Part 1: Four Strength-Training Moves to Improve Bass Drum Speed and Endurance
Should drummers exercise? Time and time again professional musicians tell me they don’t want to vigorously exercise. The general consensus is that exercising might increase muscle mass, slowing down execution on the instrument. Others believe exercise will not help improve their craft.
Based on basic physiology and physics, I have to wholeheartedly disagree. The right exercise is always beneficial—always. Improving your muscular control, strength, and endurance has immediate benefits. As drummers we employ our bodies, minds, and ears simultaneously to amalgamate a summation of skills. So it stands to reason that if you improve your body, you’ll be in a better position to achieve the desired results. Plus, even if you’re not required to play hard and fast on the gig for several hours at a time, it’s reassuring to know that you have the strength and mechanical facility to deliver those extremes when they’re needed.
Fun Facts About Muscles
Let’s start with my favorite fact about muscles: improving your muscular quality will help your mind. As you exercise individual sections of your body, you’re also stimulating specific areas of your brain. That means that as you practice moving and using parts of your body differently from the ways that you normally do, you’ll improve how your mind processes mechanical information.
Improving your muscular quality will also help you move easier, because muscles produce mechanical force. So strengthening your muscles to produce controlled force will allow you to move your limbs more easily.
In addition, improving your muscle quality will protect your joints and organs. Muscles act as force managers and aid in absorbing force. This means that when there’s impact from a drumstick hitting a drum or cymbal, your muscles are better able to absorb and dissipate that mechanical energy. If your muscles are not strong enough, reactive forces can eventually hurt your soft tissue.
In fact, improving your muscular quality will improve your overall health. The majority of our internal systems are dependent on our ability to move. Improving muscular quality will help you move more easily. So you want to get a move on, or else you’ll risk losing mobility over time.
More facts: Improving your muscular quality will also decrease the risk of injury and strains. Let’s get serious—injury and trauma are the main reasons drummers stop playing drums. As you improve your muscle strength, you decrease the likelihood of a muscle getting so strained that you experience pain and cramping.
Improving your muscular quality can also help fight disease. The strength of your muscular system is directly correlated with your susceptibility to metabolic ailments such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Strength training alone can’t remedy these conditions entirely, but it’ll definitely help.
Finally, improving your muscular quality will improve your drumstick control. Dynamics are a crucial element of drumming. The greater control you have over your body, the greater control you’ll have over your dynamics as you build your skills.
Identifying Your Weakest Links
Now let’s discuss how we can utilize exercise to improve speed and endurance on the bass drum. Bass drum performance is ultimately the result of a combination of elements: the mechanical settings of your bass drum pedal, your bass drum head tension, and how well your body can perform.
There are many things you can do to improve your bass drum performance when you’re not at your drumset. For instance, appropriate resistance exercises can exponentially increase speed and endurance on the bass drum pedal.
Have you ever noticed that a specific part of your leg will start to fatigue ahead of the other parts? Maybe it’s your hip flexors, quads, shins, or calves. The human body is miraculous at adapting. As we learn how to play the bass drum, we each develop unique techniques that will unknowingly bias certain muscle groups. The goal of the following exercises is to isolate and identify the various muscle groups involved in playing the bass drum. That way you can focus on strengthening your weaker links to create a more cohesive muscular system, which will ultimately have a positive influence on your speed, finesse, and endurance.
These exercises should be performed on commercial resistance exercise machines. You can recreate them outside of a gym, but it would be optimal to use the suggested equipment. The machines I’m suggesting are available at most gyms.
Standing Hip Flexion: In my opinion, the hip flexor is one of the most underrated areas of the body to strengthen. Standing hip flexion can be performed on a machine called the multi-hip. This machine will help you isolate the hip flexor muscles on the front part of your leg. Your hip flexors are responsible for helping you pick up your leg and controlling the descent when you’re playing the bass drum. Do two to three sets on each leg, with ten to fifteen repetitions per set.
Hip Extension/Squats: Squats are a common exercise. Bodyweight squats, machine squats, and free weight squats can be performed quite easily. The most important thing is to make sure you find the version of this movement that’s most comfortable for you. Make sure to work within your active range of motion to avoid injury. The unique bar configuration shown here is the best option for my body. Do two to three sets of ten to fifteen repetitions per set.
Seated Calf Raises: This is one of my favorite exercises for developing calf strength. While seated at a calf raise machine, lift up the machine with both legs, and stop at the top. Then slowly remove one leg, and lower the machine down with the other. Each time you perform this movement, alternate which leg lowers the machine. This exercise emphasizes the eccentric (lowering) part of the movement, enhancing its strength-building benefits.
Dumbbell Dorsiflexion: The shin muscles often tire out before the rest of the leg because of their fast-twitch nature. When they get tired, they lock up, therefore inhibiting your ability to perform at an optimal level. The goal of this dumbbell exercise is to strengthen your shin muscles to help improve strength and endurance.
Elevate your heels using a block or step, squeeze a dumbbell between your toes, and lift yourself up and down. Focus on feeling the muscle contractions at the front of your shin.
As you practice the exercises described in this article, utilize slow and controlled repetitions. I suggest performing each movement for three seconds, holding it for a moment, and then gradually releasing it over three seconds. Focus on squeezing the muscles that you want to feel. If you can’t feel those muscles in action, slow down until you can. And most importantly, don’t exercise through pain.
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.