Can Lifting Weights Hinder a Free Singing Voice?

Good morning everyone. It's a rainy day here in West Orange, New Jersey, but still a bit on the warm and muggy side. But just like voices need hydration, so do all the trees, plants and grass surrounding our home and we are apparently in the middle of a major drought, so bring on the rain! 

I cannot tell you how many times I've been asked (mostly by male students) if lifting weights is harmful or damaging to the singing voice? It seems there is some conflicting information on the internet regarding this topic. So let me see if I can clarify, and hopefully enlighten you guys on this subject.

Many years ago (too many to mention) I was studying voice with a very prominent teacher in Boston at the New England Conservatory of Music. He was a very large man weighing close to 300 pounds. When he demonstrated vocal exercises, the sound that came out of mouth was warm, rich, full-bodied (no pun intended) and seemingly effortless. 

I was about 24 years old at the time and was in the best physical shape of my life. The gym had become a regular part of my daily routine, and I was determined to never let the enormous amount of weight that (seemingly overnight) jumped on my body during puberty, to ever come back and haunt me. I went from fat kid to fit adult in just a few short years. 

My voice teacher often asked me how much I was working out? There was an incredible amount of tension in my throat after years of incorrect instruction from teachers at a previous university. He suggested that weight lifting was harming my voice. 

One of my teacher's fellow students, who would later become one of the four teachers I can honestly say truly helped me vocally Victor Jannett, saw me working out at the gym one day. He noticed that I was grunting during a set on the bench press. He came over and said to me "Jeff, if you keep grunting like that during your workout, you will cause your vocal cords to thicken and you will lose your high notes." Needless to say, that scared the living daylights out of me. I immediately stopped grunting, and from that point on began lifting weights from a singer's standpoint. Instead of holding my breath while lifting, I would slowly hiss the air out or even sing a phrase of a song. 

Today, although I don't have the body of a 24 year anymore, I still stay in the best shape possible and hit the gym at least 4 to 6 times a week. Working out and lifting weights helps to keep my weight under control (well as much as my sometimes not so great diet allows it to) and keeps my mind sharp. The positive benefits far outweigh the negative ones. Since breath control is one of the key building blocks to a solid, healthy vocal technique, working out and lifting weights keeps the breathing and singing mechanism working at it's optimum best. 

Singers do need to be careful that they are not over-doing it with weight training. I worked with a gentleman who was literally "ripped to shreds" for about a year and had the washboard abs to prove it. When he took a breath nothing moved and I mean nothing. His extreme workouts worked against his voice in every way. Since there was no elasticity in his body, there was very little freedom in his voice. He had the most difficulty in the upper passaggio because his larynx would not and probably could not tilt for the register change. 

So to answer the question "Can weight lifting hinder a free singing voice?", the answer is yes and no. Like anything else, moderation is the key. Singers need to be strong, but also need to be very flexible. Some prefer yoga or pilates or running and biking to resistance (weight) training. For me it will always be weights and the elliptical machine. It works for me and gives the results desired without any negative side effects. 

Have a great day everyone :-)

Jeffrey Stanfill