined individuals, which is a skill that can be applied to everything in life!
Since athletes have access to high-tech therapies in their locker rooms, how would you set up a locker room to address musicians' physical issues?
I love this question! If there is room, put a narrow stretch table in there. If not, a couple of stretch mats will work well. I would definitely have a few dynabands anchored to the walls and several foam rolling devices to use during intermission.