Updated: Mar 20, 2018
Believe it or not, you need to protect your voice every time you lift weights.
Think about it. What do you do when you are lifting weights? If you are lifting correctly, then you are pushing very hard to lift the max weight possible. You are watching your form, bending your limbs as deeply as possible and then pressing up – against the heaviest weights possible. That’s how you build muscle.
Unfortunately that’s also how you can injure your voice. One of the by-products of weight training is a great deal of glottal strain. Repeated injury can result in pre-nodules, nodes, and polyps.
Vocal nodes are tiny calluses that form on your chords when they are repeatedly stressed the wrong way – in other words nodes and Polyps are created by vocal abuse. There are many ways you can stress your voice improperly, many ways that we abuse our voices that causing pre-nodules nodes or polyps.
For example: screaming can create vocal nodes. Another, more insidious way we hurt our voices is when we find ourselves constantly talking or yelling over ambient noise. As normal a behavior as it seems, it creates vocal damage. Singing with a tight throat and larynx can create vocal injury. Speaking (or singing) regularly on a pitch that is too high or low can also cause injury. And lifting weights at the gym can definitely hurt your voice.
With some of these activities it’s pretty obvious you can cause vocal create injury, but how does it happen at the gym?
Typically when we lift weights we hold our breath as we lift, using glottal pressure, and then we yell or grunt to release. That severe breath compression from holding the breath as one lifts aggravates the tightness of the throat and then the grunt slams the vocal folds together. As activities go, this is pretty destructive.
So how do you avoid this? It takes focus and concentration – two things you should be employing anyway when you lift weights, just to protect form. When you lift, be very careful not to close your glottis while training, (the back of the throat). Then make sure you are exhaling while exerting the greatest force. Since you need to exhale slowly, I often hiss the breath out between my teeth so I can create pressure without using my throat and so I’m not scrunching my mouth. If you prefer you can choose to exhale the breath out through puffed cheeks – as if you were blowing up a balloon. AT NO TIME should you be holding your breath.
In order to increase energy and efficiency, you should also expand the lower abdominal area when you inhale for weight training, just as you do for singing.
In general, it is advisable to make sure you don’t lift weights before a rehearsal, lesson or performance. Just as with any activity, the muscles in the neck and throat will swell with intense exercise and you need to give your neck muscles time to recover. Do some stretches as you cool down, particularly focusing on the head and neck – simple slow head rolls are very helpful.
And, as you should anyway, make sure you drink lots of water!