Is Playing Guitar a Workout? [In-Depth Look]

After playing guitar by yourself for an hour, it can often feel like you ran a mile while using a grip master the entire time. Now, this depends if you were rocking out but the feeling is still similar to those who weren’t. This decrease in energy had me thinking about whether or not playing guitar is a workout.

Is playing guitar a workout? Playing guitar is a workout because multiple muscles in your hand, fingers, and arms are engaged to play guitar effectively. When activating these muscles, calories are being burned to create the energy to do so. Thus making guitar playing a workout.

Continue reading to find out what muscles you use when playing guitar, if playing guitar is a workout, how many calories you burn playing guitar, and if playing guitar can make your hands veiny.

is playing guitar a workout

What Muscles Do You Use When Playing Guitar?

Muscles used when playing guitar include various muscles in the hand like the abductor pollicis brevis, flexor pollicis brevis, adductor pollicis, flexor digiti minimi brevis, abductor digiti minimi brevis, opponens digiti minimi, opponens pollicis, the lumbricals and the interossei. Other muscles used in the arm are the triceps, forearms and the muscles in the wrist.

If you are new to playing guitar, you may have never over-used many of these intricate muscles to play guitar. This is why many new guitarists experience soreness during their first couple of months of playing. Soreness is a side effect of the stress put on muscles when playing guitar. This eventually dwindles in time as your muscles get stronger and less fatigued through similar movements.

Is Playing Guitar a Workout?

Playing guitar is a workout. With guitar, there is a high emphasis on finger independence. Each finger on your fretting hand is constantly moving, especially for lead players. Rhythm players often feel more of a workout in their strumming hand as it is their job to keep the groove going and in time.

Let’s look into these aspects and learn how these movements justify guitar being a workout.

Rhythm Playing

As a rhythm guitar player, your fretting hand movements are often much simpler than as a lead player. Although, your picking hand and arm are constantly moving. Your strumming hand muscles are constantly being engaged for longer durations of time.

Specifically the inner part of your hand, the metacarpals bone, and abductor pollicis Brevis muscle. Also involved are the phalanges (fingers) for flexibility and speed that are required for quick chord changes or embellishments.

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Often forgotten is the forearm. This muscle is constantly moving in conjunction with the triceps and wrists. The forearm is responsible for holding chords, especially those that exist on the low-E string, like a bar chord.

The tricep is used primarily on the strumming arm. Instead of mostly using your wrist, you are driving your whole arm into the chord, a movement that starts and finishes with the tricep.

Lead Playing

Lead playing is very similar to rhythm in terms of its effectiveness as a workout but with a few differences.

With lead playing, your pace is often significantly increased. This is because of the increased focus on dexterity and precision involved with playing lead/soloing.

The fast, precise, and flexible movements when running through scales up and down the neck uses a variety of both arm and hand muscles.

With the right hand (picking hand), there is more emphasis on finger independence. Different from rhythm playing where most chords are struck together, lead players often have to only strike 1 or 2 at a time. This task relies on finger independence.

The speed and dexterity used to play lead guitar involve multiple muscle groups. The movement of these muscle groups moving together at a faster pace burns calories and builds muscles. Two benefits that come from a workout.

Playing Guitar Standing vs. Sitting

In terms of viewing guitar as a secondary form of workout/exercise, there is a great difference between playing guitar standing versus sitting. One is sedentary, the other is not. One does not support your weight, the other does. One constricts movement, the other does not. Each of these factors affects the effect of the guitar’s effectiveness being a workout.

As you likely guessed, playing guitar sitting is the one with the least effective workout results. When sitting, the only movements being performed are entirely upper body, with the occasional foot tapping.

Playing guitar standing is much more effective as a means of the guitar being a workout. While

How Many Calories Do You Burn Playing Guitar?

When playing guitar for one hour, 160-200 calories will be burned. Factors that increase or decrease this calorie count include the level of intensity when playing, the complexity of the practice or songs, body weight, style of play, and sitting or standing.

We will only be looking into calories burned when playing alone, not live/gigging.

To go back to the standing vs. sitting discussion, the difference in calories burned varies alarmingly. The chart below highlights the calories burned from sitting vs. standing. It should be noted that this study was on males and they did not have a guitar on them. With the guitar, you can expect even more calories to be burned while standing.

Weight (pounds)Calories Burned – 8hrs of sittingCalories Burned – 4hrs sitting, 4hrs standingDifference over 8 hours (calories burned)Difference in Calories Burned per Hour
Research was performed by Healthline

Aside from the sitting vs. standing factor. The intensity and style of play are major factors. Let’s look at two examples.

The first example is this Blackbird performance by Paul McCartney. Here Paul is singing and playing guitar sitting down. The intensity of this song is mellow and calming. The chords and finger picking are relatively simple and do not require much visible effort to play.

The second example is the king of intensity, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s performance of Voodoo Child. This song, and particularly Stevie’s version of it, is high intensity and high pace. There are fast chord changes and blurring solos, used with a mix of pedals.

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The caloric burn from these two examples is massive which is why the style of the song and intensity play a major factor in figuring out how many calories are burned when playing guitar. Paul and Stevie look to be roughly the same weight, but Blackbird requires much less physical output than Voodoo Child. Less physical output means fewer calories burned.

Does Playing Guitar Make Your Hands Veiny?

Playing guitar can make your hands veiny. Veins are caused by swelling in the muscles, and since the guitar uses many muscles in the hands while playing, veins can become visible. Particularly this happens for guitarists with a lower body fat percentage and who are accustomed to fitness.

Let’s quickly discuss the science behind how veins become visible to better understand how it relates to playing guitar: “Swelling in the muscles pushes the veins out to the surface,” says Spencer Nadolsky, D.O., author of The Fat Loss Prescription. “Your muscles swell when working out and push the veins closer to the surface of your skin, which makes them more pronounced.” This is from Men’s Health.

Furthermore, the leaner you are, the more pronounced your veins will be. This is because there is less subcutaneous fat constricting the protrusion of the veins.

Enough science talk.

Simply put, yes playing guitar can cause veins to protrude because of the muscles you are activating when constructing chords, finger picking, soloing, etc.

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