Opera singers may not look like swimsuit models, but they are actually cardio champions.
According to the American Journal of Nursing, opera singers have stronger chest-wall muscles, greater lung capacity, and more efficient hearts than their non-singing friends.
But, if classical singing requires the muscle coordination of a professional athlete, why are singers so… plump? Not all opera singers are heavy, but many cantanti struggle with their weight. Does it have to do with body type? Metabolism? Lifestyle? No one knows for sure. A New York Times article cited a study suggesting that singers produce too much leptin. We do know that the sound of a human voice is influenced by the size and shape of the body. Some people believe that fat actually produces a more resonant sound! Whatever the reason, the extra curves get noticed. There is increasing pressure on opera singers to lose weight.
That’s why so many 21st century singers are signing up for total body fitness programs! Personally, I prefer a combination of yoga, Irish dancing, and cycling by the beach. (I also list “singing Wagner” as one of my endurance sports.)
I enjoy some fitness video games:
Wii Fit Plus for strength and posture, and ABBA You Can Dance for those rare moments when I’ve had enough opera and I’m craving happy ’70s music.
But how on earth do you maintain a program of cardio, strength, and flexibility training when you’re on the road? For people who travel, exercise is a special challenge. It requires a lot of planning! I like to collect tips from this cool blog: My Travel Fitness
In 2010, I traveled to Spain for an opera contest while I was training for my first triathlon. Before I even got on the plane, I wrote down the directions from my Spanish hotel to the nearest public swimming pool. I also found the nearest bike rental shop. When I got there, I went hiking as often as possible. For me, singing always comes first, but I managed to maintain a (slightly less rigorous) triathlon training schedule. I may not have a castle in Spain… but I’ve jogged around one.
Most singers find that they can improve their energy and vocal stamina by spending more time at the gym. They are more comfortable with dancing, and swordplay, and leaping around onstage if they have taken martial arts classes, or dance aerobics, or gyrotonics. Exercise also helps melt away the stress of a major career. Cindy Sadler has blogged about her success with cycling. Renée Fleming does Pilates.
And if you’re not a singer, but you’re looking for a fun new cardio activity, try voice lessons! Singers learn advanced breathing techniques by training the muscles of the thorax and the abdominal wall. An opera colleague of mine surprised her doctor by demonstrating that she could hold a normal conversation while jogging on the treadmill. “Sustaining breath control over an elevated pulse?” she scoffed. “Yeah, that’s kinda what I do.” Singing is fun and it’s good for your heart, too! 🙂
Finally, I’d like to share an opera video has been circulating on Facebook this week. It demonstrates the advantages of being in shape (check out what happens at 0:50):