What is Music Strong? 

Music Strong is a niche business that offers Personal Fitness Training specifically for musicians.


How did Music Strong come to be? - Tell us a little bit about your background.

have always been interested in fitness, ever since I was a child. My grandfather was a Colonel in the Army National Guard and one of the fittest people I know and my Uncle was a USA Cycling Teach Coach and Massage Therapist so an interest in health and fitness runs in my family. I started working out in the gym in college and after graduate school I decided to challenge myself by entering a figure competition, which is basically a beauty competition rewarding muscular aesthetics. Unfortunately, I fell subject to myths and dogma and my health suffered for it so I decided to immerse myself into learning everything I possibly could about health and fitness. I was playing in the symphony and taking auditions while working a part time job at The Vitamin Shoppe and had so many people asking me for fitness advice I figured I should just go ahead and get a certification in personal training and see if I liked it. While practicing for an audition and trying to fight off injury one day it just occurred to me that I had never heard a presentation on fitness specifically for musicians and I came up with a presentation titled "From the Practice Room to the Weight Room: Basic Strength Training for Musicians".

I submitted this to the Florida Flute Association Convention and it was enthusiastically received. A woman there asked me if I traveled to give workshops - that there were lots of other people in her flute choir and area where she lived that played and could really benefit from my information. I started to study up and found out that musicians actually have the highest work injury rate of any profession: 90-95%! Polling my fellow musicians they concurred and I found out that almost everyone I asked had also been injured as a result of playing their instrument, myself included!

There is a real void in the instrumental world for musician-specific health training; I'm glad to see the admittance of injuries becoming more common and less stigmatized but let's face it; ours is a cut-throat world. If you get injured, there are 150 other flutist who are willing to do your job, so it's easier to keep the job and suffer than admit injury and possibly lose the gig. To me, this needs to change. There is such a shortage of knowledge in the music world about what really causes problems and what to do about it, and my goal is to empower every musician I meet with the knowledge they need to help themselves. For my clients, we focus on evening out their muscle imbalances and strengthening them over -all so they are well prepared to deal with the demands of playing and performing.


What is musician - specific strength training?

Musicians are in a unique category of athletes; Because they a may not be out of breath, huffing and puffing and red-faced from running or muscular effort we tend to not put them in the same category as other athletes. However, musicians, especially those who are instrumentalists, when they play tend to get locked in a static position for what can be hours at a time.  In addition to staying in one position for long amounts of time, the small muscles of the forearms can be subject to overuse injury through culumulative overuse.  Picture this: you are a guitar player: you get really into what you are doing and look up and 30-45 minutes has gone by.  Your back is stillf, your shoulders are sore, you realize you are hunched over the instrument and suddenly your body aches and you feel the need to stretch. Why? Because you have been locked into the guitar playing position without realizing it.

Musicians fitness is similar to fitness for those who have desk jobs, as they also tend to get locked into one position at a desk, hunched over a keyboard, etc.  What I do is corrective exercise, I try to prevent injury before it starts.  I find out what muscle imbalances you have and we work on releasing what is tight, activating what's weak and then incorporating strength moves to get you moving properly and strongly as a whole again.

For those in long rehearsal sessions or who live life on the road, I also go over healthy rehearsal techniques and methods for staying fit on the road.


Tell us about some common musician - related injuries and how they happen.

A few of the most common complaints of pain I see are around the shoulder blade, neck, wrist and lower back pain. Lots of musicians complain about tendonitis, carpal tunnel and muscle strains.  If you have one of these  injuries I urge you to see a medical professional first.  Each person is unique and so is their approach to playing their instrument, so I cannot give a one-size-fits-all injury list but what I can say is that most injuries are caused by muscle imbalance, poor body awareness and overuse. 

To keep from getting injured you must make it a priority to stay as balanced as possible. This might mean setting a timer during a rehearsal/practice session so that every 20 minutes you stop for a few minutes to do something else and rest.  If you are playing an instrument in the front of your body, this does not mean going to the computer to continue that posture. You know what I mean? Do something different.  Practice body awareness techniques.  Lie on the floor on your back with your knees up, notice any tension you have anywhere in your body, did you notice it was there before? What is tight? Does anything hurt?

If you know where you have muscle imbalances, work to strengthen what's weak and find a good massage therapist or ART practitioner who can release what's tight. So many musicians have tight chest muscles, this brings your shoulders forward which causes pain in your upper back/shoulders. Your pain is in your shoulders but the problem is in your chest. Use self-myofascial release with a lacrosse ball to find the knots or tender points in your chest and hold till they relax (this may take several times) and then stretch the muscle, THEN activate the shoulder muscles that are stretched on the back side.  I offer free assessments to everyone, so if you would like to find out what your specific muscle imbalances are, contact me to set up a time.  We can make a plan from there if you like.


If you had to tell a guitar player to do a specific exercise everyday in order to stay strong and healthy, what would you tell them to do?

Guitar players can have several problems or none at all. Every person is different, so without an assessment I can't tell you if this is what will work for you or not, but generally speaking, they play on one side of their bodies and tend to hunch over the instrument. This can mean that the muscles on that side can become tight, while the other side gets stretched and weak.  The chest muscles can be tight, abs on the playing side can be tight, pelvis muscles and hip flexors can be tight from sitting, while the other side is weak.  There are a few things I would suggest to guitar players: use a lacrosse ball to relax and release any tight points (or a good massage therapist), stretch what's tight (usually neck muscles, chest muscles and hip flexors) and try standing on one leg with the other foot next to the other for 1 minute several times a day and do planks, making sure to draw the belly button in towards the spine.


Tell us about the benefits of foam rolling.

Foam rolling to me is like the poor-man's massage: it's definitely not as good as being under the skilled hands of a trained professional, but better than nothing at all!  Foam rolling is also called "self-myofascial release".  If a muscle gets stuck in contraction it can form a "knot" and that will cause an imbalance with the muscles on the opposite side, causing them to be chronically stretched.  Foam rolling can help release these knots and restore range of motion to the muscle.  I have an article on my blog dediated to foam rolling if you would like more information.  It's a part of every program with each client and myself.  Invaluable!


Where can we find you during the week?

During the week you can find me at Next Level Strength and Conditioning in Hermitage, but I have other locations I use as well, Steps Fitness in West and Climb Nashville on Charlotte Pike.  I will be giving workshops at Climb Nashville in September, and hopefully a few other locations as well.  You can also find me in various schools, I teach flute lessons at Hume-Fogg High School, Lipscomb Academy, Christ Presbyterian Academ and in Columbia and Spring Hill. 


What else do we need to know about Angela McCuiston and Music Strong?

You can find more information about me and what I do at my website www.MusicStrong.com and on my Facebook page: www.Facebook.com/MusicStrong.   In addition to personal training, I travel to give workshops and am looking to give workshops on Strength Training for Musicians on a regular basis in the Nashville area. I'm also currently writing a book on Becoming Music Strong and I welcome any and all input from musicians on what injuries they have had, practice schedules, what has worked and what hasn't etc.  I'd love to train with you!