A Drummer’s Upper-Body Workout

Increase Your Power & Endurance

Drums are one of the most physically demanding of all musical instruments. By playing them, we use the body’s muscle groups to deliver power, speed, endurance, and coordination over long periods of time. If your muscles become fatigued during a show or session, it can cause your drumming to be inconsistent or your groove to sound forced or uptight. Nobody wants that. We’re here to help.

The burning feeling you get when your muscles are fatigued is known as lactic-acid build up. Lactic acid is a byproduct discarded by overworked muscles when they burn simple sugars called glycogen. This burning sensation occurs when the bloodstream cannot carry the lactic acid away fast enough. By combining weight training and running or cycling, you can increase the workload and condition of your muscles and get rid of lactic acid more rapidly.

This is a good thing, but it comes at a price. Weight training builds muscle by tearing the muscle fibers on a microscopic level, which is why you need to have a proper diet and rest when engaging in this activity. The body needs time to repair, and it needs protein to rebuild muscle. This is how muscles grow.

A myth has long surrounded weight training that stops most musicians dead in their tracks: “If you lift weights you will become tight and lose speed and flexibility.” This is not necessarily true. Strength training and bodybuilding are two very different things. By combining a general weight and cardio training program (I run two to three times a week, an average of five to six miles), I was able to increase my level of power and endurance, giving me the competitive edge to play harder and faster for longer periods of time without feeling fatigued.

This article outlines a basic weight-training program customized to help drummers remain relaxed and be strong while playing. Let’s start by covering a few basic rules.

Free Weights Vs. Machines

There’s a big difference between training with free weights and working out with machines. Free weights are harder to control and have more impact on the muscle that is targeted for training. When you’re working out with free weights, it’s important to use the mirrors in the gym so that you can visually monitor your range of motion and technique in order to focus on the muscle being trained. Some movements aren’t as easy as they look and require a bit of practice. If you use improper technique and add on too much weight, you can work the wrong muscle, or worse, you can injure the muscle, tendons, or joints. Newcomers to weight training should perform all exercises on machines at first. They keep your arms moving in a strict and safe plane, and it’s a good way to develop the feel and technique of the movements. After you gain more confidence and strength, you can begin to perform the same exercises and movements with free weights.

Warm Up

It’s very important to warm up before working out. Do basic stretching exercises involving arms, back, and shoulders. Then ride a stationary bike for 10 to 15 minuets at low intensity in order to raise your core body temperature. Low-intensity cardio workouts like cycling or brisk walking also help to burn fat.

Lifting Technique

It is very important to work the muscle over a full range of motion. The movement must be performed smoothly and at a constant rate of speed — not too fast or too slow. Avoid using any other muscles to move the weight except the one targeted for training. Avoid jerking movements — this causes the loss of tension on the muscle and can lead to an injury, especially when using heavier resistance.

Proper Weight

Pick a weight that you can handle for each exercise. Some muscles are bigger than others, so they’re naturally stronger and can handle more weight. For example, when you work your chest, you can use heavier weight than when you work your shoulder muscles. Make sure that you can perform at least 8 to 12 repetitions with strict form. Good form allows you to put all the tension on the muscle that you are trying to train. It is not how much weight you lift. It is how hard you train the muscle.

Breathe Normally

Never hold your breath. Inhale on the positive lift of the weight and gradually exhale on the negative portion of the lifting cycle. This will keep you from getting dizzy, especially with heavier resistance.

Between Sets

Don’t rest more than 30 second between each set of 8 to 12 reps. Keep moving through your workout to avoid getting cold. Cold muscles have a better chance of being injured.

Train To Failure

Save the high-intensity set for last. High intensity means training to failure so that your muscles are completely exhausted and you can’t perform the same movement again with good form unless you lower the weight resistance. Training to failure is uncomfortable, but it builds power and speed. By training correctly and intelligently, you will prevent injury rather than promote it.

Talk To Your Doctor

If you haven’t trained for ten years or more, you should consult with your doctor to confirm that you are fit enough to take on a strenuous activity. It’s also a good idea to speak with a professional trainer. Most fitness centers will not let you train until they have given you a tour and some basic instruction on how to use the machines. If you are not sure about how something works, just ask the trainer. That’s their job. Believe me, if you aren’t careful and aware of what you are doing, it can lead to an injury.

Listen To Your Body

If you feel pain in a muscle or joint during any exercise, stop immediately. This is a sign of a problem. Either you are lifting too much weight, using bad technique, or irritating an old injury. Never train a sore muscle. Training should make you feel better, not worse.

Lifestyle

Proper sleep, diet, and a healthy lifestyle are important if you want to see the desired result from training. If you have questions about diet or any other things mentioned in this article, you can run a search for this information on the Internet. I recommend checking out exrx.net/Exercise.html. It’s a great web site loaded with an abundance of excellent information.

Commitment

Becoming a good drummer takes time, practice, and patience. The same goes for weight training, so relax and enjoy the process. Our bodies are complex machines. If you don’t maintain the machine, you cannot function to the best of your abilities. I wish you good luck and much success with your training and drumming.

Glossary Of Terms
1. Repetitions: The number of times a weight is moved to and from its original starting point.
2. Set: A group of repetitions. Each exercise on this program should be performed using three sets. Each set should contain 8 to 12 reps.
3. Spot/Spotter: This is a term used often in the gym. It refers to asking for help, especially with the bench press exercise. Beginners should never use the free weight version of the bench press alone. Always ask someone for help.

Next page: Bench press {pagebreak} Exercise 1: Bench Press

The best overall movement for building strength. Lie flat on your back. Adjust your hands so that they are evenly spaced on the bar just outside of your shoulders. Keep your neck straight and your head and upper back flat against the back of the bench. Lift the weight (Fig. 1) and gradually lower the bar so it just touches the lower portion of your chest (Fig. 2), then gradually return the weight to the starting position, while being careful not to overextend your elbows. Perform 8 to 12 reps or to failure. If you are using heavy weight or training to failure, make sure you’re not alone. Ask someone to spot you because there is chance that you won’t be able to lift the weight back on the support rack. Many people have been injured like this. The only time to use a bench press alone is when you use a bench press machine.

Fig. 1

Fig. 2

Next page: Chest Fly

{pagebreak} Exercise 2: Chest Fly

This movement trains the pectoral muscles and is used to give shape and strength to the chest muscles. It is normally considered to be a finishing exercise and should be performed after completing your three sets of flat bench presses. Grab the weights by the handles in the middle, and sit on the end of the bench (Fig. 3). Keep the weights inverted and resting on your knees. Gradually lean back, holding the weights above your head (Figs. 4-5). Keeping your arms slightly bent, slowly lower the weights to the sides of your chest in an arc (Fig. 6). Extend the weights until you feel stress on your pectoral muscles and then raise the dumbbells back to the start position without touching them together. This keeps a constant stress on the muscle over a full range of motion. This movement isn’t recommended for beginners. It takes a little practice especially when heavier resistance is used. If you are training to failure, it’s a good idea to have a spotter in order to help you put the weights down without risk of injury. Beginners should consider using a fly machine since the risk of injury is minimal and it helps to develop basic lifting technique . More experienced lifters also use the machine because it efficiently isolates chest muscles and allows them to use heavier resistance.

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

Fig. 5

Fig. 6

Next page: Overhead Lat Pull

{pagebreak} Exercise 3: Overhead Lat Pull

This is a pulley-type machine that works the latissimus dorsi, or larger back muscle. Sit on the bench and lock your legs under the thigh restrainer pads. Reach up and grab the bar with palms facing away from you (Fig. 7). Keep your hands just beyond the width of your shoulders. Lean slightly back and pull the weight to the front upper half of your chest while keeping your back straight (Fig. 8). Then slowly return the bar to the start position, extending the arms fully over your head. Repeat for the desired number of repetitions. This is a great general exercise for the back and will give your upper body a V-shape.

Fig. 7

Fig. 8

Next page: Preacher Curls

{pagebreak} Exercise 4: Preacher Curls

Here we will work on the bicep and upper forearm. Sit on the bench, lower your arms so that your tricep muscles are resting on the pad, and grab the bar with your palms facing up and your hands shoulder-length apart (Fig. 9). Gradually lift the weight to your forehead and squeeze or contract the bicep muscles (Fig. 10). Then gradually lower the bar back down to the starting position. In this exercise, the negative (or the down cycle) of the movement is as important as the positive (up cycle). Be sure to keep the movement in strict form at a uniform rate of speed. In order to develop good technique, beginners should start with the curling machine.

Fig. 9

Fig. 10

Next page: Tricep Pull Downs

{pagebreak} Exercise 5: Tricep Pull Down

To develop the tricep muscle at the back of your arm, face the pulley machine standing. Grab the bar palms down with your hands positioned close to the middle of the straight bar (Fig. 11). Keeping your elbows close to the side of your rib cage, begin to lower the weight until your arms forms a 90-degree bend — don’t extend them any further (Fig. 12). While keeping the stress on the tricep muscle, begin to raise the weight back to its starting position. Maintain stress on the tricep muscle throughout the full range of motion during the exercise — both the up and down cycle of this movement are equally important. The muscle is small so it doesn’t require a lot of resistance.

Fig. 11

Fig. 12

Next page: Front Overhead Press

{pagebreak} Exercise 6: Front Overhead Press

Now we’ll work the entire shoulder. Sit on the bench facing the straight bar. Grab the bar palms down with hands spaced approximately 5" from the outside of your shoulders (Fig. 13). Lower the bar to just above the front of your chest and then raise it back to its starting potion (Fig. 14). This exercise can be difficult for a newcomer to training. It should never be performed alone, unless you use the machine version of this exercise. It can be a little strenuous on the front of the shoulder muscles, so keep the bar in the same vertical plane with good control on the positive and negative movement of the exercise. Only bring the bar in front of your chest. Some people do the overhead press with the bar behind the neck. This is not recommended because it puts unnecessary stress on the shoulder joints, which is something drummers should avoid.

Fig. 13

Fig. 14

Next page: Side Laterals

{pagebreak} Exercise 7: Side Laterals

This is normally a finishing exercise to be performed after the overhead press. There are three separate components to the shoulder muscle. It is a good idea to train all of them, but since this article is only an introduction to weight training, we will just work on the frontal lobe of the shoulder with this movement. Grab the dumbbells facing the mirror (Fig. 15). Bend forward and raise each arm — bent slightly out — up to the side of your head (Fig. 16). Hold briefly and then lower at a constant rate of speed. Do not let the weights touch at the bottom negative cycle of the movement, because this will take the desired stress off of the front shoulder muscle causing the exercise to lose intensity. Beginners may find it very difficult, so use lighter weight to keep the correct form. By using incorrect technique, you will end up training muscles other than the front shoulder. It’s safer for beginners to use the machine version of this movement. Before you sit in the machine, adjust the seat so that your arms are at a 90-degree angle to your torso when you lift the bars. Keep your shoulder blades and head against the back support and look straight ahead (Fig. 17) and gradually raise the arm bars to a 90-degree angle (Fig. 18). Don’t overextend the elbows over the shoulders. Gradually lower the arm bar towards your ribcage without letting your elbows touch your torso. This keeps the stress constant on the front lobe of the shoulder muscle.

Fig. 15

Fig. 16

Next page: Shoulder Fly

{pagebreak} Exercise 7: Shoulder Fly
It’s safer for beginners to use the Shoulder Fly machine, which is the machine version of the side lateral exercise. Before you sit in the machine, adjust the seat so that your arms are at a 90-degree angle to your torso when you lift the bars. Keep your shoulder blades and head against the back support and look straight ahead (Fig. 25) and gradually raise the arm bars to a 90-degree angle (Fig. 26). Don’t overextend the elbows over the shoulders. Gradually lower the arm bar towards your ribcage without letting your elbows touch your torso. This keeps the stress constant on the front lobe of the shoulder muscle.

Fig. 17

Fig. 18

Next page: Your Weekly Workout Plan

{pagebreak} Your Weekly Workout Plan

This system is designed for people who can only train two times per week and lasts no more than 30 to 45 minutes per session. By using moderate weight and by keeping a reasonable pace between sets, you will get a good workout and see noticeable improvement within four to six weeks.

Combining low weight with high repetitions will cause an increase in low muscle mass and endurance. Heavy weight combined with low repetitions will build high muscle mass and power. We suggest a program that stresses a low intensity training style, best suited for drummers.

In the following workout plan, “high intensity” refers to an increase in the number of repetitions, not an increase in weight. You must train to failure during exercises that use the high intensity technique. The exercises are reversed on Friday, when the arm and shoulder muscles receive the high intensity training technique. This is known as muscle confusion.

During the course of an ongoing training program, the body begins to adapt to stresses that are applied in the same order time after time. This can result in a plateau in your strength-building progress. By changing the order and the intensity in the workout program, it keeps the muscles confused and the growth rate constant.

It’s also a good idea to substitute a different movement for a particular muscle and change the order of the exercises periodically. For example, substitute the preacher curl with seated dumbbell curls. This change in the movement will work a different part of the bicep.


MONDAY PROGRAM

CHEST
(High Intensity)
Bench Press: Two sets of 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
Chest Fly/Machine or Free Weight Dumbbells: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
BACK (High Intensity)
Overhead Lat Pull or Overhead Lat Extension Machine: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
SHOULDERS
(Low Intensity)
Overhead Front Press or Machine Front Press: Three sets 8 to 12 reps
Side Laterals or Machine Laterals: Three sets 8 to 12 reps
ARMS
(Low Intensity)
Preacher Curls/Machine or Free Weights: Three sets 8 to 12 reps
Tricep Pull Downs: Three sets 8 to 12 reps

FRIDAY PROGRAM

SHOULDERS
(High Intensity)
Overhead Front Press or Machine Front Press: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
Side Laterals or Machine Laterals: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
ARMS
(High Intensity)
Preacher Curls/Machine or Free Weights: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
Tricep Pull Downs: Two sets 8 to 12 reps, third set train to failure
CHEST
(Low Intensity)
Bench Press: Three sets 8 to 12 reps
Chest Fly/Machine or Free Weight Dumbbells: Three sets 8 to 12 reps
BACK
(Low Intensity)
Overhead Lat Pull or Overhead Lat Extension Machine: Three sets 8 to 12 reps

Mike Terrana originates from New York State and has had a professional drumming career spanning over 30 years. He has played with the likes of Tony MacAlpine, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Lukather, and is presently working with Rage, based in Hamburg, Germany. Terrana is currently living in Copenhagen, Denmark.