By Luciana Marcial-Vincion, M.A. Exercise PhysiologyAs Spinning® instructors, we focus on delivering safe, effective and entertaining classes for our riders. We take measures to prevent overtraining and injury, particularly to our muscular system. But we tend to ignore one area of the musculature; the larynx and vocal folds (our throat’s voice production system). We use and abuse this area just as much as our other muscles during classes, but it receives almost no proper care or recovery time.If you teach an average of ten classes a week, you use your voice as much as a Broadway singer performing in a two-hour show that runs five times a week. Of course, Broadway singing professionals follow a strict vocal care regimen daily. Why shouldn’t you? If you are a fitness professional teaching several classes a week, you are a full-fledged candidate for vocal damage. Unless proper measures for prevention and care are implemented, you may be on the road to a vocal breakdown.Most vocal fold damage is not acute, so it is not immediately noticeable. So how does damage occur? The larynx is the throat area located just above the trachea (windpipe). Your vocal folds (voicebox) are housed in the larynx. The primary function of the vocal folds and the larynx is respiration and protection of the airways. Voice production is actually a secondary function.
Protecting Your Vocal ChordsThe cords are open when breathing. Otherwise they remain closed to restrict foreign objects, like your lunch, from slipping into the windpipe. This is why many people cough or choke while talking and swallowing food at the same time.To produce sound, the adductor laryngeal muscles bring the vocal folds to a somewhat closed position (not as tightly closed as when holding you’re breath or swallowing). The lungs must produce sufficient airflow to overcome the resistance of the closed cords. Using the diaphragm muscle is more efficient because it helps to generate this airflow with much more power with less effort. This air pressure begins to blow the vocal folds apart, creating a series of vibrating movements, which lead to the resonance of sound. Finally, actual voice production occurs when the sound travels to the mouth and nose, where the tongue, palate, cheek and lips all work together to create speech articulation.And this is where the trouble can start. This series of vocal cord vibrations can ultimately lead to damage if they are overused. If you use your voice too much or too loudly over time, friction between the vocal cords can cause the tissue to swell. Other damaging elements include teaching or screaming over loud music, not using a microphone, dusty rooms, dry throat or not staying hydrated, using harsh or high-pitched vocal ranges, and not using your diaphragm for proper airflow. Spinning‚ instructors encounter many of the elements mentioned above, and thus increase their chances of vocal fold tissue swelling. If left unattended, this swelling can lead to hoarseness or, more seriously, nodules or polyps.You want to stay away from nodules or polyps territory. Vocal nodules are callous formations on the cords, usually occurring as a bilateral symmetric swelling. Vocal polyps are isolated, usually larger, and typically occur on just one of the folds. Both conditions prevent the vocal cords from fully closing causing poor vocal quality and, in some situations, can be painful. Treatment for both of these conditions centers on voice therapy or a period of vocal rest. However, in cases that are not resolved by these means, surgery is often the next step. For singers or fitness instructors who depend on their voices for their livelihood, this is a nightmare! And although most nodules and polyps are benign, some tissue biopsy results do reveal malignancy.
So what can Spinning instructors do to help prevent damage?
- Get off the bike...spend more time teaching off the bike and giving one-on-one attention to those riders who need it. Getting up close and personal during Spinning class will give your voice a rest.
- Less is more--don’t feel compelled to speak every second of class. Giving your riders periods of silence lets them digest and reflect upon what you have already said and focus internally.
- Focus on creating diverse tones when coaching, like peaks and valleys. Not only will your class be more interested from a verbal perspective, but you will prevent overuse of the cords that occurs when using only one pitch or volume.
- Always use a microphone. Using a mic amplifies your voice and allows you to speak in a normal, conversational tone without straining the cords. Teaching without a microphone is like training without hydrating – it can be done, but not without detriment to performance levels and possibly long-term damage. No longer is it permissible for instructors to say “I have a loud voice, I don’t need a mic” or “It’s a small room, they can hear me.” You need a mic! Not just for you, but so your riders can hear you. You don’t want your riders to injure themselves because they couldn’t hear your safety cue.
Other tips to keep in mind:
- Don’t scream or yell while teaching.
- Avoid dusty, smoky or fume-filled areas.
- Drink plenty of fluids to keep the cords moist and hydrated.
- Avoid clearing your throat continually.
- Use the diaphragm muscle to generate proper airflow.
- Don’t speak in a pitch range that’s uncomfortable for you.
- Keep your environment humidified.