Cross-training musicians like athletes

There are countless similarities between musicians and athletes.

The line between the demands of their fields is so blurred, it’s hardly worth making a distinction.

The both practice the skills of their chosen ‘sport’ for many hours a day.

They both require high levels of attention and focus.

They both spend a huge amount of time in a very narrow range of specific movements, positions and postures.

They are both subject to high physical demands across a broad range of trainable fitness requirements, including strength, stamina and cardiorespiratory endurance.

They are both predisposed to high rates of injury – particularly from overuse.

There’s one big difference.

Athletes, almost unanimously, understand (and take advantage of) the enormous benefits of some form of ‘strength and conditioning’ or ‘cross training’. While (with some exceptions), musicians are leaving a lot on the table.

For musicians (even for those musicians who do currently train to improve their craft), there is one key concept that should be driving their training program.

General Physical Preparedness, or ‘GPP’.

Training to improve GPP is initially counterintuitive, but ultimately makes sense, as we’ll discuss.

Defining GPP is best done by first understanding the counter approach, Specific Physical Preparedness (SPP).

Simply speaking, Specific Physical Preparedness identifies what an athlete/musician needs to succeed at their specific task or skill, and gives them more of it.

General Physical Preparedness’ role in maximising musical performance is in ‘filling the holes’ created by Specific Physical Preparedness.

The best way to improve performance at a task (whether it be sporting, musical or other) is to train at that task, with specificity. This is especially true for novices. A beginner saxophonist likely doesn’t need to be stronger, their time should be spent on the basics. As expertise in this task develops however, adjunct methods must be employed to ensure further improvement.

GPP is an actively generalist, ’anti-specialist’ approach to physical fitness, as it exists through a very wide range of fitness competencies. You are as fit as you are competent in your weakest of these physical skills. Your ability as a high end musician will ultimately be limited in some capacity by a deficit in some area of fitness.

The training to improve GPP for musicians should be grounded firmly in variation. To be good at anything, you must train for everything. A broad response requires broad stimuli.

An additional benefit to GPP is the injury preventing effect it has by balancing the relative weaknesses of a specialist musician with their highly trained and developed muscles and systems.

Movement specific and sports specific training will always have a place. But let’s move away from trying to make a musician more specialised in an area they are already completing hours of daily practice.

Instead, let’s fill in the gaps, increase overall capacity and, ultimately, create more highly performing and more resilient musical athletes.

Dan Williams

Dan Williams


Dan Williams is the Director of Range of Motion and leads a team of Exercise Physiologists, Sports Scientists, Physiotherapists and Coaches. He has a Bachelor of Science (Exercise and Health Science) and a Postgraduate Bachelor of Exercise Rehabilitation Science from The University of Western Australia, with minors in Biomechanics and Sport Psychology.

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