When I was younger, I could never get my riffing speed up to where I wanted it to be, even tough I excessively practiced.

After years without progress I got frustrated and kind of gave up on fast riffing.

Recently I joined a gym and I found, right after a workout my picking speed gets a real boost.

Do you think this is just a temporary effect ( due to having less muscle tension after workout ) or can I permanently improve my rhythm picking with special gym exercises?

What exactly is recommended?

Do any of the pros hit the gym to help with their playing?

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    Tosin Abasi hits the gym pretty often. I don't know for sure, but my guess would be that you'd have to focus on forearms mainly and the arms more generally Jun 21, 2016 at 10:23
  • This may be as much psychological as physiological. Try a sort of reverse-meditation when you practice: imagine yourself exercising at peak power, breathe hard to raise your pulse rate, etc., and see if you can play faster. Jun 21, 2016 at 11:29
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    It probably has to do with the fact that you're thoroughly warmed up. Speed has very little to do with raw strength, in fact, too much strength training would probably slow you down.
    – Johannes
    Jun 21, 2016 at 12:16
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    Along the lines of Johannes' comment, for me it seems that a cardiovascular workout helps me with musicianship and no so much any strength training. Being in good shape helps everything in general. Jun 21, 2016 at 13:27
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    I agree with all the previous comments but I find the situation reported by the OP kind of weird and contrary to my own experience. Muscle tiredness and general body weariness (even from just running) make it very difficult for me to play (piano) speedily after an intense workout. On the other hand I find that overal good physical condition allows for more intense and longer practising sessions, which has a payback in performance, so regular exercise has (for me, (like for Todd Wilcox)) a positive impact on musical performance. Jun 21, 2016 at 13:34

4 Answers 4


kind of. but the main solution to your riff speed lies out side of the gym.

the vast majority of speed problems come from inadequate synchronization, excess tension, inefficient movements, and restrictive form. the kind physical strength associated with speed is usually best practiced on the instrument. what you might be experiencing is an increase of blood flow and adrenaline to the hand that results in a super warmed up picking state. in contrast wearing the muscles out before playing will reduce your max picking speed.

however, i highly recommend using the gym to get blood flowing to your hands before you warm. it reduces warm up time and lets you focus more on playing.

in short; working out before playing is fine, but i would make sure my technique is flawless before look at the gym. there are some guys with really weak looking wrists that pick like you would't believe.


After some experimentation, I think I can give the answer myself:


What limited my picking speed so far, was a slightly un-ergonomic pick angle. I chose this angle at slow speeds, because it gives me a sound, that is particularly pleasant to me, but at higher speeds it becomes increasingly hard to hold this angle.

Stubborn as I am, I then tensed up ad higher speed, trying to force the pick through the strings the same way.

This is why I play so much faster after the gym:

Usually I train to failure, meaning, In my last set, I will do as many reps as it takes to totally exhaust my muscles. For guitar purpose, I even recommend recovering for some minutes and then add at least one more set to failure. Right after such a workout session, my muscles are substantially weakened. Sometimes to the point, where holding a bottle of water becomes a problem. This is the state I practiced guitar in.

Now, instead of upholding the un-ergonomic pick angle, my muscles simply give way to a slightly faster pick angle, without me noticing it. This is why I was faster, although, I didn't think I was doing anything different. I repeated the experiment and can now reproduce the correct picking angle and higher speed, even without going to the gym first.

I have extensively experimented with different pick-angles before, but it seems, I never found the right one. Partly because, I would start my experiments at very slow speeds. At very slow speeds, my new fast angle sounds a little bit weak and I wouldn't have considered developing this "weak" angle.

Recommended exercises

If you want to try this experiment yourself, I recommend working your hole upper body, but especially your forearms. A lot of back exercises like chin ups (depending on your grip) and rowing can be used for this.

If you have any picking issues, I highly recommend you try this. It has helped me make a huge progress in a very short time, after years of stagnation.


Consider watching "cracking the code" on YouTube ... Ultimately, the problem you're facing is what is known as lack of pick-slanting. You're trying to power through with pure muscle strength. Its more about a technique that will allow you slight graze the string when alternate picking. Anyway, it will take time to adjust to this as it is quite different approach. If you stick with it you will see and improvement in after 3-6 months .. and after a year the difference will be monumental ... John Petrucci, Steve Morse, Yngwie,

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    While useful for technique improvement, this doesn't answer the question the OP raised, which was about gym exercises.
    – Doktor Mayhem
    Jun 21, 2016 at 19:56

I think it's more psychological than physical actually. Not only need you train your muscles to move fast and get synchronized (which is not really about physical strengths per se, but rather accuracy and precision), but you also need to hear what you play and be able to play (sing) it at the expected speed in your head which most people fail to handle in fact.

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