In Part 2 of this series, we discussed the importance of setting your throne height to a position that will be optimal for your body to be comfortable and strong for a lifetime of playing. This time we’re going to focus on pedal placement.
The choices we make when positioning our pedals on the floor have a huge impact on how balanced we feel on the throne, and our balance will determine how efficiently we can use the pedals. A lack of balance and symmetry can also cause unnecessary stress on joints and tissues, which could lead to issues in the future.
Remove the Misconceptions
Drummers have generally embraced the notion that the shins should be positioned at a 90-degree angle to the floor. Another common practice for determining where to place the pedals is to sit on the throne and simply place your feet in front of you. The theory is that wherever your feet land is where your pedals should sit. While those rules might work for some, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all manual for setting up your kit.
External Variable 1: The Pedals
While there’s a wide variety of makes and models of pedals, most perform similar functions. Pedals create a long and effective lever system to transfer the force of our feet to the bass drum, hi-hats, or other auxiliary instruments. The placement of these pedals as they relate to the throne will dramatically influence your performance as well as your risk of injury.
External Variable 2: The Snare
The snare drum and its tripod stand create obstacles for your pedals and legs. The diameter of the drum and the length of your legs will influence the position of your feet. For example, if you have short legs and use a 14″ or larger diameter snare, your legs might need to be opened wider than ideal to accommodate the drum. If you feel like your legs are being forced uncomfortably farther apart because of your snare size, consider testing a 13″ drum.
Internal Variable 1: The Hip Complex
Pedal and snare placement involves your leg-to-hip bone system (acetabular-femoral), which has three degrees of freedom. We’ll be focusing on the sagittal plane (front-to-back) joint motion and transverse plane abduction from a hip-flexed position with the leg situated outward.
Internal Variable 2: The Feet and Ankles
When talking about pedal placement, the complex foot and ankle systems obviously come into play. The ankle is a thirty-bone system capable of fifty-five articulations. We’re going to keep it simple and only examine the sagittal plane (front-to-back) plantar flexion and dorsiflexion. The key muscles to consider are the gastrocnemius, soleus, plantaris, peroneals, tibialis anterior, and tibialis posterior.
Pedal Width Assessment
Look at last month’s article on throne height again to ensure that you’re sitting in a position that’s optimal for your body. Now slide your feet all the way together, and then separate them as wide as you can without allowing your knees to bow. Repeat this three to five times. As you repeat, your muscles become stimulated through a type of muscle memory called “post-activation potentiation,” which may affect how much motion you have during the assessment. I suggest taking your shoes off during the test to reduce friction. The amount of adduction available to you will indicate how wide you can set your pedals and remain comfortable.
Once you’ve determined a comfortable pedal position, place your feet on top of the pedals and lift the front of each foot as high as it will go without the heel leaving the ground. This determines maximum dorsiflexion. If you’re unable to lift your foot off the pedal because of tension in your shin, you’re sitting too close to the pedals. To remedy this, slide your throne back six inches and try again. When dealing with a biomechanical system as fine-tuned as the feet, we want to be sure to operate within our active range of motion. If the pedal is constantly pushing you into a position that results in loss of control, plantar fasciitis or shin splints can develop.
Once you’ve determined how wide your legs can be placed comfortably on the pedals, you can adjust the distance to accommodate your setup. Single-kick players are afforded a number of options. Multiple-pedal users may be a bit more limited depending on the range of motion of their hips.
Minimize Hip Rotation
One of the key reasons why you need to determine how far apart your feet can be positioned comfortably is to heighten your awareness of whether or not you’re forcing excessive internal or external rotation of the hip. External rotation occurs if you spread your knees too far apart around the snare in relation to where the pedals are placed underneath. Internal rotation often occurs if the pedals are placed too far apart, or if you have to reach under floor toms or side snares to play a pedal.
Hip rotation isn’t dangerous by itself, but when you combine it with the repetitive lifting motion required to play pedals, the muscles can shorten. Shortened muscles have decreased ability to generate force, which means that your hip muscles will have to work harder when in rotation. This can lead to muscle strains over time.
If you follow the assessment outlined in this article, you will create a better operating window for your hips, which will decrease the risk of hip injury and lower back strain. See you next month!
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.