Unless you’re a one-name artist (Bono, Cher, Gaga) the life of a touring artist isn’t always glamorous. Adam Blake has been playing bass for H2O for more than 15 years, and he knows all about the effects a life on the road can have on your physical health. No matter how young you are or how much willpower you have, after five straight shows and God knows how many hours in a cramped van, your body is going to feel it. Blake, a certified personal trainer (and a corrective exercise and performance enhancement specialist) shares some advice and simple stretching techniques to help sooth your weary rock ’n’ roll bones. (It might even improve your range of motion when you execute a gnarly jump/high-kick.)
The health hazards of the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle have long been documented. At least two out of the three parts of the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll triumvirate can pose serious risks to those who choose to indulge to excess. However, it would be a falsehood to say they are completely devoid of glamour. The idea of being elegantly wasted and having numerous encounters with hot members of the opposite sex is one that a lot of musicians find appealing, and I'd dare say a big reason a lot of people picked up an instrument or a microphone in the first place.
However, I'd like to talk about a health issue that is considerably less glamorous than the ones I mentioned above, but one that can make sex almost impossible, drugs a damn near necessity (and no, not those kinds of drugs) and rock ’n’ roll a heck of a lot less fun. I am talking about low back pain. Now before you tune out and think it can't happen to you, allow me to point out one of the primary causes of skeletal problems: a sedentary lifestyle. This means a whole lot of sitting down and not much moving, a situation those of us who embark on long van tours are intimately familiar with. This doesn't just apply to those of us who spend hours in a van driving from show to show, but I do think that as a group, us touring folks are overlooked when it comes to being made aware of how common an issue this is, how challenging it can be to deal with and how easy it is to stack the deck in our favor when it comes to prevention.
On any given day, we spend hours seated in a cramped van or airline seat. Compound that with loading heavy gear on and offstage, and, in the case of guitar and bass players, standing onstage with the weight of your instrument supported by only one shoulder, and you have a recipe for some serious lower back issues down the line. One of the biggest problems with low back pain is that oftentimes, you won't realize the damage is being done until it’s too late. Current statistics show that nearly 80 percent of adults are living with some type of low back pain, ranging from damn annoying to damn near insufferable, and the real tragedy is 99 percent of it could have been prevented with some simple, workable strategies that can be done pretty much anywhere.
Here are some solutions that will help guard against you becoming another statistic in the war against pain. Take care of your back, and it will certainly take care of you.
GET UP, STAND UP
The first and simplest strategy is to get moving. At least 10 minutes out of every hour, stand and move. Get out of the van, take a walk, shake your body out, stretch out a little bit. This alone can make a big difference to your spinal happiness while on the road. This also applies to flights, backstage and anywhere you remain sitting for a prolonged period. Your body is an amazing machine that will do whatever you ask it to. If you ask it to sit down for hours on end, it will certainly accommodate you by shortening and tightening certain muscles while letting others go slack and weak–which is exactly what we want to avoid letting happen.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN
The next line of defense would be to add a few basic exercises to your daily regimen of sleeping, eating and rocking out. None of these require a gym, and all can be performed in less than 15 minutes pretty much anywhere. I am going to be brief in regards to descriptions of the exercises, but I certainly invite you to seek out other resources (YouTube, Google, etc.) to dig a little deeper into the correct way to perform them and possible variations you may find to your liking. Perform them in order, and don't forget to breathe.
1. The Plank
This perennial favorite of yogis everywhere will certainly help strengthen the areas we need to address. It's simple, fairly painless, and is a great way to impress chicks at parties. (Okay I made the last part up).
Tighten your glutes and suck your belly button into your spine (clench that gut and tighten that butt), and make sure to drive your heel behind you. Think about creating as much distance between your heels and the top of your head as you can. Start with trying to hold it for 30 seconds and then work up to 2 minutes over time.
2. Opposite Arm/Leg Raise
As with the plank, make sure to tighten up (gut and butt), and hold each position for a slow five count. Also, think of reaching as far as you can with both your raised heel and your raised hand—lengthen and strengthen. Eight times on each side is a good starting place. Work up to 12 reps per side.
3. Ab Crunches
It’s likely you have done these before, but here’s a tip: Before starting your crunches, make sure to lift your hip an inch or so off the ground until you feel your entire spinal column resting on the floor. From there, it’s a simple matter of trying to make the space between your bottom rib and your hip as small as possible by raising your shoulder blades off the ground. 20 reps is a great goal to start with, with a two-second hold at the top of each rep.
4. The Bridge
Squeeze your butt at the top position and holding for a slow five count. Aim for 16 reps.
5. Figure 4 Stretch
For some of you with tight glutes, this can a rough ride so start slowly. Aggressive stretching should be avoided, so take it easy. Mild discomfort is okay; pain is not.
6. Easy Hamstring Stretch
This is a pretty straightforward move, just remember: Rather than thinking about bending forward, think more about pulling your butt back and away. As with the above stretch, take it easy!
7. Butterfly Stretch
Place your feet together like the pages of an open book, and use your elbows to gently push your upper thighs toward the floor. Once you develop a comfortable range of motion over time, start trying to bend forward at the waist and enjoy the feeling of tightness caused by the long van ride to the show just drifting away.
These movements are just the tip of the iceberg, but they’re a good place to start. As you can see, they don't require any significant space or equipment and will cause minimal fatigue. Other things you can do would be to stay physically active when you’re off tour: find a sport, join a gym, practice yoga, hike. Anything that gets your body moving will certainly have a positive effect on not only your physical but also your mental and spiritual health as well. If you have any questions, you can shoot me an email at [email protected], and I'll be happy to help. I don't want to see more people live a life in pain when it is so easily preventable.