By Noël Nocciolo and Ashley FitzSimmons-Olsen, Special FBA Contributors
Ahhhh rest: what a magical four-letter word. With “self-care rituals” being the buzziest of wellness buzzwords the past few years, many have leaned-in, to various degrees, to the idea of mentally re-setting in order to create more rest in their lives. The Calm meditation app alone saw 100 million downloads worldwide as of August 31, 2021.
We rest our bodies to be ready for our training sessions in the gym and to make up for whatever coffee cannot achieve for us. (Just kidding, of course!) We know, logically, that ample rest sets athletes up for prime success in their training plans. There are apps (and wearables) for that, too.
We know that mental and physical rest help us to do well personally and professionally. We’ll add one more kind of rest to that; vocal rest.
As we shared in a previous article, Research shows us that anywhere from 55% to 79% of group fitness instructors surveyed across several studies have self-reported symptoms or diagnoses of vocal problems, as compared to 30% of the general population (Davis, 2020; Fontan et al., 2017; Roy et al., 2005; Rumbach, 2013a). Vocal health is an often overlooked yet critical aspect of career longevity in fitness professionals.
Because personal trainers and group fitness instructors rely on being able to speak in order to garner income, they are considered professional voice users.
Here are 2 simple things fitness coaches (professional voice users!) may start doing today that will drastically improve their longevity.
Take vocal naps
Yes, they are exactly what you think! For every 1 hour you speak, take 15 minutes to be quiet - a vocal nap.
Do you teach in an environment where you arrive early from another gym or “day job” to prepare your studio space for members? This is a great opportunity to take a vocal nap before checking your mic (more on why mics are crucial for a long career here) and warming up your voice. Do you dance around the space, like we do, while checking your music levels and prepping for a positive experience with members? Use the opportunity to take a vocal nap. Do you reset your equipment and the space between classes? Take a vocal nap while multi-tasking!
While commuting between or after classes, rather than making phone calls or singing along with your playlist as you review it, could you take 15 minutes to rest your voice with a vocal nap?
Because simple does not mean easy, we know this may not be the easiest thing to do consistently right off the bat, and we’ve been there, too. Start with 5 minutes, if you need to, and work up to 15 minutes; something is never nothing and consistency will indeed be key. You could consider alternative means of communication during these vocal naps, like writing notes or text messaging, instead of speaking; however, we believe quiet, reflective time is refreshing in other ways, too.
If you are a coach who works another 9-5 job where you’re giving presentations to colleagues, AND you teach group fitness part-time, a vocal nap will be your new favorite act of self-care.
We like to think of budgeting our voice use, or vocal cash, just like we budget our spending. Every day, there are things that require us to spend our vocal cash, like teaching classes or working a different job where we talk all day. There are also activities that we don’t need to do that drain our vocal cash, like making long phone calls or going out for happy hour at a noisy bar. These daily activities add up and can ultimately wreck your vocal budget and contribute to vocal damage, which can have a major impact on your actual cash flow and career longevity. This is not to say that socializing and catching up with friends and family are not important activities, but perhaps these activities could take place on days when your vocal cash is not spent on professional voice use.
Indoor cycle instructor trainer, consultant and founder of Authentic Instructor Training, Tash Marshall Bean learned about vocal rest and budgeting vocal cash in a very hard way: “I've been teaching group fitness since 2005. When I taught Les Mills formats, I was told I had a strong and loud voice, which was both good and bad! In 2009, I developed a vocal nodule and kept having to take vocal rests. Six weeks off, then went back to teach for a short time and would lose my voice again even quicker, so another vocal rest! That went on for a year...until they decided to do surgery in late 2010. It was a really tough time as I lost income and rehabbing my injury to lock-in good voice hygiene took even more time.”
Group fitness instructors know the important role hydration plays in supporting health and wellness in all systems of the body. The voice is one of those systems!
Hydrated vocal folds are able to vibrate more efficiently. We can hydrate the voice systemically by drinking water throughout the day. Aim to drink at least half your body weight in ounces daily, and more when you’re exercising or exposed to heat and dry climates. Keep in mind, the water you drink will take about 3-4 hours to begin hydrating the systems of your body, so you’ll want to get ahead of your hydration. We can also provide our vocal folds with topical hydration using personal humidifiers or nebulizers for fast-acting hydration when you need hydration immediately.
If you teach the rooster-class in the morning, be sure you’re hydrating well the night before. If you teach in the evening, hydration is key throughout the day, and even moreso if you drink an afternoon coffee, as caffeine can dehydrate the vocal folds.
Sometimes, the most difficult part of implementing a new routine is getting started. We tell members that small changes lead to transformations and the same is true for voice self-care. Looking out for your voice now will help prevent injury in the long run, and you’ll be able to enjoy a long career on your own terms. Remember, no one can pour from an empty cup!
Noël Nocciolo, seasoned instructor and successful industry consultant, travels the world creating boutique indoor cycling programs & advising studio owners. Noël developed a passion for helping instructors focus on vocal performance after hearing voice damage worldwide, as well as after once hearing her own class video and realized she was mimicking another instructor rather than coaching as her own authentic self. Leveraging her performing background, 15 creative years in NYC and extensive resume, she provides simple education and tangible tools that significantly improve an instructor’s class.
Ashley FitzSimmons-Olsen, M.S., CCC-SLP worked professionally as a performer and taught theater and dance, and is now a licensed, certified speech-language pathologist, having worked in a variety of settings as a speech-language pathologist treating communication disorders across the lifespan.