Research: Pilates Warm-up in Singers

Breathe in for nothing : an interpretative phenomenological analysis exploring the influence of a Pilates warm-up in singers

by Sutton, Marcelle (2020-03), published in Stellenbosch University SUNScholar Research Repository.



Research on the use of Pilates for classical singers is limited, despite the well-documented benefits of this somatic (mind-body) exercise modality on the general public.

Singers have specific needs, as the process of preparing for, and carrying out a performance can be extremely stressful and physically demanding and can therefore adversely affect physical and mental fortitude. However, these needs could be addressed by a Pilates warm-up designed for singers.

This study sought to ascertain the influence of a Pilates warm-up on four university singing students and one professional singer using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA). A specially designed Pilates warm-up for singers was taught to the participants over six weeks, with three workshops of five days each, interspersed with home practice.

The effects thereof (mental, physical and vocal) were documented, before-and-after questionnaires (GAD-7, the Beck’s Depression Inventory and the RAND 36-Item short form quality of life survey instrument) were completed, heart rate measurements taken (to determine if the warm-up initiated a parasympathetic nervous system response) and three semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant.

A focus group was then held with the participants to discuss the effects of the regime. The lived experience of the participants’ use of the Pilates warm-up was analysed and together with the collected data, was grouped into sub-themes named: Singing; Well-being; Preparation for Singing/Preparing the Body to Sing; Tools; Resilience; Mindfulness; Mind-Body Communication; Nervous System; Strengthening the Body; Relaxation through Movement and Pilates Breathing.

In the cyclical interpretative process of an IPA study, these sub-themes were then grouped together to form the main themes of the study, namely: Tools; Nervous System and Singing.

The results showed an overall improvement in quality of life as well as an increase in mindfulness and relaxation which benefited all of the singers vocally in some way. Heart rate measurements, as well as anxiety and depression scores showed a general positive trend, although these results were inconclusive and require further study. The Pilates warm-up provided the singers in the study with specific tools with which to address their various issues which had an impact on their singing. Performance preparation and posture were found to be enhanced, muscle tension was reduced, vocal range increased and there were improvements in stamina and breathing.

This study therefore highlights the potential benefits of the use of a Pilates warm-up for classical singers and the areas of research that should be undertaken to further delineate these benefits.

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