As a musician, why should I care about staying healthy?

As an independent or self-employed musician, it’s vital that you¬†lead a healthy lifestyle. (see what I did there? ūüôā )

At some level, your health will determine how far you can go in the business. It effects your performances, your mental capabilities while composing, and so many other things. It behooves you to take a moment and reflect on your current health and what you’re doing to stay healthy.

I’m certainly no health expert, and I’m definitely not¬†a health nut, but you don’t have to be in order to reap the benefits of a healthy lifestyle. In fact, there have been long seasons in my life where I’ve lived an unhealthy lifestyle in several respects. That said, I have run several half-marathons in the past and did a metric century bike ride. I’ve done P90X a couple times in the past and am currently following a fun little exercise plan I’ll explain more about below. Although I’m not the healthiest person, I am trying. And that’s all I’m recommending for you: try.

Health is a journey.

The Internet and bookstores are full of¬†information on this topic, so I’m just going to add a few things and let you explore on your own. One thing to remember is health is not a destination, it is a journey. If you¬†fall down, then get up, wipe yourself off, and start moving forward again.

NOTE: A gym membership is not required to stay healthy.

Personally, when I think of “fitness” or “health”, I break it down into five¬†distinct categories: Diet,¬†Strength, Endurance, Flexibility, and Mental Health.¬†How is your health in each of these areas?

1. Diet (aka “what you put into your body”)

Diet fads and nutrition advice come and go, but one truth remains: you are what you eat.¬†It’s common sense, really. If you eat a bunch of¬†unhealthy junk food, you’re not going to feel that great and your body is going to revolt and start shutting down on you. If you don’t eat enough healthy food, your body is going to atrophy. So choose a diet that works for you and make some good choices.

DietStaying hydrated is also really important. Drink a lot of fluids, especially water.

Tip: If you hate diets or don’t want to change what you eat or drink, at the very least employ the simplest of tricks: portion control. In other words, be mindful of how much you take in. Simple. Instead of eating¬†five¬†cookies, eat just one or two. Instead of drinking six sodas a day, drink two or three. ūüėČ

What you eat greatly affects how you think. Want to become a better composer or perform those fast riffs on the guitar or piano? Want to feel energized for a long session or while traveling? Then choose a healthy diet.

2. Strength (aka “weight lifting” and “body building”)

Strength training is probably the main thing people associate with “going to the gym.” When you look around a normal gym, most of the equipment you see is meant to help¬†you grow your muscles and stay strong.

StrengthMy only tips here are to take it slow and also don’t neglect parts of your body. If you build up too fast or overdo it, you’re very likely to pull a muscle, mess up your tendons, tweak your back, or any number of things. Also, if you work a muscle group, don’t forget to also work the opposing muscle group. And you’ll look pretty silly if your legs are super strong, but your upperbody is weak, or vice versa.

Think of it this way: the stronger you are, the bigger the amps and sound equipment you can pick up and lug around, and the less likely you are to miss out on events or gigs because you overdid it.

3. Endurance (aka “cardio”)

CyclingThe other primary¬†things you see in gyms are there to help your heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular systems): running, jogging, cycling, group exercises, rowing, etc. If you get tired walking up a flight of¬†stairs or walking to the fridge in the kitchen to get a snack, then you probably want to examine what you’re doing in this area of your health.

The¬†healthier your heart is, the more stamina you will have in all sorts of areas in your life. Do you get tired after doing a 30-minute gig? Want to think clearer?¬†Hate it that you sound out of breath while you’re singing? Then take a look at what you’re doing in the cardio department.

Tip: Just 30 minutes of cardio a few times a week will make a huge difference. Find a type of cardio workout you enjoy, or switch it up between lots of different types of exercises, and get going.

4. Flexibility (aka “stretching” and “bend without breaking”)

I feel so bad for Flexibility… it’s often¬†neglected and left out from the conversation completely, even though it is so important. FlexibleFlexibility is what allows you to bend without breaking, touch your toes, turn, twist, reach, and achieve things otherwise impossible.

When I don’t work on my flexibility, I find I get hurt in the most stupidest of ways. Here are some examples. I’d turn my head and tweak my neck. I’d bend down to pick up some trash and throw my back out. I’d reach up top for the cereal box and tweak my shoulder. These types of stories not only make me feel old, frail, and embarrassed, they also sadly often put me out of commission for a week or two.

Tip: As with strength training, make sure you stretch and flex all the major parts of your body regularly.

5. Mental Health

Mental HealthLast, but certainly not least, is your mental health. All of the things above greatly affect your mental health. Included in your mental health are things like mental clarity, mood, emotions, and social well-being.

Besides improving those other areas of health above, you can also work on your mental health specifically by doing unheard of and unorthodox things like resting, relaxing, reflecting, and meditating. (doh! I couldn’t think of another “r” word)¬†ūüôā Really, though, it’s important to slow down and take a break. Given my ambitious and driven personality, this one is really hard for me, and I can notice when I haven’t given myself time to rest and relax. This is especially true at night when my mind is racing with things to do, work, and such.

Tip: if you want to¬†kill lots of birds with one stone, try yoga. Not only will you work on your mental health, you’ll also work on your flexibility, endurance, and strength.

So what are some things I’m doing for my health?

Now that we covered that, as a fun exercise I thought I’d share with you the workout plan that I’m currently using (see what I did there? ūüôā ). I’m sharing this with you¬†to give you a glimpse into how I’m working on some of the things above.

I’m not recommending you use this plan. In fact, it sort of flies in the face of the well-known rule about resting a day or so between exercises of a certain muscle group.¬†Rather, I simply want to encourage you to reflect on your own health and find a plan that you would be excited about and you think you could do. In addition to the plan below, I’m also trying to eat better in general (thanks, wifey!) and eat in smaller portions.

I’m currently following a neat little workout plan that I heavily modified based on something I read over on NerdFitness.¬†I was inspired, and so I put together my own modified plan that would suit my needs. I added¬†some other exercises as well to round it out. I started it back in December 2016, and my goal for this plan is to finish by summer. In other words,¬†I time-boxed this effort and will make a new plan, possibly something completely different, when I’m done with this one.

I printed it out and check off the workouts each day! I love checking off items!

After a few weeks of following this plan and eating better, I noticed real changes in my body. I started getting noticeably stronger, building muscle, and losing weight. I feel better, healthier, and can think more clearly. After a month or two, I modified the plan again to suit my lifestyle and goals.

Start small and build up.

Here’s the basic idea: start with a very small number of reps or time, and then increase it slowly every day. Once an exercise gets to the maximum amount I want to do,¬†the reps reset to a small number that is bigger than the number of reps from the last time. It’s basically a saw-tooth pattern.

Workout saw tooth pattern

Anyway, my plan is nothing special. Remember that the exact numbers¬†of reps aren’t the point and don’t really matter. Choose numbers that work for you.

I originally started out back in December 2016 at lower reps (3 minutes stretching, 20 jumping jacks, 30 seconds plank, 5 reps of the other stuff). What I’m showing below is the plan I’m currently following after I reset back to 10 reps. That’s because¬†I decided to change around the plan and how often I would work out (it was originally every single day).¬†I used to do the saw-tooth¬†idea for stretching and cardio, too, but I decided to stick to 10 minutes of stretching (love it!) and 30 minutes of cardio three times a week. I also gave myself a day off once a week. Although it shows to workout on Saturday, I let myself either do it on Saturday or Sunday, whichever fits my schedule. Same type of thing for cardio.

Without further ado, here it is. Feel free to use it, if you like. Make sure to modify it to fit your personal needs. It’s definitely not a “beginners” plan. Don’t overdo it and get hurt! That would make me sad. If you’re really out of shape or have an injury, you’ll probably want to talk to your doctor first.

My Current Short-Term Workout Plan

If you have some encouraging stories about staying fit and healthy, please share them in the comments below.

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