// How fit is your voice?

Your voice reflects what’s going on inside your body. As a group exercise instructor, it is important that this vital tool of your trade stays strong, healthy and in control, says voice coach Cathy Sobocan.

When I’m not instructing Spin classes, I’m voice coaching students and clients in the skills necessary for public speaking and on-camera presenting. Because of my experience with voice training, I’m sensitive to what’s happening to my voice when I teach in the gym. It’s not easy to exercise, breathe, speak and motivate at the same time – even with the assistance of a wireless, omni-directional microphone strapped to my head!

Despite the constrictions imposed by the rigours of instructing, it’s important for our participants to hear a fit voice because the voice is reflective of what’s going on inside the body. To get the voice in shape, we have to make some physical adjustments while instructing.

If you instruct martial arts, boot camp or circuit-style classes in which you play the role of a drill sergeant, the tendency is to drive the voice from the sternum, upper chest or throat. Doing so, however, can lead to vocal damage. When the sternum is locked, the breath supply is cut off. Your breath should be the driver of your voice, and the breath needs to come from the lower torso, i.e. the belly.

When you’re instructing, take a breath in, relax your abdominal muscles, and let the breath go down. If you want to take on a sergeant type of role, make it fun. When we’re in play, we’re ‘at ease’ and the voice will flow more naturally.

If you teach yoga, Pilates or any gentler form of group exercise, it’s easy to fall into the trap of speaking with a breathy voice to create a mood of tranquility. A breathy voice means there isn’t enough breath to carry it; the inspiration of air is too shallow.

Note that the diaphragm – the large muscle that moves the breath – extends from the bottom of the front ribs and around to the back. You may not realise this, but we get most of our breath from the lower back lungs. This means we have to be physically unlocked all the way down the front and the back for the diaphragm to do its job and energise the voice. You could call this ‘speaking from the core of the body’.

If your voice becomes tired from teaching a lot of classes in a row, rejuvenate it by taking a deep breath. This simple action will release more oxygen into your blood, enhancing the ability of the voice to function. Take it one step further by observing the breathing patterns of your participants and matching your breathing rhythm with theirs; it’s likely that everyone is breathing at the same pace. This will energise you and strengthen your connection with your class.

Do a quick body scan to find out where you might be tightening or grabbing your muscles. Release your jaw hinge. Release the back of the tongue and align your spine so the channel through which the voice travels isn’t distorted.

If you use a microphone to assist your voice when instructing, as most of us do, then take advantage of it. Stop working the voice so hard, and start working it more smartly, letting the mic send out the sound while you focus on the feel. Your headmic converts the acoustic energy of your voice into electric energy, giving an extra spark to your dynamic class.

Cathy Sobocan, MA
Cathy is a broadcast journalism professor at Seneca College in Toronto and a professional voice coach. She prepares her students and clients to speak on-camera and in front of live audiences. She’s also a group fitness instructor at Extreme Fitness in Toronto.