Friday, April 30, 2010

The Key to Epic Practice Sessions: Structured Breaks

One of the joys of being a middle-aged bachelor who lives life as a musical quest is that every now and then - about twice a week for me - you end up having perfect days: No chores, no students, no gigs, and no interruptions. Today was such a day.

On days like this, I do two epic practice sessions separated by minor errands and a nap, for a total of five hours of intense and focused practice, and one hour of strength training on my Bowflex (Two thirty minute sessions). In order to log this much time, it is positively mandatory to take breaks, but just sitting around or surfing the web is not a useful break. I'm talking about structured breaks that count as practice time because they aid your playing.

My method is to use a freeware program called Meditation Timer for my practice sessions.

As you can see, I set the timer for 180 minutes, which comes out to three hours. Every thirty minutes, I get a bell chime that reminds me to take a break. "Only" 150 minutes is practice time on the guitar, and the last 30 is strength training on the Bowflex.

During the breaks I do two things: I take nutritional supplements, and I stretch. I take many nutritional supplements.

I don't recommend taking any nutritional supplements, because that's up to each individual, and different people will find different things useful and effective. As for me, I take a men's multi, all of the L-factors - l-argnine, l-carnitine, acetyl l-carnitine, and l-lysene (These help with muscle tone and connective tissue strength) - the joint-specific stuff - glucosamine, chondroitin, and MSM - and omega-rich oils, flax seed oil, and cod liver oil. Also, obviously, many other minor trace minerals.

Since I take so many supplements, I divide them by type for each break: Capsules the first break, gel caps the second break, and the solid pills and lozenges 50/50 the final two breaks. I don't take this stuff because I want to live forever, I take it because they make me feel better and give me increased energy. It is an integral part of my guitar playing.

After I get the supplements down, I stretch. I really, really don't recommend stretching, because it is very easy to injure yourself and even ruin your guitar playing career if you do it wrong. So, you have been warned! If you try any of this stuff and you hurt yourself, it's not my fault.

First thing I do is toe-touch, and many feel like if they can put their fists to the floor, they have good flexibility. Wrong. That's just the warm-up for the real stretching, which is getting to where you can touch your chin to your great toe. If you can't do this, you run the risk of developing sciatic nerve problems: Sitting around with your left foot elevated is deadly for your lower back and hip joints. If you develop the flexibility to put your great toe under your chin, there is almost a zero percent chance you will ever have sciatic nerve problems: I cured my own sciatica by doing this at the recommendation of a personal trainer friend of mine. It was miraculous, but it took me about six weeks before I could do it!

Here's how I do it: Sit on the edge of a bed with one foot flat on the floor, and the other on the bed and bent so that the bottom of that foot touches the knee of the other leg, like this.

The first thing I don't recommend that you do is to get to where you can bend forward and touch your chin to the knee (The great toe is a lot more difficult). It might take you more than a month to do this, even if you are under 30 years old. Then I don't recommend that you work your way progressively down the calf until you reach the foot. I bend forward while exhaling five times for each leg, working from the knee to the foot.

Then, I sit straight on the side of the bed and lengthen the musculature on the inside and outside of my arms. Many guitarists get repetitive stress injuries because they never stretch their arm muscles out, and with exercise both muscles and tendons tend to shorten.

What I do, that I don't recommend you try, is put my palms flat on the bed by my hip joints and slowly bend forward while exhaling (Exhaling helps your muscles to relax), starting like so.

Both hands, obviously, and again five times while exhaling, while allowing the fingers to roll: Don't try to keep the hand flat, it's physically impossible, and you'll hurt yourself. This gets the muscles on the inside of the forearms.

For the outside of the forearms, the last time you lean forward, flip the hands over: Now you are stretching while sitting up instead of leaning forward. Remember to exhale, if you are foolish enough to try this.

The last thing I do is a new stretch I learned that is the only stretch possible for the ligaments in the elbows. It is easy to describe: Put your left fingers on your left shoulder, and press with the right hand on the wrist bone of the left arm. The left arm must be perfectly relaxed, and remember to exhale if you are enough of an idiot to do this. I do five reps for each arm, and this has fixed my problematic elbows, which have bothered me for over a year.

So, I do this at 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes. By the 150 minute mark, I have kept myself at the optimum level of warm up and "in the zone" for nearly two full hours, and I'm ready for the last half hour on the Bowflex. I do a jillion different exercises over the course of several days because I have all of the attachments for my old Power Pro, but the things I do that are specifically for my guitar playing are forward and reverse wrist curls. I also do a final stretch after the workout, but I don't recommend that you follow my example! lol.


Blogger Minicapt said...

Needs more meat: red meat, not cooked.


2:54 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

~scratches head~

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


7:41 PM  
Blogger Minicapt said...

... vs 'nutritional supplements'. Taras Buba knew his food groups.


3:05 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Do you have acrylic nails by any chance? Or are you naturally endowed with freakishly thick ones?

12:00 AM  
Blogger Hucbald said...

I am unnaturally endowed with freakish acrylic nails. lol. My natural nails are paper thin and actually wear faster than they grow when I'm playing a lot, so I started "wearing" these about five or six years ago. I love it: If one breaks, I just replace it, and if I want to do "guy stuff" like work on my motorcycle, shoot my bow, or go fishing, I just peel them off. Best part of it is, I'm no longer paranoid about breaking a nail; that improves your whole attitude about life. ;^)

12:49 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home