Do you have vocal stamina? How to build it and avoid losing your voice in lockdown and beyond
At the moment we are all using our voices online, perhaps for many hours a day. This can be a real challenge to your vocal stamina and you may find that your voice lets you know when it has had enough. You might notice loss of vocal flexibility or perhaps feel tired and hoarse.
It’s odd isn’t it how many would build stamina carefully for any serious physical pursuit e.g. running or swimming, but not for voice use. Yet, your voice is a physical system dependent on muscle co-ordination and body energy.
What is vocal stamina?
Stamina is the ability to keep going at an activity without deterioration of performance over a period of time. In terms of your voice this would translate into having good function by the end of the day. If you notice loss of clarity, volume, range or comfort then you might benefit from building your vocal stamina.
Why might you lack stamina?
You can lack vocal stamina, this ability to keep voicing effectively, for a number of reasons:
- Your habitual speaking or singing is not efficient: i.e. your vocal folds are working harder than they need to or the system is out of balance.
- Your age: Children and young adults have developing voices. They don’t have the same size, structure or capability of adult voices and therefore will also have less stamina. Older people will notice different vocal capabilities than when they were younger. This is a natural result of the ageing process. This doesn’t mean that younger or older people can’t use their voices well, they just need to use them appropriately.
- Vocal loading and fatigue: If you use your voice for too many hours or at too great a volume, it will eventually tire. If you carry on beyond this point, your voice will suffer. Stamina means that you may go on longer than those without it, but eventually you still need to rest. See my blog on tired voice for more info.
- Lack of basic voice care: Knowing how to take care of your voice is important for everyone but becomes vital when you use your voice for many hours a day. For ideas on how to do this why not download my free pdf, Looking After Your Voice.
- Lack of technique: This links to point one (above) really. Ineffective technique will put your voice under strain and it will lack stamina as a result.
- Lack of appropriate exercise: Your voice depends on your general body health. You need your body muscles, your breathing system and of course your voice box (larynx) itself to speak or sing. Your larynx and vocal folds are made of muscle, cartilage and soft tissue, just like other body systems. So, you need to warm up your voice, exercise it appropriately and build technique and stamina gradually, just like you would for running a race!
The vocal marathon
In our muscles we have a mixture of slow -twitch and fast-twitch muscle fibres, for endurance and fast response respectively. This mix is genetic. What does this mean? Well basically, some people are designed to be marathon runners whilst others are more suited to sprinting!
So, when it comes to vocal stamina people will vary. This is why it is important to know how your voice responds in different situations. Then you can use exercises to build its stamina in a safe and appropriate way for you. Going back to my analogy, the marathon runner and the sprinter will train differently. If you put a sprinter straight into a marathon they will injure themselves. Even with training they may not manage it or need to take frequent breaks.
Are you giving yourself a vocal marathon every day without proper technique and preparation? If so then you may suffer:
- Hoarse or dry voice
- Aching, tight throat
- Loss of vocal range
- Loss of volume and control of your voice
Take some time now to assess how your voice is doing. Check up on basic vocal care and put it into practice. Make sure that you see a doctor if you have pain, or any of the above symptoms persistently (two weeks).
Building vocal stamina
Warm up your voice and body before use and cool it down at the end of the day, just as you would for any form of exercise.
Build up gradually to greater or longer activity and use a mixture of fast and slow exercises that are appropriate for your voice.
Rest up! Take a break half way through your day, your concert, practice or performance and stay well hydrated. After using your voice for a long time rest it and then use it gently for active recovery.
If you’re unsure of how to do this and would like to explore further please do get in touch. You can also follow me on Linkedin or Facebook for daily ideas, or sign up for monthly top tips in my newsletter.
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