Health & Fitness for The Working Bassist – Part 5: Odds & Sods

Part 5 in No Treble’s series on Health & Fitness for the Working Bassist is focused on topics that don’t directly discuss having your hands on the bass. Nonetheless the topics about to be reviewed represent key factors when it comes to your longevity as a musician and the enjoyment you can gain from being a working bassist. In Part 5 of our series Dr. Randall Kertz will be discussing lifting and moving equipment, sleeping positions, diet, and exercise as they relate to our ability to play our best over a sustained period of time.

Lift Off — Common Sense Guidelines for Lifting and Moving Your Equipment

Most of us carry our own gear around. Sometimes we get lucky and use house gear or somebody else’s gear (which isn’t always as good a deal as it may sound). At times, some of us are fortunate enough to have somebody else haul our equipment around for us. You are lucky if this is the case, but may not always be so lucky, so this column is for you too. Here we’ll review proper lifting technique, which will save wear and tear on your back, knees, wrists, hands, and neck; just about everything.

Today’s trend toward lighter gear has just about all the major manufacturers designing lighter cabinets and heads, which pack all the power of their bigger and heavier predecessors. For the most part, these components sound, look, and perform great, but a lot of us still like the old gear. Also, there are deals to be had on used gear as other bassists trade in equipment for newer lighter products, enticing other bassists to put in the extra muscle so they can save some bucks on truly great buys.

Health & Fitness for the Working Bassist - proper lifting techniqueRegardless of the situation, bassists benefit by practicing proper lifting. When lifting heavy or unwieldy objects, i.e. cabinets, heads, mixing consoles, lighting, boxes of band-branded merchandise, etc:

  • Bend at the knees and bring the object as close to yourself as you can.
  • Keep your neck, head and back straight and lift straight up as if you were being pulled up by the top of your head by a pulley or a puppet string.

Health & Fitness for the Working Bassist - improper lifting techniqueBending over and lifting at the waist will strain your back muscles and likely cause pain, sometimes right away, sometimes the next day, sometimes when performing some other normal daily activity like reaching for a door handle.

When this happens, the best case scenario is that you are sore and will have a little trouble moving around. The worst case scenario is a hernia or herniated disc which causes the discs in the back to pop out of place and press on nerves going down the legs. This can cause numbness, tingling, or pain which can be constant or occasional, on one or both sides, or can wrap around to the front of the thigh. In many cases this can be solved through conservative treatment such as chiropractic, acupuncture or physical therapy. Sometimes more invasive methods are necessary such as a cortisone shot or in severe cases, surgery. In any case, these problems can usually be avoided by practicing proper lifting technique.

Have A Good Night — “Give It a Rest” and the Music Will Be Even Better

Bassists, whether you are a pro or working towards becoming one, our attitude is commonly “the music takes precedence”. As such, it is common for bassists to neglect a lot of basic health issues, which ultimately, can make the music suffer. Most people, musicians and non-musicians alike, do not get enough rest, and when we do it is frequently not quality rest, as it is interrupted or cut short by an environment that is not conducive to rest or by a mind that just won’t seem to shut off.

Rest that is consistently interrupted leaves us feeling played out and typically has a negative impact on our playing abilities. When we are not well-rested we are less able to sight-read difficult pieces, improvise well in pressure situations, pay careful attention to all that is taking place on the bandstand or truly express ourselves while best supporting our band mates in playing situations. A chronic rest deficit also leaves us more apt to be cranky and overly-sensitive, which can lead to any number of unpleasant situations on the road, on the bandstand and in the recording studio.

Here are some tips designed to help you stay well rested:

Sleeping Position Audit:

Maintaining a beneficial sleeping position is of utmost importance. Some rules of thumb include sleeping on your back or side, and not your stomach. Now before you say “but I toss and turn”, I realize this happens, but you will usually finish like you start out, and by being conscious of your starting position and trying to maintain it by staying still, it will get easier as time goes on. At worst, you will have a couple of sleepless nights and after that will be so tired you will fall asleep no matter what.

The reason you shouldn’t sleep on your stomach is because doing so forces your head to the right or the left. This causes muscles in your neck and by association your shoulders to be forced into contracted or tightened working states when they should be resting and relaxing and restoring. In this position we also tend to sprawl our arm over our head or under our pillow which can cause nerve compression due to its improper angle. Numbness in the arm lasting for short or long periods of time can occur, in addition to the tight musculature and local neck soreness created from this position.

Sidestepping the challenges poor sleeping positions contribute will make for a much more enjoyable time playing music and help us maximize our stamina and ability to grind it out when tight scheduling has us all over creation playing one night stands.

Make Your Pillow Work for You:

Pillows are a very important factor relative to sleep. When sleeping on your side, it’s important your pillow to fit in the imaginary space on the side of your head and on top of your shoulder when you are standing in an upright position. If you have too many pillows, or one that is flat, or even no pillow, your neck muscles will be tilted to one side or the other and will once again be forced to do work when they should be at rest. The same goes when sleeping on your back. If your head is tilted too far forward, like when it’s propped up for say watching TV or reading, or it doesn’t have any support at all and is tilting back, neck stiffness and muscle tightness will often result.

Get Enough Rack Time:

Some authorities say the body needs eight hours of sleep a night to properly rest and replenish. It is also said that some may require more or less than this. What is for sure, most of us probably don’t get enough sleep, and along with other bad habits, this can lead to more frequent illness.

Lack of sleep contributes to the immune system getting run down, leaving us more susceptible to the billions of germs we come into contact with every day. If possible, try to get to sleep at the same time every day or night. This allows your body to get used to a routine, and your sleep will be more restful. Don’t exercise or drink caffeine for at least a few hours before sleep, more if you are particularly sensitive to the impact either caffeine or exercise have on keeping you awake.

You Are What You Eat — Good Dietary Habits Mean Better Playing

One of the best and easiest things one can do is to drink the appropriate amount of water. Water helps transport nutrients and waste products in and out of cells. It is necessary for digestion, absorption of nutrients and elimination of toxins. Eight 8-ounce glasses a day takes care of these needs (and no that doesn’t include coffee, pop or beer).

As a general rule, diets high in fruits, vegetables, grains and legumes (beans) reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. Some authorities say meat should be eliminated from our diets. Meat, however, provides protein that is needed by the body, and if you cut meat out of your diet you must be mindful to replace it with other protein sources.

Vitamins are also important for good health. In the proper amounts, vitamins assist in regulating metabolism and releasing energy from digested food. Vitamins assist enzymes in their function of causing various chemical reactions in the body which are necessary for life. Many doctors believe it a good idea to take a multivitamin every day to ensure getting the proper amounts of vitamins your diet may not consistently provide. A good multi-vitamin will have proper dosages of vitamins A, B complex, C, D, E, and K.

Whether in coffee or energy drinks, caffeine is a mild central nervous system stimulant, meaning it temporarily increases heart rate, and should be used with caution for those with high blood pressure.

Exercise — Keeping That Music Machine Tuned

Exercise contributes mightily toward maintaining good health, in that regular exercise improves digestion, increases energy levels, increases endurance, keeps lean body mass while burning fat and lowers cholesterol.

Exercise also elevates mood while reducing stress, anxiety and depression. Vigorous exercise produces endorphins which elevates mood and gives you a natural high. Exercises like jumping rope, jogging and walking can be done almost anywhere, anytime. Swimming and bicycling are also great all around exercise. Push-ups and crunches are a good way of strengthening the muscles and can be done almost anywhere.

It is important to note that pain during any of these activities means you are doing too much or are doing something incorrectly and should stop and find out what it is before continuing. Always consult with a health care professional before undertaking an unfamiliar or rigorous exercise program. Check out alternative exercise programs such as yoga, pilates, or tai chi.

And remember, as a bassist, it is preferable to use machine weights instead of free weights due to less need to grip or grasp which may cause strain or overuse. Isometric exercises, meaning exercises in which muscles contract with no movement occurring, are better for our purposes than those for strengthening. These isometric exercises are good for the bassist because these are the actions that we are performing with our right and left hands, activating muscles as an isometric contraction at a specific joint angle. Preferable to lifting weights are strap on weights which can be attached to the wrist and upper arm and can help to strengthen the shoulders and arms in a less stressful fashion.

For exercise tips that are related to warming up on your bass take a moment and check out Part 3 of this series. In Part 3 you will find a lot of easy-to-follow guidance concerning optimum warm up exercises that will help you maximize the benefits gained from warming up while side stepping common injuries.

Odds & Sods Checklist:

To recap behaviors and practices that will contribute to enjoyment as a bassist:

  1. When lifting heavy or unwieldy objects such as speaker cabs, heads, etc bend at the knees, bring the object as close to yourself as you can, and lift straight up, keeping your neck, head and back straight.
  2. Consider trading in heavy gear for more lightweight alternatives.
  3. Try going to bed around the same time each night.
  4. Sleep on your side or on the back rather than on the stomach which can cause neck and back problems.
  5. Use one pillow to avoid stressing the neck muscles by having them propped up too high or hanging too low.
  6. Exercise regularly.
  7. Better to use machine weights rather than free weights due to less need to grip or grasp which may cause strain or overuse.
  8. While these may not seem to be suggestions formulated with the bass in mind, they are integral to a working bassist’s life. That’s because these suggestions are carefully designed to help to keep bassists healthy and able to work at your highest level and thus live life to the fullest.

The comments and questions you have been sharing in connection with the Health & Fitness for The Working Bassist series are appreciated, please keep them coming.

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