Would you believe me if I said running improves your ability to play music? As a musician I find the more I run, the better I play. You might ask, “How is this possible?” The studies have and will continue to pour in on how cardiovascular fitness boosts the functions of the brain. I’d like to connect running and playing well with five benefits that will help you play with more energy, concentration as well as with better flow.
1.) Promotes proper posture when playing
Musicians tend to spend a lot of time sitting when practicing, composing or traveling. Many times unfortunately we tend to slouch down and not sit up straight. It’s usually reflected in people’s runs as well. As I run I usually see many struggle with running to their natural form. This is a by-product of how we usually work: our face looks down while we lean forward with our backs. Compare this to elite runners. When I watch elite athletes such as Meb Keflezighi, Eliud Kipchoge or Desiree Linden there is no wasted motion. They stand tall with their back straight and neck up. This is the natural form that allows you to work at your very best. If you work at it, running becomes less of a struggle and more enjoyable.
This is applicable to playing music. It’s common to see musicians with upper and lower back issues as they age. From loading gear into venues to playing in front of audiences, music is a very physical activity that requires adequate fitness. If you run and strengthen your core muscles by doing exercises such as planks, you will feel stronger.
2.) Adds awareness to breathing
For instrumentalists who don’t sing or play brass and woodwind instruments, breathing often is overlooked. The same can be said for running and stretching. This makes your flow less efficient. One remedy to pay attention to is your breathing rhythm. When running try breathing in for two steps, then out for two steps. This is a comfortable way to allow air in and out of your lungs. If you focus on breathing during your runs, you’ll be able to transfer it over to when you perform. I’d recommend this for everyone, but I especially advocate this for guitarists, pianists and drummers since we usually neglect this important aspect when playing.
3.) Naturally leads to more energy
It’s common for us not to sleep much (which by the way, is not great.) We typically rely on coffee to power through our day, only to crash after a few hours until we get the adrenaline from playing again. An alternative is to begin your day by running. I used to drink a lot of coffee, but had an epiphany after completing a track workout. I remember making coffee after this particular workout, only to throw the cup away after realizing I didn’t need the extra caffeine. To me, it felt like overeating or drinking too much alcohol.
See, after running consistently you will feel a change. I felt it when training for my first marathon. For once I had energy waking up early in the morning. This energy is one I cannot really describe. I’d compare it to the adrenaline I’d have after playing an energetic set with great musicians. It’s one of those feelings that leaves you wanting to do more. That energy comes from exercising. You’ll achieve greater aerobic fitness, which will lead to having a lower heart rate. This will help you get through the day without taking all the extra caffeine and sugar from energy drinks.
4.) Develops healthy eating habits
After you begin the process of taking care of your body, you will want to not lose the results. I’m convinced that you’ll begin to change your diet once you notice how great you feel. It’s important to mention that I’m talking about how you feel and not how you look. Many times the definition of fitness is deceiving. It’s one that takes consistency and a bit of time to achieve the results. In other words, the long way is the short way. In order to function and run well, we must consume the right fuel from natural sources.
If we consume the right foods, then we will function at a much higher level. As striving musicians we want to play to the best of our abilities. We want to have a natural flow of ideas and to play effortlessly. We can’t learn and play at a high level by eating fast and processed foods. Just because McDonalds sponsors the Olympics doesn’t mean their food will fuel you into becoming a great athlete.
5.) Increases mental focus
Many studies have confirmed that increased aerobic fitness leads to increased mental focus. When you run consistently, your heart strengthens and the capillaries in your muscle fibers increase. This makes your body deliver oxygen more efficiently. When more blood flow reaches the brain from exercising we have more energy and oxygen. We also develop muscle memory, which can improve our cognitive functions. In turn this helps us focus more intently at the task at hand which leads us to perform better.
When we struggle to perform at our very best the problem often lies with a lack of concentration—not because we don’t know the music. When we don’t concentrate, we might have memory slips or play wrong notes. If we develop the skill to focus when running it will translate into other aspects of life including performing at concerts.
I believe each musician who begins to run will see benefits not only in health, but in musicianship. You’ll have more energy and focus to process concepts quicker than before. It’s also not uncommon to see a new blueprint for your projects because of the structure running offers. The key, however, is having the will to go out and run. It’s always hardest to start, but I guarantee running will help you meet your full potential.