the impact of fitness on my career
I play cello for a touring rock/folk band called The Avett Brothers. I am now in my 16th year with the band, and we have played hundreds of shows. When I was a touring musician as a young 20-something, I might have had a few drinks after the show, eaten a late meal, and stayed out till 2:00AM. Somehow it wouldn’t occur to me that this might affect my on-stage performance or my longevity in the physically punishing business of live music. Now in my 40’s, everything about my daily routine on the road revolves around that evening’s show and my decisions will continue to be about how I can keep playing for as long as possible.
Some of these lifestyle changes have been gradual. For instance, all of my band members have always been concerned about what we eat. In general, we always thought about nutrition as fuel for our performances. Now, we’re even more conscious of that as we get older. In other areas, we’ve changed a lot. Speaking personally, two areas that I used to neglect in my 20’s where:
I wasn’t paying attention to the quality of my sleep
Fitness wasn’t a part of my daily commitment to myself.
The latter was something that I came around to in my mid-thirties and has been the single most transformative element of life for me on the road.
With the band in my early 20’s, we didn’t carry any fitness equipment. Several of our band members and crew would compete in body weight-based challenges, such as the 100 pushup challenge. We also played enough ping pong to get a little cardio in daily. These activities were fun and they distracted us from the pre-show monotony, but it wasn’t until 2015 that I started to realize and internalize the physical and mental benefits of resistance training.
I can’t say I remember an exact moment when I found myself having nights where my body just didn’t have the same energy onstage, but I do remember that gradually everything felt a little harder. Maybe I’d miss a note or notes, land on the wrong chord, or forget what the first note of a song was. Maybe I’d wake up sore multiple nights in a row. None of it was cut and dry, or overtly threatening to my career, but I started to hear (and listen to) my body’s aches and pains. I knew something had to change if I was going to keep going.
With all of this going on in the background of my brain, my friend Ramin Karimloo (who I sometimes play shows with in Asia on my time off from the Avett Brothers) lit the fire under my ass that finally got me in the gym. During a day off in Seoul in 2015, he and I did a workout together. The following day, I couldn’t descend a flight of stairs without the fear of my legs giving out from underneath me. Somehow, I was hooked.
At first, I put in time at the gym, moving through untrained reps of light weight movements, but I wasn’t making much headway in terms of becoming fitter. I probably wasted as much time in the gym as I did training. I was showing up 7 days a week, I worked for an hour exactly, bad reps, no direction, no actual understanding of what I was doing. Slowly, through personal training, then through a lot of research and trying different programs, I found a regimen that fit in with the kind of work that I do and, more importantly, that I enjoyed.
A normal 7 day week, time permitting, will consist of 5 days of an hour long “CrossFit style” (more or less high intensity interval training) class followed by up to another hour of conditioning or accessory work when I’m at my home gym, Community Fitness Davis. In the afternoons, if the weather is agreeable, I will take a longer bike ride for endurance heart rate based work. I will also try to work in at least 4 days per week of strength training under significant resistance. What I mean by that is, low reps, long rests, and rarely trying to “max out.” Thursdays and Sundays are rest days, Thursdays being active recovery where I might throw in a low impact workout such as a conversational pace 5k row or a 30 mile bike ride.
Ramin introduced me to the 5/3/1 method which I still go back to every once in a while. Back then, however, I paid very little attention to my mobility, and I had no knowledge of Olympic lifting. As I progressed and got stronger under resistance, I started to develop a love for Olympic lifting and started working with a coach in Austin, TX, David DeLeon (Of the Lion Fitness). It was probably due to the fact that it mimicked more of my propensity to work like a classical musician, tending the minutia in order to get better at the highly specific Olympic movements.
Staying fit on the road, however, looks very different. For starters, it’s very difficult to have a schedule–I’m in a different city most nights. It’s not rare for me to have an idea of where I will be in the morning, because our buses travel at night. I’ve actually learned to ignore my schedule as a trick to make the road weariness stave off a little longer. I also don’t have the same equipment on show days that I do on days off. On tour, I’ve learned to be flexible and to accept it if I can’t do my planned workout. Often, I have to adjust to what’s available. Some days, I will do one of my favorite hero wods, ‘Cindy’, since most hotels have a gym that has a pull up bar:
20 minutes AMRAP of
5 kipping or butterfly pull-ups
15 air squats
Other days, I’ll do a full hour of difficult conditioning work. My coach Mira turned me on to this one:
3 minute active rest on any of the three machines before starting the next round.
Fitness, for me, is an ever-changing endeavor. I try hard every single day to listen to my body, and try to remove my ego and vanity as much as I can from the process. This might mean I take an extra rest day, or I’ll do a two-a-day. So much of becoming a fitter person in my 40’s has been about having fun doing what I'm doing, caring less about what someone ELSE is able to do, concentrating on what my body is doing (and why) and where my weaknesses lie.
What does a typical 7 day work week look like in terms of my fitness routine?
Skill: 10 minutes of handstand practice
WOD: (Pulled from Community Fitness Davis Website):
3x AMRAP in 5 Minutes
50 Double Unders
30 Toes to Bar
10 Clean and Jerks (115/85)
2 Minutes rest
10 Rounds for max cals. on a machine
1:40s on :20s off
Round 6 completely off
20 rep Back Squat (every Monday for 6 weeks starting at 65% and building 5% each week)
Skill: 10m EMOM
1 Hang Cleans and Split Jerk
1 Squat Clean
WOD: AMRAP in 20 Minutes
20 KB Swings
20 Goblet Squats
Mira’s conditioning workout
Skill: Strict Hand Stand Pushups and Pistol Squats
Skill 2: 10m EMOM 1 Squat Snatch and 1 Power Snatch + 1 overhead Squat
WOD: AMRAP in 12 Minutes:
20 DB snatch
12 burpee box jump overs
Conditioning: EMOM for 15m:
15 Box Jumps
12 Bike Cals
Active Recovery: 5k Row easy pace working on stroke rate
Skill: Strict pull ups and/or weighted pull-ups
WOD: 2 rounds of Mira’s workout near max effort
Walk around the venue for an hour
Weighted step ups and Bulgarian split squats
Skill: 10 rounds
10 double unders
20s handstand hold on wall
10 toes to bar
WOD: AMRAP in 15 Minutes
8 hang power cleans
8 overhead lunges
25 sit ups