Exercise Tips from a Violinist
Progress takes time. I started playing the violin when I was four years old. I grew up with the understanding that things worth having require work and are not easily attainable. We live in a world that promotes instant gratification, but it takes a lifetime to master the violin. Being a violinist requires perseverance. Transforming your body is no different, except the rewards don’t take decades. Those who are determined and have the desire to achieve success will see dramatic improvements in just a few months. A strong, healthy body is something everybody wants. But you can’t buy it. You have to earn it.
Use a Mirror
It’s remarkable what practicing in front of a mirror can teach you. I always remind clients that the mirror is the trainer when I am not around to correct their form. As a violinist, it takes regular practice in front of a mirror to ensure that your bow direction is straight, and that your hand position is good. When you exercise in front of a mirror, you can monitor your form.
Use a Metronome
Practicing a musical passage with a metronome hones the precision of your movements and drills coordination. Strength training benefits from the same principle. In order to control your movements, you need to adhere to a strict cadence. Lifting with erratic timing leads to corrupt movement patterns. Aim for a uniform set of identical reps: same range of motion, same eccentric control, same execution. Exactly the same. One of the most reliable ways to lock-in clean movement patterns is to move rhythmically in time with a beat.
Work with What You Have
Full-size violins are basically the same dimensions, yet people have different hand sizes. As a violinist learns their instrument, they also develop solutions to specific challenges. We all have tight and/or weak areas. Some of us have injuries. The important thing is to develop strategies to work through your limitations.
Seek Good Equipment
I have played several rare and priceless violins. Fortunately, good exercise equipment won’t break the bank. You don’t need expensive commercial equipment to get a good workout, but you still need to be discerning about what you use. Buy a bench that adjusts quickly and fits your frame. If your bands are shredded, replace them. Buy new sneakers and don’t use them for garden chores. Keep your stability ball well-inflated. If your dog likes chewing on your TRX, get a new one and don’t let him near it. Keep your equipment clean and take care of it. I am rigorous about protecting my violin and maintaining my gym equipment.
Accept Good and Bad Days
Perfection is not a linear process. There will be days when you feel as if nothing works. Your body doesn’t click with your brain. Don’t push as hard on those days. Slow down and pay attention to the smaller cues. Maybe today is a good time to do some careful, methodical practice, or rehab, or deeper myofascial work. Maybe today is not the day for a balance board handstand.
Playing the violin is an asymmetric physical activity. The training of the left and right hemispheres of the brain that control each hand is so specific that switching sides would be impossible. To attempt to do so would require starting over as a beginner. It takes incredible precision to master an instrument and present the illusion of effortlessness. Gymnasts appear weightless, even as they catapult their bodies in space with tremendous force. Strive to mimic the fluid movement and skill of a dancer or athlete when exercising.
Run Your Own Race
Concert violinists are the rock stars of the classical world. To be the best-of-the-best, an Olympic champion, a concert violinist, is beyond exceptional. Social pressure to measure up to professional athletes or celebrities is intense. Comparing yourself to others distracts you from your own journey. Try to stay present with your own process and don’t forget to encourage yourself as you strive to be the healthiest version of yourself.
Never Give In
To be a violinist is to accept disappointment, but not defeat. You will never conquer the instrument and that is the beauty of it. If you learn to embrace the journey and celebrate the small victories, you will develop a relationship with exercise that is productive and enjoyable.