The Fitness Zone
Annette Chatterton from the Australian Institute of Fitness SA offers advice on how Instructors can protect their voices in group fitness classes. She writes from her own experience of over 30 years as a Group Instructor and having vocal damage for 6 months.
As Group Exercise Instructors, our verbal communication is paramount to a great class. Our voice is vital to cue technique, form, direction, counting down, motivation and entertainment. Often we talk the entire class while we exercise, but when the heart rate is high, the demand for oxygen increases and we have less breath to project our voice. So what are our options?
Most Group Exercise Instructors are able to project their voice with the use of a microphone. However, some instructors still yell, or at least raise the volume of their voice. With loud music, background noise and poor acoustics, the potential for vocal strain increases.
Some classes like aqua, boot camp and circuit don't even have access to a microphone, so the strain on those trainer's vocal cords is high.
Healthy vocal cords align together to produce clear sounds. If the vocal cords are swollen, obstructed or even slightly damaged they will not align together properly and the voice will sound husky, be hoarse or weak, have low volume, break or even fail (losing your voice).
Vocal strain can develop into nodules. If nodules develop then resting the voice, retraining the voice and perhaps surgery may be necessary.
- Do vocal warm-ups. A vocal warm-up is just as important as a musculo-skeletal warm-up for a Group Exercise Instructor. Start with large mouth movements to improve the elasticity of the facial muscle. When these muscles are warm and working well annunciation is clearer and the class better understands the words. Warm up the vocal cords by singing the vowels out loud with long deep breathes.
- Practise deep breathing. Put your hands on the outside of your rib cage to feel the expansion of the diaphragm. Attempt to breathe deeply throughout the class rather than taking short shallow breaths.
- Avoid instructing when you are ill. A head cold, sinusitis, laryngitis or the flu mean there will be some inflammation of the larynx and more mucus on the vocal cords. Also, if the nose is blocked there is no space for the sound to resonate. To be heard you will try to increase your volume and perhaps yell. This will strain already inflamed vocal cords.
- Try to give minimal verbal cues and attempt more visual cues to protect your voice. Try giving the verbal cues when the music is lower or when there is less background noise. Even turn the volume of your music down, so you can be heard more clearly.
- Sip water throughout the class to keep the vocal cords hydrated. Avoid dehydrating liquids like coffee, caffeinated drinks and alcohol, and avoid throat lozenges too. While soothing, they also dehydrate the vocal cords. Even spicy food can cause throat irritation that strains the vocal cords.
- Avoid screaming outside the studio. In your personal time try and protect your voice buy avoiding screaming at sporting matches, yelling at the children or your partner, and talking over very loud music at nightclubs.
If you have strained your vocal cords or lost your voice, or if your voice is deeper and huskier than usual, it's a good idea to seek professional advice and treatment with a speech therapist, and of course rest it.
About Annette Chatterton
Annette is the Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT. She has been an active Coach and Fitness Presenter for over 30 years. Her interests lie in aqua, personal training, triathlons snow skiing, and sports coaching.
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