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Bodybuilding and Guitar

Through out the several years I’ve been writing columns for this site, my lessons have shifted from technically orientated to more philosophical and wisdom filled. I’ve always felt that lessons that encourage the reader to think and push them to discover things on their own teach the most effectively. There are enough licks on this site to write a 10 year long guitar solo. How many ways can I teach someone to play a 3 note sweep? It gets more and more difficult for me to come up with good and exciting material. To date this is my 35th monthly column. That is one away from 3 years of columns for the mathematically challenged. As I ever struggle to come up with fresh new ideas to teach, it is always a great once in a while that I think that I’ve come up with something that is truly invaluable advice. This month I think I have something definitely important that can benefit you greatly!

Intro

I wanted to talk about the synergy between bodybuilding and guitar playing. To give you some background, I started bodybuilding when I was 18 years old. Now there is a common misconception out there that bodybuilding means huge steroid dudes flexing on stage with insane muscle mass. Anyone can body build. It doesn’t mean “someone who competes in weightlifting competitions,” it is a lifestyle and also a sport. I’ve made some references to body building in some of my previous columns and master classes and have had some good discussions with others about this. Last week I was in the gym thinking about guitar and it prompted me to do a column on this topic.

I know you are thinking: So what is the deal? Why the heck should I care about body building? Sounds like a waste of time!

Well, there are many good reasons! Did you know that there are actually quite a few professional musicians that are into this? Last time I checked, for example, John Petrucci and George Lynch are big on this. Now I think you are saying, “Well if John Petrucci does it, there must be something to gain!” Exactly! So, let us take a look at the advantages of this:

1 – Increased Physical Strength

2 – Increased Endurance

3 – You will get sick fewer times in a year

4 – A healthier emotional state (Depressed a lot? Body building will make you feel a lot better about yourself and make your much happier day to day.)

5 – You will look better (Most girls like guys with muscle, as most guys like a toned girl)

6 – You will live longer and have less problems when you are old (Meaning you can jam longer than most)

As you can see, there are tons of advantages to this. If you work out a minimum of 3 times a week and eat right, you will benefit tremendously from this. So let us take a look in depth at how starting a body building and nutrition routine can benefit you.

Live Performance and Touring

I am going to tell you form experience that touring and performing live is EXTREMELY physical, unless you are one of those guys who just stands there and does nothing on stage. If you’ve never toured then you’ve got no idea what you are in for. This especially applies if you are playing heavy metal. All that jumping around on stage, head banging and crazy stage stunts can really kick your butt physically after a show. When you have to play shows 5 days in a row, get only 3 hours of sleep a night, and are physically exhausted and have pulled every muscle in your body then think of me and remember my advice in this column.

When you are on the road, it is easy to get carried away partying and having fun. The result is you don’t get enough sleep. You are exposed to tons of people every night and it is really easy to get sick. How are you going to play a show when you are on stage with a high fever and puking? I’ve see it and done it before, it sucks. You can’t cancel shows on tour. Proper nutrition and exercise will help keep you healthy and going when everyone else in the band is lying in bed sick all day.

From an endurance stand point, I can also tell you that body building will severely help you endurance on stage. It is easy to get tired when you are under really hot lights, sweating, and going crazy on stage. I always try to keep sports drinks and energy bars on stage for when I need some quick energy. Sometimes those long 1 – 2 hour sets can really tire one out. Don’t let that be you.

Practicing and Speed/Muscle Development

I must answer at least several questions a week on ways to get faster and more coordinated on guitar. One thing that helped me was working out. If you apply weight lifting principles to the guitar, you will find yourself gaining forearm and tendon strength rapidly and efficiently.

People always ask how long to practice things like trills, picking, legato, ect. There is also some innate fascination with 8+ hour practice routines. People need to realize that you can only strain your muscles for so long. If you over do it, you will cause some serious problems. However, proper strength training allows you to practice longer and be more physical with it. I was able to practice really long hours because my body was conditioned to do so. If I didn’t work out, there is no way I could do speed exercises for 10 hours in a day when I was younger. You will hurt yourself! It is very important to be warmed up and stretch thoroughly before and after practice. You don’t just sprint a 10 mile distance. You will die. Be smart about your routines and NEVER do more than you can handle. Push yourself, but don’t kill yourself!

When practicing things like trills you want to do it until you feel a nice burn in your arm. Then give yourself a 3 minute rest and go at it again. MAKE SURE that you do all fingers and combinations thereof equally! Also, take the time to develop your 4th finger. Do these kinds of exercises in sets. Once you’ve tired out your hands and arms make sure you stretch out good, massage them, and put the guitar away for the day. Treat exercises like this that cause physical discomfort like you are working out. If you do this, you will gain strength fast and efficiently.

When you are practicing things like picking speed try to be relaxed. If it starts hurting, you need to take a break. You want to get some soreness going, but don’t keep it going for extended periods of time. Work the muscles, push them hard, but don’t over do it. It is paramount that you practice with PROPER wrist and hand technique so you don’t set yourself up for injury later in life.

When you work out in the gym, your body will also recover faster from strain, so you will be able to push yourself harder on guitar as well. You can see how they work hand in hand now.

Nutrition

A user of our message board was talking about how as soon as he switched to a good diet of food, his tendons stopped giving him pain and discomfort when playing. This leads me to my next point. EAT RIGHT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You are literally what you eat. Drink lots of water, take your vitamins, and get a good balance of proteins, carbs, and vitamins. You should consult a physician for advice on a proper eating regime for you. Ever since I stopped drinking soda and eating junk food I’ve had a lot more energy and felt much better. I can practice longer and harder.

By eating good foods, you are giving the body the fuel to push it to new heights. I’ll tell you that a Mountain Dew soda will not give you the same energy on stage, re-hydration, and refreshment that a sports drink with electrolytes will. Just like eating junk food and pizza before a show won’t stack up to a decent meal. Learn about nutrition and start eating right. Once you get into the groove of it, you won’t miss junk food. It will even taste badly to you. The benefits of eating are as obvious as the sun is bright. So just do it. It will help your guitar playing.

Mental Attitude

If you could do something that would make you feel happier, more energetic, and make you enjoy life more, why wouldn’t you do it? Committing yourself to a body building lifestyle takes dedication and discipline like anything else. I recommend finding a partner that is serious. I highly recommend getting a band mate to work out with you. That way you can talk about things like music and have fun lifting. When someone doesn’t want to go to the gym, the other person will make them go.

When you work out, you also feel a lot better about yourself and more confident. I used to be one of those shy depressed types of people. Now I am more out going and confident since I’ve started exercising regularly. Exercising releases endorphins in your brain which give you a natural high and make you feel better.

My Advice to You

If you know little about weigh lifting, healthy eating, cardio, ect… then find a friend who does or get some lessons with a personal trainer. I recommend you start on some kind of exercise routine, even if you only do it 2-3 times a week. It is better than nothing and will help you be a better guitarist. Body building has made a huge change in my life for the better and it can for you too (If it hasn’t already). The only person that is going to make you do something is you. If you want it bad enough, you will have it. The power to change is within, but you have to find your will. I promise you that if you give this a try and stick with it, you will not regret it. It never hurts to try something. You can make all the excuses in the world, but do you have the guts to commit to something and stick with it? Anyone can be lazy, but can you commit yourself to doing something exceptional? That is your call.

This is my challenge to you: I’m interested to know if anyone has the strength to take this challenge up, so if you do, email me your success story. I’d love to hear about it!

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