Music to me is like breathing – I don’t get tired of breathing, I don’t get tired of music.” – Ray Charles
In the typical cross training scenario, an athlete supplements training regimens related directly to his or her primary sport with activities drawn from other athletic venues in order to apply their unique strategies – their drills and training regimens — for increasing qualities like strength-endurance, speed-endurance, muscle balance and flexibility. Equally important is the variety that cross-training provides, which helps to prevent burnout and boredom – keeping them genuinely interested in and enthusiastic about continuing to hone their craft.
For a runner, this might mean supplementing a standard training program with some outdoor sessions on the bike, skis or paddle board or indoors on an elliptical trainer or a rowing machine. Deep water running is a very effective form of cross training as is lap swimming in the pool. A well conceived weight training program is all part of it. Taking yoga, tai-chi, Feldenkrais or dance classes is appealing to many.
Then if we extend the notion of cross-training to include working with the mind as well as the body, one might add sitting, lying and standing meditations, visualization practice or relaxation strategies into the mix. Who doesn’t want to relax more?
There’s really no need to limit your conception of comprehensive fitness to the gym, pool or ashram however.
Classical Singer & Elite Athlete
Now even with all the cross-training possibilities available for a runner, would it occur to you to include opera singing among them? Perhaps not, but as it turns out, the converse is indeed true: a growing number of opera singers are using distance running as a form of cross-training.
And why? – Because knowing how to breathe properly is a crucial part of becoming adept as an opera singer; and this same skill happens also to be central to the art of running marathons. And singing — like running (or any athletic endeavor) — requires focus, stamina, flexibility, endurance, determination and adaptability. Staying physically fit, having long-term commitment to the refinement process, and working productively with a coach are important equally to both art forms: running and singing.
In Why Classical Singers Are Like Elite Athletes, we meet opera singer Lauren Fagan, who ran the London Marathon, and also stays fit with yoga and spin classes. She uses these activities not only to stay physically healthy, but also to take her mind off of singing — even if only for an hour – a change of pace that allows her to return to opera training with a newly refreshed body and mind.
And then there’s Metropolitan Opera soprano Lisette Oropisa – who completed the Pittsburgh Marathon (with a personal-best time!) the morning after her debut in the French opera, Daughter of the Regiment. Here she sings the praises of her cross-training choice:
“Running has made me more confident, more fit, my breathing is deeper. My connection to my whole body has improved.”
In short, Oropisa has discovered that running helps her singing, and singing helps her running: It’s a relationship of mutual enhancement. This same discovery has been made by Susanna Phillips Huntington: an independent opera singer soprano who completed the New York City Marathon. She sees clearly the importance, for singing as well as running, of knowing how to breathe properly; and has noticed improvements not only in her breathing, but also in stamina and body awareness, since taking up running.
Now there are (as one would expect) some differences in the optimal body type, for distance runners and opera singers, which Ms. Huntington points out:
“Good physical conditioning is essential for opera as well as for marathons. While the best marathon runners are often sinewy and whittled down, all bone and muscle for maximum bodily efficiency, opera singers depend on larger frames to sustain the volume and resonance their voices need.”
Though every once in a while, one comes across a professional singer who happens also to be a highly accomplished runner: with a typical runner’s body. Opera singer (Baritone) and singing coach Christopher Holloway is just such a person – and he has devised a series of breathing exercise that are equally beneficial for singers and runners. To runners, he offers this friendly advise: Breathe like a singer!
And one might also add: Run with singing feet!