Exercise for Reducing Bassist Injury Risk

Several months ago I produced an article for Bass Guitar Magazine on exercise for reducing bassist risk of injury, as the issue has passed and I own the copyright to the article I can now publish it online here with some additions, enjoy.

Exercise. In one word I can make many musicians cringe and want to cry inside, and I’m sure several have already skipped over to the next article in fear. But it’s something that benefits us all, and when done right should be fun, not a chore.

Plus when it comes to injury prevention there is a plethora of evidence covering a variety of musicians (ref), athletes (ref) and the general public showing that those that exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing aches and pains.

Before we get to the “bassist specifics” I want to be clear that there is no “bad” exercise. Providing we are ignoring the crazy YouTube sports like fireball soccer and train surfing (I have not made these up) most general mainstream exercise is beneficial for long term health, as long as you get to a point where your heart rate is increasing, you’re breathing heavier and sweating then you’re on the right track.

Yes, doing certain contact sports comes with an inherent risk of acute injuries, but providing it is in a safe and friendly environment there should no major concerns (I welcome anyone to come try the Judo club and MMA gym where I work).

Are certain exercise types better for injury prevention?

Yes. Resistance exercise to build muscle strength has been found to be the most effective at reducing injury risk.  The theory behind this is that it increases the tissues’ capacity to tolerate higher load demands and therefore is less likely to breakdown when increasing stress is applied. Cardiovascular exercise like running, swimming, cycling and most sports is beneficial for tissue health, but compared to strength or resistance training has a much lower effect on reducing injury risk. Stretching (something we are all brought up doing) has repeatedly been found to have minimal or no effect on reducing injury risk, as it does not increase tissue capacity at all (ref).

For bassists this means getting the upper body strong, as this is where most of our aches and pains occur. This doesn’t just mean doing bicep curls until the cows come home. Wrists, elbows, shoulders and the trunk should all be worked to build their tissue capacity. There is a plethora of effective upper body strengthening exercises, examples include; shoulder press, bent over rows & standing shoulder external rotation.

What if I have no equipment or money for a gym membership?

No worries. Calisthenic (body weight) exercise is effective at building muscle strength and endurance, requiring no specific equipment and can be done anywhere. Examples include; press ups, tricep dips & side plank.

What if I can’t be bothered?

I can’t force anyone to exercise, all I’ll say is that those who exercise regularly compared to those who don’t generally have lower amounts of cancer, stroke, heart attacks, dementia etc, as well as pain (ref). All I can do is give you the information, you make the decision if you want to live a longer and healthier playing career.

Have a nice day,

Ben.