Athlete vs. Musician – Are We Worlds Apart After All?

Here’s an interesting topic – Athletic Performance for the working musician.

Hmm. What a paradox.

I for one have been successful in both fields. Competing at a high level all my life in hockey, transferring those skills most recently to the longer blade of long track speed skating. All the while, I have been a professional, gigging and session musician. So what have I discovered in both realities?

Well for one, athletic performance is definitely advantageous for the working musician. I’m going to go into it a bit more in-depth and explain my thoughts on how movement, nutrition, and mindset of both athletes and musicians are very closely related.


Movement – The Maintenance Package for Your Body

Alright. Everyone knows exercise is great for them. But we all seem to have not enough time, not enough knowledge and not enough motivation to do anything about it. Athletes – well… they live, eat, breathe exercise. That’s their job, generally speaking. At my height of competitive skating I was training over 28 hours/ week. Not including stretching and recovery days…. that was just ice, dry-land conditioning, cycling/running and gym time. Craziness, right? Right.

As for musicians, well… same thing could be said. We perform for up to 3 hours in front of crowds. Not taking into account the load in, set up and tear down of our gear (until you’re able to hire teams of roadies to help with that part, anyways) this can be a very strenuous position. Over the course of a tour, where you could be working 5 out of 7 nights like this, battling stairwells, poor lighting and dusty work conditions… how do you think your body will hold up? The exercise programs I have designed to help prevent or in some cases correct physical limitations that inhibit our playing careers (tendonosis, carpal tunnel, lower back pain – just to name a few issues…) Exercise is the foundation to help you manage the physical brutality you will expose yourself to on the road as a working musician… if that is your endgame anyways. Even if you just want to sit and play guitar, without proper warmup, stretching and management of stress relating to overuse activity, you will not be able to maximize your performance. So lets start talking about how you can prevent further physical harm and start getting into a healthier physical form.

Nutrition – Fuel for Performance

Well, when I say it like that it seems pretty obvious. As an athlete, this is a no brainer. You don’t often hear the story of the athlete messing around with Big Mac’s and slurps as pregame meals (However I know one who set a track record on a pop tart and coke). I’m not saying it’s non-existent, but as an athlete our performance is our career.

Enter musician. Odd how the stigma of beer, weed, parties long into the night with copious amounts of cocaine and hookers comes to mind. Why is that? If performance is important – ultimately a huge part of our career as musicians, why is there such a difference between the athletic community and music industry with regards to how we fuel ourselves? Business in the athletic community isn’t conducted over a pitcher of beer and nachos, for one. Payment also isn’t pub grub dining and a few brewskis when you get off the podium. These things have become staples in the music industry and I’m here to start a revolution amongst my supporters to look at alternative practices. Why? Eat better. Drink less. Last longer. Simple.

Mindset – The Often Underrated Aspect of Wellness

Ever heard of working in, not working out? Through my experience of racing, I have found so much truth in the power of the mind. As athletes we are probably the worst to train because oftentimes we employ a self-sabotage perspective of “all or nothing” and a “If you’re not first, you’re last..” approach to competition. While I guess its cool to have high expectations, a realistic approach seems way more uhh.. realistic.

As an athlete, it’s sometimes hard to accept that theres always someone bigger, faster or stronger than you. That’s part in parcel of the underlying motivation. How does this apply to musicians? We as musicians have to be show ready, battle the stage, hold interviews and manage stressful situations related to our appearance, performance and demeanour each and every day. And here’s the kicker… that community can be vicious as all hell. To have a stable mindset, ability to manage stress well and overcome adverse situations even on stage at times in the middle of a performance goes far underrated in my opinion. But, I am biased. It’s happened to me. But guess what? I made it. I’m alive. Way better off and stronger in my mindset and focus because of it.

To conclude, I hope this article shows that there’s way more in common between performance athletes and musicians than we see at first. Some probably think they’re worlds away from one another, but the three pillars of health, nutrition, fitness and mindset are super important in both of these realities if our end game is indeed performance.

Feel free to email me your thoughts on this at or share this article within your personal network. I’m not looking to shut down the party that is the rock star lifestyle. I’m just the guy that will prolong your attendance. Remember, you don’t have to be a rock star to star, but you have to start in order to become a rock star. Stay sweet, kids.

Thanks for reading


Mike Schwartz

Canadian Music Industry Health & Performance Specialist

Twitter & Instagram: @coach_schwartzy


Ps. Click here if you want tips on surviving the rock star lifestyle delivered right to your mailbox




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