Musicians are Athletes!

Apr 10, 2017

by Dr. Sara Terrell
Assistant Professor of Exercise Science

I grew up in an environment where my parents exposed my siblings and me to music in addition to multiple sports. Although I played violin and organ, my passion was playing basketball. Yet, my brother became a professional maestro while I dabbled in everything related to exercise and sport.

Nonetheless, I have witnessed multiple concerts and music productions, and although I appreciate the musical mastery, as an exercise science professor, I have become fascinated with quantifying the physical work of musicians like my brother. To me, it is very clear— musicians are athletes! For example, they typically:

  • Practice every day
  • Practice through pain
  • Compete in challenging environments
  • Have little “down-time” in the off-season
  • Risk the temptation of substance abuse
  • Face a real risk of a career-ending injury

To do what musicians do requires strength, expert coordination, endurance, especially in the small muscles of the hands and forearms and the muscles supporting the spine. Don’t forget about the respiratory muscles. If you didn’t know any differently, you would think I was describing a team in the final four basketball tournament.

I often tell my students to be movement analysts – watch what people are doing in any arena and then apply what you have learned – we can impact the health and well-being of everyone! For instance, when designing a strength and conditioning program for a sports team, we often complete an injury analysis of the sport.

Dr. Sara Terrell working with a student.

This would be the same approach if designing a program for a musician. High performing musicians, like athletes, report issues with musculoskeletal problems related to playing their instrument. In one study, 76 percent reported at least one medical problem significant enough to influence performance. Musicians are susceptible to performance related muscles disorders, or PRMD, which occur when a tissue is stressed beyond its physiological limits; often PRMD is related to over-use injuries from repetitive stress. But, with a proper exercise program focused on the demands musicians face, exercise science professionals can take the lead in maintaining, even optimizing, the performance of a musician.

This semester I have had the good fortune of working in an interdisciplinary teaching collaboration with Dr. Beth Gibbs, Florida Southern College Choir Director. Dr. Gibbs designed MUS 1998, Music and Wellness, a masterful course examining strategies to support musicians’ holistic health. I have been able to provide a few guest lectures from an exercise science lens to the students.

This cross-collaboration and connectivity of what, on outward appearance, seems like two separate disciplines is in accordance with professional industry trends. For example, there has been a push for collaboration between our disciplines with the emergence of professional entities like Athletes and the Arts and the Performing Arts Medical Association.

Our collaboration is just one example of how FSC places faculty and programs in positions to be successful. I know our discussions and collaborations will continue, and I hope to get my Exercise Science students more involved in the future. At the very least, I hope to get my students to as many musical productions and have them pause to ask, “What do I see?” And, “How can I make a difference in this arena?”