Stretches And Warm-ups For All Musicians

This is something I wanted to revisit since my wrist surgery and ongoing physical therapy. This was something that had occurred before my bike accident, but still influences how I prepare myself before playing bass. 

There is no worse feeling than waking up and realizing you have an injury.  You notice something about your body that isn’t right and you decide to investigate online. If the pain is severe you might even go to a specialist, which is expensive. Injuries are stressful to everyone, not just physically, but also mentally. I was no exception, and I remember clearly the morning it happened to me.

I had just finished coming off a tour sometime in 2005, and I had some time off.  I woke up, made my coffee, and as soon as I started to fold clothes from the dryer, I noticed that my left hand’s index finger had a pain right where it meets the base of the hand.  I was a little alarmed but continued as usual, and that’s when the pain really started to hurt. It felt like a bad bruise and it was starting to become difficult to go on with my daily tasks.

Stretching my hands backstage

Stretching my hands backstage

I decided to seek out a doctor to see if they could figure out what was the problem.  I figured I accidentally hit it and bruised it, but after seeing specialists, they let me know that I had tendonitis.  There are multiples reasons for getting tendonitis, but in my case it was due to overusing and straining my wrist from playing.

Throughout most of my years playing, I rarely warmed up.  I usually felt flexible enough to just grab a bass and rip.  I could play fast and being an impatient guy, I never thought it was necessary to spend any time warming up.  This was a huge mistake, and I felt the consequences as I got older. After years of research, several doctors’ appointments and physical therapy, I’m here to say that it’s vital to any musician to warm up and stretch! I truly believe that musicians are athletes, and just like athletes musicians need to warm up and stay warm. Not only do athletes’ bodies stay warm, but they also stretch and hydrate. The same goes for musicians. Staying hydrated is so important, especially when performing in particularly warm venues.

Now before a show I like to get my heart rate up.  I’ll run, climb stairs, or grab a chair and stand on it and get off it several times.  Get your heart rate up.  This will get your blood flowing, which is good for recovery.  Staying hydrated helps the blood flow take oxygen to your muscles.  After a good ten minutes of warming up, I like to stretch my arms, neck back and hands.  This opens up the pathways to your muscles and can keep the nerves firing freely. Good posture also helps nerve impulses travel from your spine to your hands.  Stand up straight and breathe!

Photo credit: Source Audio (Peep the strap!)

Photo credit: Source Audio (Peep the strap!)

Also, for us guitar and bass players it's important for us to invest in a good strap. The straps that Slash or Jimmy Page play while thin and cool looking are awful for your back! You want a strap that helps distribute the weight of your instrument evenly, especially if you play a heavy 10 pound Gibson. A regularly gigging musician is going to start feeling neck, shoulder, and back pain from a heavy instrument weighing you down. For us pedal geeks, constantly looking down at our pedalboards coupled with a heavy instrument is a recipe for bad posture and back pain. Levy's makes heavy duty straps, and so does Mono. You can also find companies that make hip straps too. These straps fasten your instrument to your hip and take the load off of your back. Check out Reverb for straps, you can find straps that are utilitarian as well as aesthetically pleasing. Also, there's no shame in wearing your instrument way up high. Your back will thank you. 

The last thing health tip I recommend is to stay away from smoking and from a poor diet. These things severely hurt your circulation and keeping them out of your lifestyle can help your body get in top shape.  I used to smoke too, and I had to cut that out when I developed a chronic illness.  I’m passing this on because I, at one time, felt invincible, but time eventually taught me a lesson.  There’s no avoiding what time and age does to your body, but take care of your body now and you’ll play pain free later.