Writing from her own 35+ year experience as a Group Exercise Instructor, AIF’s Annette Chatterton looks at how instructors can protect their voices during classes, based on her own experience with vocal damage.
As Group Exercise Instructors, our verbal communication is paramount to delivering a great class. Our voice is vital for cueing technique, form, direction and counting down, as well as motivation and entertainment.
We will often talk throughout the entire class, while exercising, but when the heart rate is high, the demand for oxygen increases and we have less breath to project our voice.
Healthy vocal cords align to produce clear sounds. If the vocal cords are swollen, obstructed or even slightly damaged they will not align 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 even surgery may be necessary.
So what are your options for reducing strain on the vocal cords?
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, due to loud music, background noise and poor acoustics. Doing so increases the potential for vocal strain. In some classes, such as aqua, boot camp and circuit, instructors don’t always even have access to a microphone, which places considerable strain on their vocal cords.
If a microphone cannot be used, it’s even more important to adopt the following practices.
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 muscles. When these muscles are warm and working well, annunciation is clearer and the class better understands the words being spoken. Warm up the vocal cords by singing the vowels out loud with long deep breaths.
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.
A head cold, sinusitis, laryngitis or the flu mean there will be some inflammation of the larynx and more mucus on the vocal cords. If the nose is blocked, there will also be no space for the sound to resonate. To be heard you would likely try to increase your volume and perhaps yell, which will strain your already inflamed vocal cords.
Attempt to give minimal verbal cues and more visual cues in order to protect your voice. Try giving the verbal cues when the music is lower, or when there is less background noise. You can even turn the volume of your music down, so you can be heard more clearly.
Sip water throughout the class to keep your vocal cords hydrated. Avoid dehydrating liquids like coffee, caffeinated drinks and alcohol, and avoid throat lozenges too. While soothing, they can also dehydrate the vocal cords. Even spicy food can cause throat irritation that strains the vocal cords.
In your personal life, try and protect your voice by avoiding screaming at sporting matches, shouting over loud music at nightclubs or yelling at your partner or children (this last one is also useful for a more harmonious home!)
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, to rest it.
The Fitness Coach course (SIS30315 Certificate III in Fitness) from AIF teaches the essential skills needed to launch your fitness career, with added specialisations in Group Exercise and Gym Instructor. Click here to find out more.
Annette is the Founding Director of the Australian Institute of Fitness SA/NT. She has been an active Coach and Fitness Presenter for over 35 years. Her interests lie in aqua fitness, personal training, triathlons, skiing and sports coaching.