I was recently asked to write an article for Les Slinn Personal Trainer
about the risks of playing drums if you are not properly fit and healthy enough to do so (article below).
This is a very important area of education which I feel is extremely under-taught. This article is a very brief outline of the information which I think every drummer (and musician) should know about.
Are you Drum Fit and
Fit To Drum?
Rich Millin, Proffesional Drummer and Drum Educator.
There was a scientific study recently
[see here] which claimed that
professional drummers burn more calories than professional football
players over the course of 90 minutes playing time. I can quite
believe it. As a professional drummer for over 12 years I can assure
you that it is hard work. Hard but fun.
I can also tell you that playing drums can be potentially hazardous
to your physical well-being. Not that drumming is the most risky
profession out there, but if you aren't properly aware of how your
body works when performing such physical activity, then there can
potentially be dangers...
Being physically fit to perform strenuous regular exercise doesn't
necessarily mean that you have to be super strong and bulging with
muscles. In fact, to play the drums with control, it's all about the
small and detailed movements, so having huge muscles could actually
be a hindrance. Also, the muscles you use when playing drums are
many and varied as it is such an all-round physical exercise.
Having massive biceps just isn't enough. Understanding every part of
your body and how it moves is the only way to ensure a good technique
and help to prevent physical injury.
So, where to begin? Well, good all-round exercise and keeping fit in
general is obviously a good idea for all human beings, regardless of
their job. Depending upon your personal physical make-up and
limitations (seek advice from an expert if you are new to physical
exercise – exercise without advice from experts (phys-ed
instructors and/or your GP) is dangerous), you should be aiming for a
mix of cardiovascular and strength work.
Playing drums for extended periods can be exhausting, so having good
stamina and working on cardiovascular exercise is very important.
Running, cycling or swimming are very good for this. Also playing
other sports like football or racket sports.
Building and maintaining strong muscles is also an important part of
any exercise routine when thinking about your job as a drummer.
Having strong muscles will help you perform to the best of your
potential. It also helps to support each movement and so prevent
over-working, over-reaching and over-extension, all of which can
cause physical pain and possibly serious injury.
The other very important part of your exercise should be “staying
limber”. Or stretching properly. Stretching properly and
regularly will ensure you stay supple and don't over-reach or
overwork your muscles and also help with muscle stamina, meaning you
can perform for longer without getting so physically tired. It will
also help combat things like muscle cramps.
I have been a drummer for nearly 30 years and professional (both
playing and teaching) for more than 12 years. In that time I have
encountered many physical problems myself, as well as being asked for
advice from many of my students about problems they have had. Some
of the most common complaints are:
RSI (usually in the hands, wrists or elbows. This can be in the
form of joint ache, or, in some more severe cases, joint
Blisters (usually on the fingers or hands due to poor stick
technique – actually from gripping the sticks to tightly and
over-working the hand muscles. You will probably also suffer hand
muscle cramps from holding the sticks to tightly)
With the exception of Blisters (which is all about stick technique –
ask your drum teacher how to overcome this particular problem), all
the other physical complaints are all due to lack of knowledge about
the drummers own body. For instance: Bad posture. This is such a
common problem that I would estimate 100% of all drummers at some
point have played drums with poor posture. Usually, drummers will be
sat on their drum stool and arch their back forward in a terrible
position leading to all sorts of problems with their back or neck or
both! Simply sitting up straighter will help with this, although
understanding how to maintain good posture and make it feel natural
is where the hard work comes in. I will explain some exercises later
to help with this particular (and most common) drummer complaint.
Other problems such as muscles cramps, as I said before, can be
helped by good stretching.
Playing drums is an extremely physically demanding exercise.
Probably every muscle in your body is used and it is a very good idea
to get used to playing “relaxed” This doesn't mean you stop
using any muscles, but it does mean that you should not be playing
“tense”. For example, you could play a super fast set of notes
by making your muscles “spasm” by tensing so much your muscles
start to shake at high speed. Whilst this might initially sound
impressive, it is extremely bad for many reasons; you could only
achieve this for a short burst of time. You are effectively
over-working your muscles by doing this. You have absolutely no
control over how or what you are playing. You are probably going to
do some physical damage to yourself. This just isn't “playing”
So, how do some drummers play so fast and make it look so effortless?
Simple: They are relaxed. They are also well practiced, not only
at drums, but also at the physical demands required to play
As an example, to play the snare drum with your right stick 600 times
per minute, evenly, takes a lot of practice, a lot of skill and
dedication and also training. What I mean by training is using the
right muscles in the right way and practicing the right techniqe so
much that it becomes second nature. Relaxed. Easy.
This takes time.
But to understand your body properly you need to understand exactly
what muscles are being used to play 600 beats per minute with your
right hand and how to control the stick properly to achieve a nice
even set of notes.
There is far too much information to go into in such a short essay as
this, but, from the example above you can see that there is a huge
amount of work to be done to achieve physical drumming perfection!
To break things down for the purposes of this blog:
First things first:
Speak to your drum teacher
about this stuff
Seek professional advice from a physical instructor. These guys
should be able to help you achieve all your goals and combat any
physical problems to perform your job properly.
Seek good medical advice before you exercise.
Mix it up! Cardiovascular, muscular and stretching!
Work all areas – don't focus on just one thing.
Make sure to work your supporting muscles as well as the ones you
use. For instance, if you are trying to perform a delicate movement
with your tricep, then your bicep must also be used to support the
As point 3 above, you must remember that each movement your perform
requires the opposite movement to re-set your body to it's starting
point; i.e. when you hit the snare drum, you need to move your arm,
hand and stick back to the starting point in order to hit it exactly
the same again.
Other benefits of regular
exercise include feeling better about yourself, more confident and
In summary, being generally
fitter and healthier by exercising, even just a little more, means
that you will be able to perform better, regardless of your job or