“Touring is hard on the body.”
All musicians can agree on one thing; if you are a real player and you put your all into your work, performing can take a lot out of you. Take your gig on the road and it’s even more work and stress and strain. So, contrary to what many people think, touring is not as easy as it looks; it takes a toll on your body and mind. Late nights and sleeping in atypical quarters can tax even the youngest of bodies; and that does not even account for the rigors of the actual performance itself. In fact, for singers they may even have a heightened need for special nutritional needs and for dealing with hydration.
So, to better understand what musicians should be thinking about along these lines, we had the chance to catch up with Susan Roop Kiernan, a Chicago based registered nurse and yoga instructor with comprehensive experience in health and fitness.
Q: Susan, how are you?
A: Doing great and feeling great.
Q: Let’s start with exercise. If you are a musician and are out and about on the road do you see the need for musicians to address exercise?
A: No doubt. It doesn’t matter what age you are or what gender. Exercise is essential. Even if you are moving gear or have a very physical role as, for example, a drummer, you still need to exercise. Even more importantly, you need to stretch. Obviously, figuring out what to do is limited because much of your time could be spent in a van or on a bus without access to equipment that you might find in a gym. Nevertheless, you have to find some time for exercise. It’s really is not an option. Exercising can really help you avoid pulling muscles and for drummers for example, drumming is one of worst things you can do for you back. Exercising can help strengthen your core which will make you a better or at least more comfortable player. Likewise, guitar and bass players can also experience pain from prolonged periods of having your guitar around your neck. Exercise can maybe help eliminate some of these aches and pains and strengthen the body so that it can tolerate physical stresses better. Who performs great when they feel like crap?
Q: Having said that, if you have no equipment to work with and limited time or space, what kind of exercises do you recommend?
A: Believe it or else, there is a lot you can do. For example, planking is really good. So are pushups and crunches. At the very least and with or without gym equipment, you can get into body weight fitness exercises which can be really done anywhere; at soundcheck, at the hotel, and certainly on travel or off days. You can even get creative with plyometrics which is more or less “jump training” type exercises where your muscles exert maximum force in short intervals of time, with the goal of increasing power. If you take a look on social media platforms like You Tube you can find some great plyometric exercises. Isometrics can also be good and that is where you apply resistance against something that is stable without changing the length of the muscle. For example, stand in a doorway and push out as hard as you can on the inside edges of the doorway. Indeed, there are lots of things you can do.
Q: How about flexibility?
A: Critical for anyone but really for musicians because your body is being contorted in so many positions. Think about it; you are performing. If you are stiff and sore you cannot do that or at least you won’t perform at your best. So, flexibility has to be factored in with exercise.
Q: Do you see any benefits to yoga?
A: Very much so and I don’t say that because I am an instructor. Yoga really came about so that “yogis” would be able to keep limber for long periods of meditation. It brings mind, body, and breath together as one. Relevant to our conversation, if you are stuck on a bus or a van for long periods–or even in a recording or rehearsal studio–you can actually do yoga to pass the time as opposed to doing nothing. Yoga can be done anywhere, even in a chair. It is also for all ages. I have instructed individuals in their 90s about yoga. Regardless of what instrument you play or function you perform, it will help you. Even you roadies too! I also want to point out that yoga helps to increase body awareness. For example, how am I sitting? Am I slouched over or am I straight in my core? I like to tell students as you go through their day look where your shoulders are and are they relaxed? Posture for a musician is critical and pain from poor posture can really be distracting for a musician.
Q: To finish up with exercise then, what are some hidden gems that you can offer for musicians on the road that they might overlook?
A: Two things; sleep and planning. First sleep. Because you are touring and depending on what you are doing, it is not uncommon that your awareness of your surroundings can become distorted when on the road. For example, if you are ever in a casino you won’t see a clock. The reason is so that you cannot–without resorting to a watch or cellphone–tell what time it is. There are some similarities if you are constantly on the move. Days can blend and if timezones are crossed, you can become disorientated, even slightly. One of the best countermeasures to that is sleep. You need to stay sharp and sleep is very important. Furthermore, even young musicians need time to recover. If you are working hard you need to sleep to be able to continue and perform with some form of consistency. Remember, you might be compelled to sleep in strange places or at odd times and a regular schedule might just be entirely out of the question. Considering all those factors then, you have to make time for sleep. As to planning, that’s also overlooked a lot in my experience. For the musician, you rehearse for shows and tours. Few groups would dare take the stage not knowing what is going to happen or what they are going to play. So, why would you leave your road health to chance and wing it? The answer is that you shouldn’t do that either. You need to plan when you can sleep, exercise, and also eat right. You would be surprised at how much better the process is when you plan for it. As a suggestion, if the band hits a stop and you have access to a grill, grill some chicken for the next upcoming days and keep it in a cooler.
Q: Great. Now what about nutrition?
A: Good question. No matter how hard you exercise or even perform, your body will only take you as far the fuel that you put in it. If you are a guitar player and take the world’s best guitar but put the lowest grade strings on it you won’t sound good. The point is that your nutritional regimen is probably as important if not more important than exercise.
Q: What advice can you give us about what musicians on the road should think about?
A: That’s an important but difficult question to answer because everyone and their circumstances are different. First, I am not a nutritionist and don’t pretend to be but despite that, there are some pretty basic rules that you need to adhere to. First, you have to realistically assess your situation and work within your budget. Many musicians on the road will not have the ability to prepare gourmet meals with the finest ingredients. I get that. However, that doesn’t mean that you give up and eat whatever you can find or simply eat cheap. Cheap usually–but now always–brings a low quality of food. It starts with making good choices and the first choice is to do the best you can. However, if budget is a consideration (and when is it not) and if you and your bandmates are relegated to a fast food restaurant, most of them have salads as opposed to less healthier choices. Again, do the best you can.
Q: Are there any absolute no-no’s?
A: Processed food. You are just not doing yourself any good by eating that if you can avoid it and again, I understand that roadlife sometimes is not accommodating. Second, you cannot ignore water. You must stay hydrated particularly if you are consuming alcohol which tends to de-hydrate you. I cannot stress the need to be hydrated enough particularly for those touring the summer. What I suggest is calculate how much water your body needs at rest. That’s pretty much working at a desk and things like that This is your bare minimum water requirement. Then you calculate your most basic equation for consumption by dividing your body weight in half. So, if you weigh 200 pounds, you would need 100 ounces of water per day if you’re not doing anything strenuous. If you’re working out, hiking, at a high altitude or outdoors a great deal, you’re going to need to add to those 100 ounces.
Editor’s Note: A gallon equals approximately 128 ounces.
Q: For someone who does have some resources and is willing to try something different, any suggestions?
A: Yes. Again, you have to be sensible. For example, if you are on the road I would not suggest trying a cleanse or something like that. However, as a suggestion, try nutritional shakes. Believe it or else many of them don’t taste bad and they can be prepared with little effort. The most important component is water and, they can serve as meal replacements. If you are on the go they are a viable alternative.
Q: Good stuff. Any closing thoughts?
A: Yes. Listen, take everything in stride. You are out there trying to sell records and make music not be a bodybuilder. But don’t overlook the fact that your body–if not maintained–can give out on you and that can cause problems or even lead to canceling a tour or dates. I remember that last year Luis Miguel–the Latin pop star–had to cancel some U.S. dates because of health issues and more recently Grammy winner Bobby McFerrin had to cancel a date because of health reasons. [McFerrin wrote and performed the 1988 Grammy winning pop hit Don’t Worry, Be Happy]. So, it does happen. Having said that, just be sensible and avoid sudden and drastic changes. Work within your means and try and get something started. What I typically find is that the more you do the more it begets more discipline till you get to the point that you are actually changing your “lifestyle.” I can see that for musicians it can be especially difficult because of budget concerns, late hours, and just the culture itself. But underlying your craft is your ability to perform and a tour obviously takes its toll. You have to be ready to go at all times so take care of your body and mind and I bet they will be the best supporting cast you can find.
Q: Susan, great stuff. Thanks for your time.
Ken “K Bo” Biedzynski, Editor