If you’re going for a run you don’t just jog slowly until you “warm up.” You need to stretch properly to avoid injuring yourself. It’s impossible to keep doing the activity you love if doing it causes you pain, discomfort or injury. It’s the same with playing guitar or any musical instrument. If you’re playing with the goal of getting good or better at it, you need to incorporate some warm up and stretching into your daily practice.
Warming up not only helps prevent injury but it also helps build finger strength, flexibility and stamina. When properly warmed up your body is performing at its best. If you’re practicing guitar less than an hour a day you’re actually spending a big chunk of that time just warming up. Longer practices require greater endurance, but the payoff is you’re more likely to find (or lose) yourself in that zone where your mind and body function as one.
Don’t Forget to Stretch
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the benefits of daily exercise on playing guitar. There is a connection when both the mind and body feel fit. They help each other. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain. It also increases the amount of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals, in your brain. Warming up before playing an instrument not only loosens up and prepares our body, it also trains the muscles we use every time we play.
Stretching beforehand makes sure you feel better during and after your practice. The great thing about stretching is it doesn’t hurt to do. None of the stretches a musician needs will cause pain. If ever you feel pain while playing an instrument. Stop right away and check with your doctor.
As with guitar lessons, you’ll want to find what works best for you. Different things work for different people and you should be 100% comfortable with what you’re attempting. A good starting point is 10 Essential Stretching Exercises for Musicians. These exercises are specially designed to decrease any muscle pain or stiffness caused by long practices. The tips will help both students of guitar and piano.
Top 5 Stretching exercises for musicians has good stretches for your neck, shoulders and back. Some of the stretches come from sport physical therapists and chiropractors and include links to videos. 5 Stretches for Practicing Musicians That Will Change Your Life also has some good guitar specific stretches.
Unless you’re training to be an arm wrestler, you don’t really want any one part of your body to be stronger than the rest of your body. Good stretching should help you achieve a nice balance of strength and flexibility. A full connective tissue workout that’s suitable for almost any age is the Classical Stretch by Essentrics. (Thank you to email reader Han who brought this one to my attention.) Essentrics has a number of lessons that work on strengthening the hands wrists and fingers.
Don’t limit stretching exercises to the very beginning of your guitar practice session. Many of these exercises can be incorporated into a full workout routine. You can add 5lb to 10lb weights to many of the exercises like the elbow stretches. That will help you get bigger looking arms which are nice to have if you are going to gig in a sleeveless shirt.
A few other things to try in to your warm up routine are practicing scales and playing songs you already know but haven’t played in a while. These are two of my favorites as they kill two birds with one stone.
You get it by now. You need to practice to get good at guitar. Now let’s work on getting more out of practice time by putting serious focus on proper warm up and stretching. Not bothering to warm up is a bit like neglecting to brush your teeth before going to bed. You might be really tired and swear you won’t do it again tomorrow. But if you let it become a habit you will pay for it in the end.
In case you missed it, the last newsletter featured an in depth review of Country Guitar Online. There are no affiliate links here. This is just an excellent site for anyone with an acoustic guitar. If you haven’t already checked out Country Guitar Online or my review I recommend you do. It’s well worth your time. In the past two weeks I’ve learned a lot of country guitar thanks to it.
I would like to do more in depth site reviews in the future. Are there any guitar sites you’d like to see covered in-depth? Jamplay? Guitar Tricks? Let me know. And if you have a guitar site of your own let me know. I will check it out.