Two of the most common questions I’m asked—both at my fitness facility and by fellow drummers—is how to warm up and increase mobility. Without a doubt, being prepared for the activity you’re about to do is of utmost importance. Being prepared helps to ensure that you approach the activity with precision and control, and it reduces the risk of injury.
So, what is the best way to warm up so that you prepare your muscles for contractions and prevent injury? The pat response to this question has been to stretch. Let’s explore this concept and consider some facts that support an argument that stretching might not be the best approach.
Muscles Do What?
Muscles are designed to produce mechanical tension, which is a type of force that helps to boost contractions in a rotational environment around joint systems. This force is often referred to as torque. The better we are able to produce torque, the more accurate and precise our muscles act. This means that the more control we have over our muscles and related systems, the better we will be able to drum.
The Myth of Stretching
Let’s unravel the concept of stretching. When a typical person considers stretching, he or she envisions moving a limb into a deeper-than-normal position and holding it for a period of time. During this stretch, there’s a sensation of pulling in the muscle. Once that tension is released, an increase in motion is expected. In the world of fitness, this is what’s called “passive stretching.”
Most of us think of a stretching muscle, ligament, or tendon as an elastic band. We stretch these muscles believing they are being elongated. When we stop stretching, the muscles have been warmed up, become more pliable, and will move more efficiently.
But movement isn’t just about muscle. All tissue is responsible for movement. This includes muscle, bone, fascia, tendons, nerves, and ligaments. And most of those tissues have less than 1 percent elastic (elastin) qualities and are 99 percent collagen (a non-stretch protein). So if our movement systems are made up of 99 percent non-stretchy material, what exactly are we stretching?
Several scientific studies have established that passive stretching can decrease force production of a muscle, making it less capable of accomplishing what it was designed to do. This can mean injury is more imminent.
How Is Mobility Improved?
After we put mechanical stress through our muscles, our mobility qualities change. One of the proposed theories for this change is referred to as post-activation potentiation (PAP). Think of PAP as a muscle memory stick. Imagine not practicing for two weeks and then trying to play some rudiments. It most likely feels a bit awkward. But then if you rest for fifteen minutes and return to the same rudiments, everything feels easier and more controlled. PAP is a likely explanation for this. PAP (also referred to as muscle memory) can produce an increase in skeletal muscle contractions when preceded by a similar pain- or fatigue-free activity. Simply put, after you use your muscles, your muscles get better at doing the thing you just did, as long as you didn’t burn them out completely.
If you can increase muscle contractions around a joint, your muscles will get stronger and be more capable of pulling you into greater positions. This is how we enhance mobility and retain that improved mobility.
So What About Stretching?
I’m not suggesting to stop stretching, especially if it’s clearly helping you. There are a multitude of studies suggesting forms of stretching can help to relieve pain and discomfort. What I would recommend is that you not stretch intensely before you perform on the drumset—there’s an inhibitory response that can come from more extreme forms of stretching that can degrade your muscles’ ability to perform. This could increase the risk of injury. If you find stretching helpful, I suggest doing it when you’re finished playing.
Over the next few months, we’re going to explore mobility and warm-up strategies using the PAP phenomenon. We’ll zoom in on skeletal muscle contractions versus putting your joints into risky positions. We’ll also explore short-term potentiation versus long-term potentiation in an effort to find new ways to make improvements in performance last even longer. Until next time!
Muscle and exercise specialist Brandon Green is the founder of Strata Internal Performance Center, and is the owner of the drummer-centric biomechanics and fitness website drum-mechanics.com.