Physical Conditioning and Maintenance For The Performing Drummer Part 2: The Gig

In part 1 we talked about background, cited a few examples of other activities, and the why. Now we are going to discuss “how.”

We all know when our drumming “hits.” The longer practice sessions, studying with as many as we can, always pushing ourselves. Being young that energy is abundant, and with consistency, it can be kept. Here are some ways to keep everything going smooth when it’s gig time.

1) Cardio. During a live hard rock performance, a drummer’s heart rate can be anywhere from 130 – 190 bpm. A 2 hour rehearsal, practice session, recording, etc can get close, but doesn’t quite have the adrenaline factor. Of course playing itself can be beneficial, but basic pre-event/gig warmups would be ideal. Jumping jacks – 30 seconds, mountain climbers – 30 seconds, running in place – 60 seconds. These will also help with agility, as will –

2) Stretching. Our drumsets are individual, set to how we move, and of course the visual “wow that looks awesome” appeal. However, when performing, our motions tend to be a little more enhanced. To avoid injury, and to be done shortly after the cardio – arm circles – 30 seconds each direction, huggers – 10 times each, toe – hip touches – 25 reps, Shoulder stretch – 30 seconds, torso twists, 15 each direction, hip rock reach (one hand reaches overhead and lean to that side, the other down the leg) – 30 seconds each. (I will post pictures of wrist stretches soon). Runners stretch – 30 seconds each.

3) Strength. Ok, ok, ok, sometimes the shirt needs to come off. Just one thing; we know one of the biggest lies a drummer can hear is “I’ll help you with your stuff.” Rarely, if ever happens, so you may want to rethink that rack system. Here are some you can do just with bodyweight – pushups to submax (you have a gig to play, so no point going to failure), pullups if a stable bar is available, squats – 2 x 10-15, calf raises 2 x 10-15 (superset these; set of squats right into set of calf raises), crunches, v-ups, prison pushups, your choice, and reverse crunch to stabilize your low back. *Speaking of low back, make sure your seat is tight! I had back issues from a seat that went loose and would rock side to side. Got a new seat, back got better. This is one piece of gear you should never pinch pennies on.

4) Diet and hydration. Sucking down a greasy burger or 3 slices of pizza may not be the best idea. Alcohol and energy drinks can actually dehydrate you. Best bet, carb heavy breakfast/lunch, some fruits and nuts in between, and protein (grilled chicken is served just about everywhere). Also, water, and lots of it! Having a low sugar recovery drink with electrolytes is also handy to have on stage. A banana or even low-salt potato chips afterwards will help replace the salts and potassium that you lose in sweat.

5) Cool down. Gig is done, gear is packed, you’re done, right? WRONG! Your blood is still pumping, the adrenaline is wearing off, still sweating. Gotta bring yourself back down. Some lose huggers while walking back and forth to gradually bring your heart rate down will help you sustain not only the rest of the night to hang, but the gig or session you might have the next day. Don’t forget a change of clothes and deodorant….

In part 3, we’ll talk about a workout program that can be done in home or on the road with just your bodyweight, and one of those bands you can get for $10.



Physical Conditioning and Maintenance for the Gigging Drummer – Part 1

Part 1 – The purpose of these articles is drummer-centric, yet I’m sure may be valued by other performers. I’m writing this part as a first person account based on hands on experience. My background; I’m a musician of 37 years, over 20 of them in professional settings. Though I no longer do live performances, I remain active recording and educating, as well as daily exercise, yoga, etc. I’m also a former massage therapist, have background in a few styles of martial arts, have taken coursework in exercise and movement sciences, anatomy and physiology, and am currently studying towards my occupational therapist degree. I have also had several surgeries, none of which are drumming/guitar related, diagnosed and treated with ADHD (where I now hear my friends in 4 part harmony go “YOU?!?!? Noooooooooooo!”), so rest assured I’ll be pulling experiences, information, sources, and informed opinions from several areas.

Writing this was inspired when I recently starting studying Nihon Goshin Aikido again, which is a style I haven’t studied since 2001 at a time in my where I was spread so thin doing so much yet barely absorbing anything long-term. While my brain remembered basic principles, my body; not so much. What does that have to do with music? Tons. While a guitarist can regain much in a small amount of time (fine motor), a drummer doesn’t have that luxury, since we are dealing with the entire body, and as with drumming, sports, running, martial arts, dancing, etc., if not drilled and maintained, that skill can degenerate. Muscle memory will eventually kick in, but nonetheless will take time and will require hands-on repetition, correction, and best with oversight from an experienced professional who can be second set of eyes and knows what to watch for and how to guide constructively. However, as with anything else, consider your source, especially when physicality is involved. Whoever says what they did 25 years and can pick up where they left off is either incredibly gifted, or most likely, lying. Knowing and doing are miles apart, especially when it comes to physicality, where the phrase ” 3 months to get it; 3 weeks to lose it” applies. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to take much stock in how to get 6 pack abs from someone who had it 30 years ago but now sports a beer belly…As the Rush song says, “show me, don’t tell me.”

Another example; in 2013 I was asked to fill in for a festival performance. At this point I decided I was no longer interested in live performance anymore for a variety of reasons, but through back and forth I agreed to do it. First rehearsal – felt like I ran a 5K. Studio drumming and live drumming have a different vibe, and shows physically for many. Live drumming can be more exertive, and that is not something to go in cold with. It took me about 3 weeks to redevelop physically to be able to handle this gig, especially since I was also doing backing vocals. It went very well, and thankfully the dressing room had a shower since there was a meet and greet right after!

Here’s the other part that can be a hard pill to swallow for some; age. In my 20’s I could do, and have done, a few 2-3 set shows a week. Why? I was conditioned for it. Now at 42: unless I had at least 2 hours a day to dedicate to physical training and maintenance for about a month, I’d crash and burn. Why? I stopped gigging years ago, deciding to dedicate my career in a different direction = no longer conditioned. I know what to do, but it would take a little longer for my body to respond.

Consider this: look at boxers, MMA cage-fighters, athletes, stunt people – of course they maintain themselves, but when it is their season/event, they actively train that much harder for the purpose of being in optimal condition to actively handle their event. I feel this applies for the gigging drummer as well, as it can be considered by many in the exercise sciences to be par with an athletic event.

Quick note; if you smoke (from a former smoker, STOP NOW!), are poorly hydrated, and had a few, you’re already compromised.

Part 2 will talk about ideas for active training on and off the kit for upcoming gigs/tours/extended sessions, and passive training, where you are in a consistent and corrective mode of activity, as well as discussion on sticking techniques that may be best suited for your choice of music genre.