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Playing drums is an exhilarating way to release your energy, create the heartbeat for any melody, and lose yourself to music. If you’re a drummer or thinking of becoming one, you may be curious about the health benefits of drumming and wondering if drumming is good exercise.
Drumming can be good exercise because a standard session can burn around 200-500 calories, while an hour-long stadium performance could burn over 1,000 calories.
Many argue that drumming is not exercise and sweating does not equate to a workout. However, these skeptics would be wrong because study after study has proven the physical and mental benefits of drumming.
Now, it will greatly depend on how hard you are rocking out, and a jazz drummer may get less physical benefit than a hard rock drummer(but saying this, how long do you practice as a jazz drummer?), but we will breakdown the logistics. Use this quick read to cover impressive studies and hear the science behind drumming as a workout, the best techniques to try, the psychological benefits of drumming, as well as the health risks. By the end of this guide, you can determine for yourself if drumming is exercise because the debate rages on!
Drumming Exercise in Calories
|standard drumming session||200-500 calories|
|hour-long stadium performance||1,000 calories|
Some Don’t Believe Drumming is Exercise:
Those For Drumming as Exercise: “I’ve been a wrestler/hockey player/ strength trainer/mixed martial artist…on and on for most of my life in some regard. I’ve trained brutally hard for most of my life. And this will surprise most anyone that drumming for 45 minutes at my shows has caused me more fatigue and physical damage than any of the above,” says an athlete, drummer, and Silver Member on Drummer World.
Those Against Drumming as Exercise: If the sweat is pouring, many would argue this deems drumming an official workout; while other disbelievers argue that, “Sweating a lot does not a workout make. Drummers who are sweating are probably sweating more due to the high-pressure environment.”
Since there is so much back-and-forth regarding this topic, we’re hoping to clear some things up.
Recent studies such as the Clem Burke Drumming Project, which was created by the Drummer of Blondie (known as the ‘Doctor of Rock’), have discovered that within a 90-minute showcase, a drummer’s heartrate will reach the same rate of an ‘average top-flight footballer.’ Burke’s heartrate reached over 150-beats per minute, at one-point skyrocketing to 190-beats per minute!
Their study found that the average calories-per-hour spent while drumming was around 600 calories.
If you need something more tangible to compare that amount to, the 600 calories burnt while drumming for an hour is equivalent to:
- 10,000 steps at a walking pace
- 66 minutes of playing singles Tennis
- 78 minutes of leisurely swimming
- 45 minutes of vigorous cycling
- 186 minutes of yoga
- 117 minutes of gardening
(As sourced from the Beneden.Co.UK piece on what burns 100 calories, multiplied to the drumming average of 600 calories).
Apparently, this is a subjective question as many still argue, ‘if drumming is exercise than so is sitting and playing the piano or riding in a golf cart.’ This may sound like a fair argument, but in truth, these skeptics are simply not well-researched enough in the topic to speak to it.
Although many want to make the issue this simplistic, the science is there to add validation to the claim that drumming is, in fact, a form of exercise, simply by the proven:
- Increase in heart rate
- High caloric-burning that outperforms other physical activities (as listed above)
- Use of almost every muscle in your body
These factors lead scientists to believe that yes, drumming is exercise.
The Clem Burke Drumming Project:
The findings of this eight-year project are absolutely fascinating.
Dr. Marcus Smith, a professor at the University of Chichester, describes, “if you looked at the heart rates of a Premiership footballer and Clem over 90 minutes, you wouldn’t know which was which.”
While people are arguing that what Clem Burke is doing isn’t ‘really that physical,’ he is playing over 100 concerts that last for 90-180-minutes. All of this compared to football players that play around 40 games a year. Who do you think is burning more calories?
What is evident is that to become a quality drummer, especially in an up-tempo rock group or capacity that involved rigorous/high-speed drumming – You must be fit. If you are unable to keep up the tempo or your heartrate gives out, you will not be able to keep up with the demanding schedules of professional drummers that often require them to perform 250+ nights a year.
The Clem Burke Project has used their incredible findings of the average 600 calories burnt, noticing the entire-body effects that drumming has, and used this information to give back. They have established a Health and Social Care program within the University of Gloucestershire. This program is set to offer young students and those who are overweight, fun ways to get physical. Fun ways like drumming!
The drumming library is built next to the Oxstall campus and is a one-of-a-kind facility.
If they are building entire facilities to help adolescents lose weight through drumming, it’s quite difficult to argue against drumming as a methodology of exercise, wouldn’t you agree?
As The BBC states of the study, “drummers can elevate their heart rate up to 190 beats per minute, which is comparable to the top heart rate that many elite athletes experience while playing their sport. The study revealed that drummers must have top-level endurance to perform.”
Does Drumming Burn Calories?
To reiterate – Yes, drumming burns between 200-1500 calories per hour, depending on how hard you are drumming and how much you are using your entire body.
You may think that drumming looks easy, but to keep your arms going at an intentional-rhythm for hours is incredibly difficult. Most people’s arms would start spazzing out after 10-minutes of exhaustion (mostly talking about myself), but why do so many believe that drumming is as simple as quietly sitting in a chair?
Some studies to argue against these non-believers of drumming as a caloric-burning method are:
- CalorieLab found that ‘a person who weighs 185-pounds will burn about 252 calories during an hour-long session.’
- The Clem Burke Study discussed above found that drumming for an hour led to 400-600 calories burnt (the difference between this and the CalorieLab study was probably the intensity at which the drummers were working).
- The Press of Atlantic City writes, “Keeping the beat during a 90-minute concert is equal to running a 10K race.”
- As Rosendale Drum Lessons describes, “Just by using hand drums and moving to the beat, people burned an average of 270.4 calories in a half hour.”
- Lancaster Online describes their drumming fitness class that will burn up to 900-calories per hour! They write, “Pound claims its uniquely choreographed classes can burn up to 900 calories an hour. It is designed to target the waist and thighs and strengthen connective tissue and muscle through stability moves.”
Does Drumming Tone Arms, Legs, Torso?
The constant moving of your upper body will shake your entire body. You can add as much full-body power into your drumming beat as you like. Meaning, many will use their core and abs to add more power behind their hits.
Mike Johnston, the owner of The Drum Lab, says, “There’s no other instrument that involves chaotically moving all four limbs like drumming. You know, rock drummers don’t take their shirts off (during shows) to try to get chicks. It’s because they’re sweating, and it’s really hot up there.”
Johnston’s philosophy surrounds the idea that drumming is an intense workout that provides full-body strength building and cardiovascular benefit. He does warn that you need to cross-train as a drummer to get your body strong enough to perform with such high demands each night.
He admits, an unfit person will have a difficult time mustering the endurance to push through a 90-minute drumming performance.
The way that each aspect of your body is getting a workout is:
- Your arms – clearly doing the bulk of the work and hitting your biceps and triceps radically.
- Your torso and core – Supporting you to sit up straight and also it takes the shock value off of your arms. As that energy hits your body, it decompresses, and the energy waves slow down once they reach your torso. Your core is essentially absorbing that
- Your Legs – Have to lift up and tap the bottom kits as well as the foot pedal. If you’ve ever tapped your foot for an hour, you know that it can wear out your shin and even the front muscles on your legs. Now imagine having a physical petal to push against, a rhythm to keep on tempo, and doing this for a 3-hour set. Your legs will be hurting!
- The most common issues that drummers face is back and neck problems. To prove it is a full body workout, every part of your body will be impacted by drumming and not always in a good way. If you slouch or have bad posture as you drum, this will only worsen your back issues and can commonly lead to pinched nerves in your neck.
You will realize that drumming is a workout when you drum for a night and experience the physical demands for yourself, the deliver power that is required, the endurance, as well as the fluctuating speeds required. It will take a strong amount of coordination and lots of practice, but you will 100% feel the lactic-acid burn and muscle fatigue in the coming days after a drum-sesh.
What is Cardio Drumming?
If there was any doubt at this point about drumming being a workout, they’ve already made a workout class out of the hobby and called it, ‘Cardio Drumming!’
Cardio drumming is similar to any exercise class you may take, but it allows the drummer to get up from the seat and move around. You will see Zumba-Esque movements and dance moves while you hit the drumsticks against the ground, in the air, and all around you.
The goal of cardio drumming is to take the already physical-aspects of drumming and make it into a cardio-exercise, which allows one to move around. You can use a yoga ball, a bucket to drum on, and whatever fun props your class offers you to get the most out of your drumming workout.
A one-hour class will typically claim to burn between 400-900 calories.
Other Health Benefits of Drumming
If you’re sold on the health benefits of drumming, prepare to be blown away by the full-picture of what it offers. Not only is it a great workout that is proven to burn calories and get your heart rate up (especially in the cardio form where no sitting is involved), but it also offers additional benefits as well.
The Mind Body Wellness Center and Dr. Bittman, a Neurologist and CEO of the Center, found that the health benefits of drumming outside of calorie-burning benefits include:
- A stronger immune system – As stated by Bittman’s incredible drumming studies which have discovered that, “Sound waves have a profound effect on body cells. As an example, contemporary medical practices such as ultrasound used for healing scar tissue and reducing inflammation actually help the immune system produce more disease fighting cells. Thus, drumming or percussion activities can boost the immune system.”
- Improved mood from tapping into what Bittman calls a ‘primal compulsion’
- Improved cardiovascular health
- Reduced anxiety
- Reduced depression
- Reduced sensations of loneliness
It can also help things like:
- Chronic pain
- Back pain
- Reducing stroke risks
- Fighting cancer
Yes, even cancer.
Some of the findings behind Dr. Bittman’s research, as described by Lifehack, states that “Neurologist Barry Bittman, M.D. and his renowned research team discovered that a specific group drumming approach (Health RHYTHMS protocol) significantly increased the disease fighting activity of circulating white blood cells (Natural Killer cells) that seek out and destroy cancer cells and virally-infected cells.”
When describing the ‘high’ drummers feel after a performance, MIC says, “It translates to reducing our systolic and diastolic pressures and also to reducing or smoothing out our heartbeat. Reducing one’s blood pressure can benefit heart health, which can reduce the likelihood of heart attacks, strokes, and breakdowns in the immune system.”
The power of music is truly this powerful. If you had any doubts about the effects of drumming, I hope your mentality is beginning to shift.
Psychological Benefits of Drumming
To explore the psychological benefits more in-depth, drumming has been proven to help with the following psychological issues:
· Stress Relief – Music has long-proven to release enkephalins and endorphins (happy hormones) while you listen to it or create it. Read here for more information on how drumming can boost your mood.
· Improved Cognitive Function – This Study conducted by Stanford found that “following a series of 20-minute treatment sessions (drumming sessions) administered over several months, the children made lasting gains in concentration and performance on IQ tests and had noticeable reduction in behavioral problems compared to the control group.”
· Enhanced Intelligence and Academic Performance – As this Study writes, “students who were taught using rhythm notation scored 100 percent higher on tests of fractions; and a child may use the ability for logical thinking that was developed in music class to solve problems quite unrelated to music (Kelstrom, 1998).”
· Increased confidence
· Meeting like-minded individuals and friends with similar musical interests.
This list goes on and on, but the point being – if you’re considering putting your kid in drumming lessons, do it!
A Scholar in the Department of Music at Stanford, Gabe Turow, says, “Listening to music seems to be able to change brain functioning to the same extent as medication, in many circumstances.”
Potential Injuries Related to Drumming
To preface all of these amazing findings with a small warning – take it easy. Especially at first, while you are learning the techniques of drumming and don’t want to work yourself too hard.
The risks involved in hard-core drumming over extended periods of time are:
- Chronic back pain (mostly linked to slouching)
- Neck spasms (from throwing your neck around too hard to the beat)
- Pinched nerves
- Wrist pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
These pains aren’t common if you’re rarely drumming, but if you are practicing drumming on a regular basis, the risks will certainly increase. Try not to physically exert yourself too hard and find a balance in the workout of it without extremities.
We hope this guide has linked you with the great resources, scientific evidence, and facts behind the complex benefits of drumming.
If you’re not sweating enough during your workout, the best advice we can offer you is to drum harder! Go faster! Pick up the tempo and put in more work if you want drumming to be a superior method of exercise.
It is important to note in regard to the fitness-value of drumming that the more fit you become, the more difficult it is to burn calories in this sense. An unfit person walking for 30 minutes may experience the same caloric drop as someone very fit that jogs for 30 minutes.
The bottom line – Fitness and health are relative terms.
If you are still on the team of ‘drumming is not exercise,’ that is your prerogative and opinion. But we’ll go ahead and lean into the science on this one and say very maturely, ‘you’re wrong!’ Happy drumming!