Protect Your Vocal Cords, Project Your Voice
Music with rockin’ beats draws energy to fitness classes. It’s a form of instant motivation when you hear the tunes as the instructor belts out commands that move to the beat. It’s like performing a ‘movement concert’ in a room filled with an audience that follows your every lead.
As an instructor, there’s an energy you get from your students that inspires you to vocally command the room while dishing out a great workout. This is a wonderful attribute we possess, but sharing our skills with good cuing over the loud beats is a recipe for vocal cord damage that could occur over time.
Instructors, you should understand the importance of projecting your voice during your classes. A projected voice, especially for high-energy classes such as boot camps, spinning and kickboxing, will bring out your passion and confidence, and will get your class fully engaged.
The vocal cords should function like a synchronized beat, just like the music. When they become strained, the cords strike at uneven times creating a vocal health hazard. This can be quite painful. The voice can become raspy or it could develop into no voice at all. Seriously, this is not a fun experience. Especially if you like to talk.
It’s absolutely critical for you to know that projecting your voice the right way is not to shout louder. Incorrectly shouting while you teach can eventually strain and can ultimately damage your vocal cords. To protect your voice health, you must learn the correct use of your diaphragm to project your voice effectively.
The diaphragm is an umbrella shaped muscle, which lurks at the bottom of your stomach above your belly button. The strength of the speaking voice is marked by the amount of air that can be steered by the diaphragm through the lungs to the vocal cords.
Tips for Vocal and Class Communication
Learning about vocal cord damage from someone who has experienced it creates the awareness of its hazards. Speaking is something we just do, right? Unless you are a trained singer or speaker, no one really teaches you how to properly use or project your sweet vocals. We just carry on doing what we do best; teach skillful movements, cue the class, and give our students a great workout.
Here are a few tips and suggestions I believe have helped me along the way, especially since I have experienced this dreadful and serious condition.
CREATE LABELED SIGNS
If you teach a high intensity boot camp or interval circuit style class, I suggest taking the time to make labeled signs of the exercises performed in the workout. This is not only helpful for you to quickly explain the exercises once for the workout, but it’s also helpful for your students to remember what you instructed them to do when they cycle through the stations.
Chances are, when you initially explained the workout, they probably didn’t hear you or weren’t paying attention to what you said. So, stations with labeled signs will help you instruct the workout and keep it flowing while providing personal attention without having to scream to the whole class.
PROJECT YOUR VOICE
Learn to speak efficiently and effectively by projecting your voice across the room. Sounds travel and can be lost as your position in the class changes. Therefore, be sure to speak to the students, not to the walls.
Have you ever taken a class where the instructor uses their voice as if they are telling a story? The deflection of how the words are spoken can be inspiring to the student. This is an important skill that comes with practice. Calmer classes such as yoga, Pilates, Barre or stretching workouts work best with this type of voice tones.
MIC IT UP
Teaching with a reliable microphone is a game changer for you and your classes. It’s the perfect solution to be easily heard without having to scream over loud music. It allows you to float around the room cuing and correcting without disrupting the classes flow. Not only is it better for your students to hear you, but it’s also better for your vocal health.
I used to teach outdoor water aerobics to a group of women. They would chitchat, bounce around, and be more into their social discussions than into the exercises. It was tough for me to project my soft voice over 24 chatty women out in the open.
Over time, I developed vocal chord nodules that became quite painful. I had the option to get surgery and heal for 4 months or to completely rest my voice and not speak for 4 months. I chose to not speak and go to vocal therapy after. It was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do and yes, I had to take a break from teaching.
I am sharing this story with you because this is very common with instructors. They tend to ignore the issue or fight through it without stepping back to realize their body is breaking down and needs rest.
There are many different types of microphones on the market now that are wireless and portable. I highly suggest investing in your own so that you are always prepared and your health is prioritized. I also suggest carrying your own batteries in case the microphone quits mid class.
Have you ever taken a class where the instructor’s tone of voice went through different vocal points throughout the workout? For example, the class starts with a strong burst of happy energy, then as the class picked up, the vocals got louder and that sweet happy voice turned into a screaming drill sergeant dictating your every move? Then, as the class concluded, the voice turned into an extra sweet, soft whisper that was calmer to the personality of the instructor?
This does occur and if you are one of these instructors who tries to give different energy throughout the class, be aware of how you sound to your students. There is a way to fluctuate your voice in different tones without changing it drastically to reflect a certain enthusiasm of the class without sounding like a multi-personality nut. (I mean this kindly).
Personal Story: I love to take other peoples classes. It allows me to move with purpose without having to think of what to do. But it can be frustrating to take a class that wastes my time and I end up feeling like I need to do more.
One class, in particular, I enjoy taking is Barre. The class, music, and instruction are always good, but I have to say there are some instructors that do this ‘multi-personality’ voice tone thing and I know they don’t even realize they do it. If you can relate, just be mindful that it is a real ‘thing’ that occurs. Perhaps only instructors pick up on this, but I bet our students do too!
To enlighten myself, and possibly you too, I have categorized these personalities that occur during some classes. Take note, be aware, and have a little laugh…
The Whisperer: calms his/her voice to an unrecognizable tone so that you almost cannot hear them. It’s a completely different voice and tone than the actual workout.
The Screamer: yells out commands at a super high pitch and demands certain movements. If a microphone is used as well, this can be very disruptive to the workout rather than motivating.
The Drill-sergeant: bossy, direct and on a mission to make you work and work hard. The participant is almost scared – if they don’t do their best they will be sentenced to 20 push-ups.
The Singer: the instructor seems to be having their own dance party on the microphone by singing the song and trying to instruct. Let the music be sung by the artist and use the beat to create your movement art.
The Rapper: this instructor cues to the beat of the music as if they are rapping the instructions. If you have experienced this, you know what I’m sayin’…
The Counter: counting down is a great form of motivation and can help transition into the next exercise. But when the majority of the class is spent counting, it can be daunting and boring, plus the tone of voice can get drawn out. Finding the right balance of instructing and counting comes with practice and teaching experience.
I find that the most effective instructors are those who communicate by using deliberate words that the class can hear, understand and be motivated to follow. The more you talk the less the class will listen, so choose your words wisely, deliver important points and stick with those points throughout the class. It is amazing to see how well a class responds when it synchronizes with your clear message. The way you speak during your classes will allow your students to be engaged with your every word.
Cranking up the music to get the energy going definitely motivates and provides a great class experience. But if no one can hear what you’re saying and your own health becomes jeopardized, how effective is it? Hopefully, these tips will help you safely and effectively execute a great class in different settings but by protecting your health first so you can teach for years to come.
Cheers to strong vocal health!
About the Author
Maria Sollon Scally MS, CSCS holds a Masters Degree in Performance Enhancement/ Injury Prevention and Kinesiology. She has obtained numerous certifications in various areas of fitness and is a national conference presenter. Maria specializes in Pilates, Performance Coaching, and Corrective Exercise Techniques and Kettlebells. She is the creator of the Plyo Pilates Method and has developed a series of amazing workout DVDs. She is a Master Trainer for Total Gym, Resist-a-Ball, Body Blade, Peak Pilates, Kettle Bell Concepts and is a free lance writer for Fitness accredited magazines, news letters, and fitness blog sites. Maria demonstrates her knowledge each day and uses her dynamic creativity throughout her specialized line of work.
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