The Contrast

The Contrast
Lift Big, Sing Big, Look Great Doing It.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Lifting for Singers

The following was written as a guest writer for a friends vocal blog. We met on the internet. It's a better love story than twilight, always will be. 

Joe is a highly motivated individual who has a knack for the writing game and enjoys sharing the information he's learned on his blog We don't meet eye to eye on everything (we had a nice little back and forth about paleo diets the other day), but what he does say he backs with information and an educated view point. I highly suggest you go check out his blog, give it a look, and like I say with everything I put on my own blog, take the information and look for more. Nobody has all the answers, so take one persons knowledge and ideas and formulate your own. You can check out his blog Here.

Alright, here we go...

Some of you are first time readers, so allow me to introduce myself a bit. I'm Kasey Yeargain, The Opera Bro. This past year I've made some radical changes to my physique while maintaining my voice and beginning my professional opera career.

May 2012 - June 2014

I'm a fitness enthusiast with a taste for scientific based knowledge and I'm here to blast away the bull shit and bro science that is fed to you by the media, the local YOLO bros at your gym, the supplement companies, and also your well meaning educators who think you can't sing well if you've got a six pack. 

Before you read further, here's a video of me singing as of last weekend (6/12/14.) If you think I suck and don't think I have any room to talk, feel free to ignore what I have to say. I care not. I know what methods work for muscle gain and weight loss, and I know that I preserved, if not improved my instrument during the process. I don't need to prove myself, but I will help those that are interested.

Every time I meet a new group of singers who see and hear about my progress, I get a few requests about lifts that are "safe" for opera singers (as if there are lifts that specifically require the larynx.) I think they assume that barbells kill your voice or that doing direct ab work will fuck up their breathing. Frankly, the exercises themselves are all safe, and in fact they should be beneficial to your health, your voice, and your career.

*Warning: If you look like you lift, directors will make you lift, catch and carry your cast mates. Which you may or may not feel like doing, especially if you're like Ol' Yeargain and doing high frequency Deadlifts and then have to lift your colleagues in three different shows in repertory.*

Heavy compounds with Emphasis on breathing

These are the lifts that I recommend:

Bench Press
Bent Over Row
Overhead Press
Chin Ups (ideally weighted)
Dips (ideally weighted)

These lifts are good for everybody, but this is especially beneficial for singers with aesthetic and health goals. These lifts provide the most benefit to your overall body development, your metabolic rate, and the musculature of your singing.

Overall Body Development

There is a reason why these lifts are called "compound lifts." It's because they require multiple muscle groups (usually all of them) to execute them correctly. You won't have to section off your week to hit each individual muscle group per day. If you ever catch yourself doing an "arm day," you are a fool and you are wasting your time. You will get better results focusing on building up your strength in these movements and it will benefit your overall health. Also, you will be much more symmetrical, aesthetic, god and goddess like with these kinds of movements.

Time efficiency

You'll no longer have to do 3 sets of 12 reps for everything, hitting 3 different bicep curls to stimulate growth. One good heavy set of weighted chins or bent over rows will do most of the work, but if it's still lagging that's what assistance work is for. More on that in a sec...

Building up metabolic capacity

One of the things that is inconvenient about being an opera singer is the occasional food related obligation: dinner with donors, after parties, inconvenient rehearsal times, lots of rehearsal treats that are shared with gusto. Now, you can be anal about what you eat and in what quantity and say "no thank you," or you could train to accommodate for such food obstacles that show up.

Doing these big lifts will drain you, but it will also build up your muscle mass, elevating your metabolic rate and thus give you the ability to eat lots of tasty foods without getting hella fat. You will create a metabolic system that want's to build muscle, store glycogen in your muscle bellies and to burn fat.

Musculature of your singing


Now, I'm not a pedagogue, I don't have a degree in pedagogy, and I will not act like I am an authority in the ways of the voice. However, I have experienced several lessons and coachings from various teachers and authorities, so I'm familiar with the general lingo discussed amongst these groups.

Think about the mechanisms required by singing. Now think about the kind of imagery asked by your teacher, or what kind of muscle engagement they ask from you. It's almost always about connecting your voice to your breathe, your body, to physical, mechanistic things that can be replicated outside of the practice room...Sounds a lot like weight lifting to me.

I won't speak about other peoples techniques because I don't know what absurd garbage people like to do or think about while singing, I just know what works for me. I was taught to use my back muscles for expansion, support and to use techniques such as chest compression, engaging rectal muscles and the like from varying teachers. I've always been a very lat, back dominated lifter and singer, so I can generally generate a lot of energy and power via those muscles, which I do with gusto (sometimes too much: i.e pushing.)

I'm not saying that a person should sing with my "technique" but what I am saying is that understanding the feeling of those muscles can give you options to explore. And for those of you who say that building muscle on these areas will cause you to push is like saying that every time I pick up a kitten and cradle him in my arms that I'm going to crush the life out of him because I can do bicep curls with 150lbs. You have more control over your anatomy than you think.


Now, breathe is of the utmost importance...but not just for singing. It's also for lifting.

Now, in this video he talks about breathing low, deep into the diaphragm, creating a cushion of support and air in your "core." He doesn't say locking your breathe in your chest, or your throat or bellowing to get that rep up.

I've personally used the imagery of making sure that the breathe is being contained from the neck down so I don't make a habit of pushing upwards with my breathe. 

However, if your vocal apparatus is very sore or degraded due to illness, extreme excessive use, then something as simple as a poorly placed sneeze can cause you to hemorrhage, and if it's something you're truly concerned about, DON'T lift heavy on those days where your vocal health is very bad. They say the same thing with lifters who are sick. Don't lift really heavy or you'll just prolong your illness because of the strain on your central nervous system.


Here is a Basic Weight Training Routine:

Workout A:

Main Work-
  • Squat 5x5
  • Bench 5x5
  • Bent Over Row 5x5
Optional Assistance Work -
  • Chin Ups 3x4-12
  • Bicep Curl 3x10
  • Skull Crusher 3x10

Workout B:

Main Work -
  • Squat 5x5
  • Overhead Press 5x5
  • Deadlift 1x5

Optional Assistance Work -
  • Dips 3x4-12
  • Face Pulls 3x10
  • Later Raises 3x10

You should alternate these workouts. For example:

Typical 2 Weeks:
Monday: Workout A, Wednesday: Workout B, Friday: Workout A
Monday: Workout B, Wednesday: Workout A, Friday: Workout B

5x5 Means: Five sets of five reps each. On the lifts that are under these rep and set schemes, you should try to increase the weight on these lifts at least 5lbs a week. Many people follow this kind of program and find that their lifts increase exponentially, literally sailing into very exciting numbers.

Optional Assistance Work Means: The assistance work is just that - Assistance Work. Don't focus on getting your bicep curl to an absurd number, it won't do you any good in the long run. This is for building up those pretty boy (or girl) muscles. Frankly, you could replace any of these, with the exception of the pull ups and dips, with any exercise that's specific to the weak point you'd like to improve. I also like Glute Thrusts, Glute/Ham Raises, Close Grip Bench, Incline Bench, Decline Bench, Deficit Deadlifts, and stiff legged Deadlifts.

Strength Goals

When measuring progress, you have to consider your own physical anatomy. Those who are taller with longer arms (ME) are usually great with pulling motions, whereas shorter, more barrel chested individuals will be much more apt at pressing motions. Most people suck at squats initially, but the shorter legged individuals tend to take off faster. You should also watch your weight while on a strength program regardless of your goal. It's easy to add 10lbs to your bench, but if you're gaining 10lbs of fat at the same time, you're being counter productive towards your goals (aesthetically speaking.)

The following guidelines are good to guide yourself through your training and give you some pretty solid goals to work towards. This is from Martin Berkhan's article "Fuckarounditis." -

"Within two years of consistent training on a decent routine, the average male should be able to progress to the following levels of strength (1RM):

Strength Goals: Intermediate

Bench press: body weight x 1.2

Chin-ups or pull-ups: body weight x 1.2 or 8 reps with body weight.

Squat: body weight x 1.6

Deadlift: body weight x 2

These numbers are for a raw (no straps, belt or knee wraps) single repetition.

The progress towards the intermediate strength goals should be fairly linear, meaning that there should be no plateaus that cannot be solved in an uncomplicated manner. By "consistent" training I do not mean never missing a training day, nor do I consider taking 2-3 months off from training consistent.

By "decent training routine", I mean "not doing blatantly stupid shit" (training 5-6 days/week, 20-25 sets for chest and arms, etc.). I do not mean optimal and flawless."

For Females:

"For women in the 115-155-lb range, the corresponding advanced strength goals are 0.9 x body weight bench, 1.1 x body weight chin-up, 1.5 x body weight squat and 1.8 x body weight deadlift. Relative to men, women have much less muscle mass around the chest area and shoulder girdle (men have much higher androgen-receptor density in this particular area), but the lower body is comparatively strong to the upper body."


Things to avoid with your weight training:

I'm not gonna pull your chain and tell you it's all roses, this is hard work I'm recommending. It's a life style that will reap you immense rewards, but it does come with it's fair share of risks. However, it's not the fault of the weights, it's mostly by your own doing. So, here are some things to avoid.

Your programming should not interfere with your performance. 

You'll figure this out on your own what best works for you as far as workout timing and scheduling what days you should train. But firstly I recommend that you don't jump head first into a power lifting program and doing 20 sets of heavy squats right at the start of a contract. Your director will be pissed when you're moaning every time you bend over to pick up a rose. 

Ideally start a program two weeks to a month before a contract and start something you can maintain during the contract if not indefinitely. 

Don't do 1 rep maxes


Although it's always fun about "how much ya bench" it's completely unnecessary to ever test these barriers as a person with physique or vocal goals. In fact, pushing your body and ego to these limits literally can end your career. Drop a 200lb bar across your neck and see what happens to your vocal apparatus. 

Unnecessary Gym Noise

Calm down, Wotan. You don't need to blast an aria or scream your nuts (or ovaries, for my lady lifters) off every time you get underneath a bar. This is part of the "captain obvious" department, but it needs to be said. This is unneeded strain on your instrument, even if you feel that you're one of those rare, freak, indestructible voices.

Well, ladies and gentlemen, I hope this has been helpful. Until next time, do compound lifts, breathe smart, rage on high notes, and as always...

Lift Big, Sing Big, and Look Great Doing it.

The Opera Bro


  1. My background is extensive Olympic Weightlifting. But my Opera Teacher has just noticed that i am transferring my gym effort into my singing, stalling my progress. Specifically that i am closing false vocal folds and tensing neck/throat on higher notes ( higher for me that is lol).She would like me to consider quitting lifting.Would you have any tips please as i am only a beginner at Opera? Thanks if you can help in any way.

    1. Hey Colin- it all comes back to breath. Weight lifting if done with proper breath support will not harm your vocal development. If you find that at the gym you are holding your breath, or exhaling or inhaling with intense force- this could cause immense stress on your vocal folds. This also tightens the pharynx and then in turn the larynx, making a tight sound. Now in terms of high notes- that could also be a mental thing- perhaps not any relation to your gym work. But if you really are intentional about breath and specifically ease of breath- you should be good to go.
      This is like a year and a half after you needed this maybe youve already figured it out! I dont know! Hope everything is going well for you!

  2. The creator has made a fine showing with regards to changing the sentiments into words.
    get more info