Tag Archives: health

Keep Calm

Staying Healthy and Fit: An Actor Exercises

Keep CalmWelcome back for our second part on health and fitness on the job.  In the last installment, I gave a very general overview of two of the three aspects I wanted to discuss, eating and sleeping. I did that on purpose, saving exercise for last, because if you get those first two concepts right, everything else becomes so much easier! But not giving them their due could result in wasted hours in the gym, poor results, and frustration.  And now without further ado…

Exercise on the Road

Or ship, or dinner theatre in the mountains of Alaska…

Many of you know that I’m a certified personal trainer as well as being an actor. So, here’s a chance for me to combine those two passions. I’ll start with a couple of caveats.

Number one, I don’t know anything about dance. My dance training ended…a long time ago. If you are a dancer, then you probably know what your body needs and when. Any advice or methodology I recommend going forward should be measured against what you know your body, and your job, requires.

Number two, I’m not a doctor nor a physical therapist. If you have an injury, you need the guidance of qualified professionals before considering anything I may suggest.

And number three, “fit” doesn’t mean “skinny.” Fitness truly comes in all shapes and sizes. The word fit means “able to do a task.” That’s it. Nothing more.

When I design an exercise program, it’s always tailored to the individual I am designing for. What I am offering now is a basic template, that I feel all exercise programs should include, and I will provide examples. You can use the template to create your own fitness map that can be followed in a gym, a park, or a hotel room.

Basic Human Movement

If there’s one thing you can count on it’s this: that the fitness industry doesn’t always agree with itself. There’s lots of “this is the right/only way to exercise,” coupled with “if you’re not following the grass, berries and bear meat diet then why are you bothering?” What I’m about to present however, is almost universally agreed upon in the industry.

The basic human movements are the push, pull, squat, and hinge movements. Some coaches offer a few others, like the loaded carry (where you carry something heavy for a predetermined distance), rotation/anti-rotation (what you probably know as core work), and ground work (like crawling, rolling, tumbling). Good workout programs are built around these movements done in different planes of motion (horizontal, vertical, sagittal, transverse…eh, did I lose anyone?). I’ll break it down.

1. THE PUSH. Easy enough, a push is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to get it away from you. Any pressing movement (bench press, leg press, overhead press) is a push. Pushes can be done in different planes, a horizontal push can be a push-up or a bench press (your body is horizontal), while a vertical push would be an overhead shoulder press. Pushing is one of the first things we learn to do as infants, as we push ourselves up from the ground to learn to crawl.

earthdowns

2. THE PULL. A pull is when you exert force on an object in an attempt to bring the object closer to you. Examples include the pull-up (bringing your body close to a high bar), the machine let pull-down (bringing the bar down to your chest) and the row (which is a horizontal pull). After we have learned to push, we learn to pull as infants, it’s part of learning to stand and walk.

3. THE SQUAT. A squat involves two major components, a maximal hip flexion and a maximal knee flexion, so that your pelvis and torso are closer to the ground. There are many arguments for the correct depth, but some basic guidelines I always give are: have the angle of your shins match the angle of your torso (see picture), don’t allow your knees to cave in toward each other (called a valgus knee), and in general, don’t allow your knees to pass beyond your toes. I say in general for many reasons, the most prominent is that everyone’s body, limb length and flexibility are different. Squats are easy to learn but may take a lifetime to master. Squats can be weighted with a weight in front of you or resting across the back of your shoulders, or unweighted, using only your body weight as resistance.

squats4. THE HINGE. Like the squat, the hinge has maximal hip flexion, but has minimal knee flexion. If you bend over to pick something up off the floor, you are most likely in a hinge position. The hinge is an extraordinarily powerful movement, as there is great untapped strength in the pelvic girdle (don’t giggle). Most professional athletes know that true power is generated in the hips, and the hinge is an excellent way of training overall strength. The most popular form of hinging is the deadlift, which involves pushing your hips behind you, picking up a weight (barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell) from the floor and raising it waist high, while maintaining a tight core and a neutral spine. Like the squat, it is easy to learn but may take a while to master.

bend snd snap meme

5. THE OTHER STUFF. With all due respect to the importance of these moves, for the sake of space, I must move quickly through them. From the beginning of mankind, we have carried heavy things. There are many variations of carries: the farmer walk, the suitcase carry, the waiter walk. These are excellent choices to increase your own work capacity. Rotation/anti-rotation exercises include wood choppers, moving planks, body rows. Groundwork can be tumbling, rolling, bear crawling.

Thanks for That, but What Do I Do With It?

Right. A theatre job can actually be a great time to “get in shape,” whatever that means to you. If you’re already strong and fit, maybe your goal is to be stronger. Or maybe you’d like to lose a few pounds. Or maybe you’ve never seriously exercised and want to start. I say this is a great time for two reasons: the first, you are likely away from home and away from the distractions of your day-to-day life (like friends, a day job, your favorite TV show on the DVR); the second, once your show is running, you have an insane amount of free time. Seriously, we work about 30 hours a week in theatre. What else are you going to do with all that time?

Whether or not you are an experienced gym-goer, take a look at the chart below. I’ve listed examples of the basic movements, pick one or two from each category, decide on a set and rep range (if you’re a beginner, start with one set of ten repetitions, and build from there as you feel you can), and go to work. When you’re finished with your session, take notes. How do you feel? What was hard/easy/confusing? Are you hungry or did the session suppress your appetite? Repeat the plan 3-4 times a week, resting after every two workouts.

Exercise chartI’m sure some of that will seem like Greek to some of you. Do a thorough Google search on terms you don’t understand, yes, the internet can be a wasteland of misinformation, but there’s good stuff there too. Find the good stuff.

Aren’t I Supposed to Be Running or Something?

I’m not a fan of traditional “cardio,” at least, not as a means to lose weight. I believe the best modality for weight loss is through diet and strength training. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to exercise your cardiovascular system. Pick your jam (running, elliptical, cycling, walking, swimming) and get that heart rate up.

Admittedly, that’s about as general as it gets. I offer it as an idea, a map if you will, for the person who doesn’t know where to begin or maybe isn’t sure what’s missing from their own regime. As always, approach this work with respect, injury comes when we disrespect our own intuition.

I mean, you could always hire a trainer…

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Pillow

STAYING HEALTHY AND FIT, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE

Performers of any kind rely on their bodies. Whether they are dancing, singing, or acting the most dramatic roles, a performer needs access to their abilities and their emotional life. And if I’m being wholly honest, there is an aesthetic need as well. Actors come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to play Superman, you must look the part. But no matter your physical type, there is one need that should be addressed before all others: your health.

As performing artists, we’ve chosen a difficult path, one often laden with long hours, little rest, constant practice and training, for what at times can be little reward. To survive in this environment, and hopefully thrive, you must have your health, and today we’re going to talk about maintaining your health when you’re away from home. Like the song says, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere.

Casino gigs = buffets!
Casino gigs = buffets!

BEFORE YOU GO

Let’s start with the notion that you’ve booked a job—congratulations! You are about to be paid for that thing your parents always said would never pay. Some things to think about, regarding your health:

WHERE ARE YOU GOING? Perhaps obvious, but what’s the climate like: cold, hot, humid, rife with allergens, rainy? You’ll need to be prepared not only with the right clothing but perhaps the right medications. When it comes to health, I think breathing is pretty important.

WHAT’S YOUR HOUSING LIKE? A lot of the same stuff, is it air conditioned/heated well, newer/older (old houses hold allergens and mold like it was their job), do you have your own room? That could matter when it comes to rest and sleep.

WHAT HEALTH AND FITNESS OPTIONS ARE IN THE AREA? Is there a gym nearby (and is membership complimentary to company members)? Or maybe there’s a school with access to a track, or a park. If you have space, you can exercise, even if there’s not a gym for miles.

ONCE YOU’RE THERE

You’ve arrived at the job and been shown to your housing. Could be a hotel, a shared apartment, a private room in a house, or a cabin on board a cruise ship. Leaving the last option for later, we’ll start with shared spaces.

1. IF YOU ARE SHARING A KITCHEN:

This is the most likely scenario. You’ll have limited space for your own groceries, perhaps even marked out clearly in your cabinets and refrigerators. Shop wisely, perhaps share certain staples (oils, condiments, kitchen supplies, etc.). And while we’re in the kitchen, let’s spend a moment on food shopping in general: The healthiest food options are located on the outside aisles of supermarkets, produce, dairy, meats (including fish and chicken), and usually whole grain breads. I won’t veer off into “this diet vs. that diet,” but most likely, no matter what dietary philosophy you choose, the food you want is located here. You might want to adopt an “80/20” rule, meaning you do 80% of your shopping on the outer aisles and 20% from the aisles within. It’s a good way to eat healthy yet not feel wholly deprived when you can’t enjoy the occasional bag of Oreos.

I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…
I don’t…I’m not sure…what this means…

2. IF YOUR MEALS ARE PROVIDED FOR YOU:

This likely means you are working on a cruise ship, or perhaps a dinner theatre (where certain meals could be provided). On a ship, the food may be repetitive but at least there will be nutritious options (remember it’s in your employer’s best interest to have you healthy), as well as the standard high-caloric fare. Crew members on ships often work incredibly long hours, so the provided meals can be high in calories, and a calorie is just a unit of energy, so the workers can make it through their shifts. See my recent posts on Cruise Ship Life for more information. Dinner theatres can often provide one meal per performance day, and that meal is usually…uh, dinner.

3. IF YOU HAVE NO KITCHEN, BUT ARE GIVEN A PER DIEM:

Well, this gets tricky. If you don’t know, per diem (“per day”) is money given to you to cover costs of meals and/or housing (if you are on a National Tour). This can seem like a large sum of money, but you’ll find quickly that single housing in A-list markets (think Chicago, San Diego, Los Angeles) can often be more than your per diem for the week, leaving nothing for meals. That’s a conversation for another post, however. Some tours pick up the housing and give you a smaller per diem for food, let’s say that number is $350.00 per week, $50.00 a day. You can certainly do it, but you’ve got to be smart about it. Yes, fast food is more affordable. Yes, you can choose healthy (healthier) options from the menu. But trust my experience on this, it gets old FAST. Per Diem is often built around a formula of (using a $50 per day format) of a “10-dollar breakfast, 15-dollar lunch, and 25-dollar dinner.” My suggestion to you, for lifestyle and weight management, reverse these numbers, or at least the caloric values. There’s an old gym adage that goes, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.” This way you are consuming more calories earlier in the day and gradually tapering off as the day ends. This is good for keeping you energized but not over full before a show, and gives you more opportunities to burn calories as the day goes on. Plus, dinner menus are always more expensive than breakfast or lunch options, so your money will go farther. Oh yeah, and don’t eat garbage after a show. It’s so tempting! But if you must eat, make it reasonable—a protein shake or bar, a small sandwich—stay away from burgers and fries at 11pm, they are not your friends. Consuming 1,000 empty calories within an hour of going to sleep is a surefire way to gain unwanted weight.

“Rob, isn’t this post about staying healthy while working a theatre job? Why all that space on food?” Ah, you’ve seen right through me. While there are two more elements to cover, let me say this very simply: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FOOD. Get that right, everything becomes easier. Keep doing it wrong, and you might be wasting all your hard work in the gym.

SLEEP!!

Of equal importance to nutrition is sleep, or rest. The body’s natural processes operate at maximum efficiency during periods of rest, not exertion. You don’t build muscle while you exercise, exercise creates the condition that asks the body to build the muscle, which happens while you are asleep. Ever notice that the prescription for any illness or injury almost always involves rest? The body wants to “right” itself, sometimes the best thing we can do to help, is simply get out of the way.

PillowSleep recommendations are very simple: aim for 8 hours a day, and try to have those hours be the same hours every day. I know many of us are night owls, we finish a performance sometimes exhausted, but sometimes energized and needing time to wind down, or even go out and celebrate. That’s all fine, just allow for recovery. I’m not as young as I once was (I was 23, uh…23 years ago), so I can’t stay out all hours eating and drinking and expect to be a normal functioning adult the next day. Maybe you can, but I promise you, that bill will eventually come due. SLEEP. Protect yourself. Your body and your voice will thank you.

There are 168 hours in a week. You might spend five of them exercising.  But the other 163 hours are actually much more important. Eat right, and sleep right.

Next time I’ll finish up this article with suggestions for exercise in whatever environment you’re in, because I’m helpful like that. And MODEST!

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ENT - featured image

Say No to Nodes! Vocal Health on a Hectic Schedule

If you have any experience as a singer, actor, or a performer of nearly any type, you know how difficult it can be to get through rehearsals and shows while maintaining your vocal health.

So what do you do when you’re even busier than normal, or balancing multiple performance opportunities? Whether it’s an eight-show-a-week schedule in a Broadway-caliber play, a tour of a major musical, or overlapping short-term gigs, your vocal health needs to be an even-higher priority when you’re using your voice more often.

Here are 10 tips and tricks to ensure you stay in tip-top vocal shape on the go!

1. Your Voice Is a Body Part—Treat It Like One!
Your voice is more than sounds that comes out of you—it’s a product of careful collaboration between a plethora of body parts. So treat your voice like a body part, and treat your body like it is the physical mechanism of your voice (surprise, it is!). Develop and maintain healthy habits that you can take on-the-go: plan ahead for healthy snack and meal choices. Dress in clothes that are conducive to your practice and travel regimen to avoid overheating/chills (layers and a scarf are a safe bet). Don’t shout! And avoid loud environments that will instinctually make you talk louder.

Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Tulane Public Relations via Creative Commons License.

2. Learn Proper Technique (for everything).
Ever hear the phrase “fall back on your training?” When you’re tired or sick (which will inevitably happen at some point in your career), a solid foundation of training will prove invaluable for both your vocal quality and confidence. By training healthfully in a variety of styles, you can confidently navigate any type of sound needed in any show without worrying about how being tired or under the weather might impact your sound.

3. Don’t stress!
Some stress can be good for us–but when stress starts to impact your body, mind, and voice, it can be a real problem. Stress on the vocal mechanisms themselves can lead to injury. Listen to your body, and rest or “mark” if you need to (a great skill worth working on). The stress of our minds (“I’ve never hit this note perfectly” or “How am I going to integrate all the director’s notes?”) can manifest in physical tension, including vocal tension. Even in a hectic schedule, make time to acknowledge these worries and allot time for practice and positive thinking.

4. Don’t Sing Sick!
No one expects an athlete to perform while sick or injured! If you are very sick or have a vocal injury (or an injury that impacts your singing, particularly anything in the chest or abdomen), don’t push to “sing through it.” If you can’t avoid it, work with a doctor or otolaryngologist (ear-nose-throat doctor) to make sure you can do so while maintaining vocal and physical health. Remember–your voice will last you your entire career if you take care of it. Don’t risk a lifetime of singing (and speaking healthfully!) for one opportunity.

Photo Credit: COM SALUD
Photo Credit: COM SALUD via Creative Commons License.

5. Avoid Making Long-Term -Bad-Habits Out of Short-Term Bad Circumstances.
As singers, we often work with teachers or directors who will make strong-handed or impossible demands of us and our voices. Recognize the difference between opportunities to grow and learn (which can make us uncomfortable, but can still be healthy) and being asked to create sound or perform in an unhealthy manner. As singers, we will often bend to produce what is asked of us; don’t make a habit of pushing too hard or straining beyond what is healthy just because someone applauded you for it.

6. Find Warm-Ups in Your Projects.
When facing a hectic schedule, you may not have time for your full warm-up or vocal exercise regimen. Look through the music you’re working on at any given time and find parts of the work that might make good warm-ups. Start with something comfortable, in your range, that you enjoy singing. Then find opportunities to stretch the voice like an athlete warms up their muscles. Look for passages that cross different “parts” of the voice (chest, head, mix, falsetto, etc.) and that utilize a variety of different vowels or consonants. Try singing passages only on vowels (or on one vowel) or warming up the articulators by over-enunciating lyrics.

7. SLEEP.
This is one of the most useful tips for vocal health anytime, but especially when you’re on the go. Avoid the temptation to let “down time” interfere with sleep. If you find yourself booked every hour, book “relaxation time” and “sleeping time” as a part of your schedule. You may have heard that it takes four hours of sleep for the voice to “reset.” Everyone’s body is different in how much sleep they need, but aim for a good night’s rest to let your voice (and the rest of you) off the hook for a while.

Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.
Photo Credit: Petr Kratochvil, via Creative Commons License.

8. Get Support Staff.
Nothing is worse than trying to build a relationship with a voice doctor or teacher when you already have an injury. Take the time to find a team of experts when you’re healthy. Your team will better be able to work with you having seen and heard you healthy, and often times, being an “existing patient” will help give you more immediate access to medical professionals. These people can be a trusted doctor, voice teacher, musical mentor, or performance coach.

9. Don’t smoke. Anything.
We all know that smoking cigarettes and use of tobacco increases risk of disease. Recent studies have shown that “vaping,” as well as the direct inhalation of any smoke from any source, can have an impact on the body as well. Avoid the temptation to smoke to relax, or hanging out in environments that allow smoking. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about exploring the many ways you can quit!

10. Find Liquids You Like (and keep drinking them).
While some singers swear by a water-only hydration plan, you may find that switching up liquid tastes or temperatures suits you and your voice. While caffeinated beverages (that act as diuretics) will dehydrate you over time, some singers need that pep (especially on a hectic schedule). Some singers love juices (aim for 100% juice, not sugary cocktail) as the sugars promote salivation and can help with dry-mouth. Some like carbonated beverages, some add lemon (to cut through phlegm) or honey (to lubricate), and some will just drink from the water fountain. Proper hydration is important to keep not only your body performing in tip-top shape, but the swallowing reflex also helps relax throat muscles. Invest in a few favorite water bottles––I like the insulated ones that keep hot things hot and cold things cold for extended periods of time!

As a singer or performer, your voice is not only your business, but your business partner—it gets you jobs, it keeps you in communication with the world, and of course, lets you perform. It’s important to keep your instrument healthy to support not only your performance goals, but also your everyday life.

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Makeup

The Skinny on Skin Care for Actors

Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955
Photographer: Alexandra Studio ca. 1955

 

Skin is our largest organ, and for actors it’s their largest canvas. Unfortunately the canvas can take a real beating after six-week runs of eight-show weeks, months on tour, audition stress, and countless makeup applications.  So here’s the skinny on how to keep your canvas in tip-top shape.

Science of Skin

First, here’s a little scientific talk to help you understand the inner workings of your body’s coolest organ. Skin is composed of three layers, but the epidermis, the outermost layer, is the only one you pay much attention to. The dermis and subcutaneous tissue give your skin the bounce, texture, elasticity and resilience skin is so well know for. The epidermis, however, is responsible for skin’s water resistance.

Water resistance is a key to healthy skin. The combination of humectants (water molecules) and emollients (oil molecules) create the super-strong barrier that keeps bad stuff out and good stuff in. An imbalance of these two molecules is often the beginning of skin problems.

Too Dry

For many actors, cleansing their skin to remove makeup after each performance, or traveling to varying climates, dry skin becomes a real nuisance. The problem escalates if you’re in a production of Shrek or The Lion King, removing large amounts of grease paint or prosthetics.  Here are some of the first things to consider with your skin care regimen.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Proper makeup remover: Every variety of makeup has a remover designed for its chemical makeup. Soap will never remove alcohol-based makeup, because surfactants don’t disturb alcohol. Alcohol won’t remove silicone wig adhesive alone, it has to be combined with a bunch of polycarbon chains. Leave the science of these solutions to the pros, at places like Kryolan  for prosthetic and alcohol-based makeup and Lancome for street makeup. Sure, they can be expensive, but so much cheaper than dealing with cracked skin, dermatitis, or really any irritation. Why risk weakening your body’s largest organ?

Rebalancing moisture:  Moisturizer may not be enough. Many moisturizers are heavier in humectants than emollients, meaning they are putting more water and less oil back in your skin. If you’re using makeup that needs alcohol for removal, you’ll want to focus on replenishing oil just as much as water. Try a classic cold cream like the Ponds your grandma uses , or heavy-duty overnight moisturizer.  If your makeup is removed with an oil-based remover—many of the best street and stage makeup removers contain oils to glom onto the oil in the makeup pulling it away from your face—this is less important, just make sure you’ve picked a moisturizer that is hypoallergenic, and your skin will like whether you’re covering your face in makeup or not.

Too Oily

Oily skin can become a problem for anyone whether they have naturally oily skin or not. The key is don’t remove too much oilSebum, the natural oil of our skin, is good. It protects us from all the foreign elements that want to invade our bodies. Sure, it’s shiny and greasy, but it’s important to work with it, not against it.

Choosing the right makeup: If you have oily skin—sheen around the nose, cheeks, and forehead—don’t use a liquid makeup. Cream, mousse, and liquid makeups are heavier in emollients, allowing the pigment to slide along the face with ease. On oily skin these cosmetic oils ball up with your natural oils, causing makeup to run. Stick to powdered or water-based makeups that dry like Kryolan’s Aquacolor.

Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda
Photo Credit: Amy Bobeda

Keep the oil:  Removing excess oil sounds like the right thing to do, but by removing oil, your skin will only produce more. That’s its job! Instead of stripping the oil with tons of toner, remover, blotting papers, etc., try this: In the morning if you have oil deposits in the center of your face—nose, cheeks, forehead, try massaging the oil out to the rest of your face. You don’t want to lose the oil, you just want to redistribute it.

Irritation

Allergic reaction, over drying, and too much exfoliation are all culprits when it come to irritated skin. Here are some quick tips to keep skin calm onstage and off.

Create a barrier: If your natural barrier isn’t enough, try a barrier cream  under your makeup. This invisible glove will keep your skin’s chemistry balanced, and keep makeup on your face. It’s well worth the extra cost and step.

Identify the cause: When irritation arrises, consider all the causes. Everything your skin is exposed to is a chemical compound, which reacts to other chemical compounds, so usually the problem isn’t just between the makeup and your face. Did you switch laundry detergents? How about daily face wash? Are you over exfoliating? Have you neglected SPF on your day off and have a mild burn? Any and all of these factors can lead to irritation.

Give things a break: On your day off, simplify your routine. Use a gentle cleanser, preferably a cleansing milk (they have fewer drying surfactants). Moisturize with SPF. Don’t poke and prod your face. Don’t tone it, or exfoliate. Just let it try to rebalance its natural homeostasis.

When in doubt, consult a pro. Whether it’s a dermatologist, your go-to theatrical makeup company, or your theater’s makeup supervisor, there’s a good chance someone will have a clue when it comes to keeping your integumentary system in tip-top shape, and you looking your best. Just don’t forget, it’s the only skin you’ll ever be in, so be gentle, it will thank you in the short and the long run.

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