Dynamic Marching – Getting in Shape

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We at Dynamic Marching are dedicated to providing innovative ideas for today’s most successful marching programs and have many talented, passionate individuals who each contribute special skills and areas of expertise. This article has been provided by our very own Chris Mader – who, in addition to being a great marching & movement instructor, is a doctoral candidate in Biology at Yale University.

Getting in Shape for Drum Corps Season

So it’s been a long winter season and getting out of bed when it’s snowing out to go to the gym seems like a form of cruel and unusual punishment. I can certainly fall into that trap when my half awake brain is convincing me that the warmth of my covers is way more important than wearing myself out at the gym. However, with Drum Corps spring training season right around the corner or in some cases already here, it is more important than ever to start getting your body ready for the demands of the upcoming season.

In the last column, Jeff Young wrote about the importance of nutrition and hydration in preparing your body for the upcoming season. Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to get started on a healthy diet of your own and are now ready to take the next step toward honing your body for the physical endurance test we call Drum Corps. Nutrition and hydration are a great way to get your body primed and feeling great for exercise, but in order to avoid that initial shock of three-a-days you’ll need to get your muscles in shape as well. Combined with Jeff’s tips on nutrition you can build a well oiled endurance machine come summer time.

The following column will talk about the unique demands that Drum Corps places on the body’s muscles and skeletal system and how to prepare ahead of time to avoid extreme fatigue and prevent injury. Both Jeff and I have extensive training in biology and muscle physiology (We both have degrees in Biology from Notre Dame. Jeff teaches anatomy and physiology and I am a working on my Ph.D. in Cell Biology and Biophysics). Together we’ve taken tips from sports medicine and a variety of sport specific exercises to come up with a useful approach to getting in shape for Drum Corps. I will first discuss general tips for those that might be preparing for intensive corps with an ideal training plan, followed by tips for DCA members who are trying to fit getting into shape into a schedule, and finally some common themes that everyone can use to get toned up.

Drum Corps is a Sport
First things first, Drum Corps is an endurance sport and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Endurance, endurance, endurance. This will be the main focus of everything that you will need to do. Back when I was marching I got my hands on a pretty accurate GPS unit just to see how far I marched during a given rehearsal. I was pretty amazed to find out after rehearsal was over that in a one hour visual rehearsal I had marched something like 2 miles. Now, multiply that by Div I summer rehearsal schedules and you can easily be marching 10-15 miles a day, everyday, in the sun, oh and it will probably be pretty hot out. I don’t know about you but if you asked me to go outside today and march around for 10 miles in 90+ degree weather I would probably pass out. So keeping this in mind you need to get your body ready for long term muscle usage. I will detail out what I think is a great 6 week plan of running, lifting, and physical therapy exercises to get you ready for the beginning of heavy rehearsals. This plan is a combination of the United States Marine Corps physical fitness test, U.S. Olympic Ski team workout plan, and orthopedic physical therapy. Of course nothing will prepare you for marching around all day as well as actually marching around all day so you will continue to get in shape as the season progresses but this will at least keep you from wanting to die during that first two weeks.

No matter if you are doing an intense workout or a light jog, you should always start any exercise period with 5-10 minutes of stretching. This is the most often overlooked part of any training program but is the most important part to help keep you from getting injured. Stretching increases the elasticity or flexibility of the muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Instead of tearing or breaking when under strain, a flexible muscle is more likely to stretch and give. It is important to stretch every major muscle group in your body including shoulders, neck, back, quadriceps, calves, hamstrings and groin. You should stretch at least 5 times a week, hold each stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat each stretch 3-5 times. Make sure you stretch to a point of mild tension and avoid any bouncing or rocking movements. Once you have stretched out you are ready to move on to the main body of your workout.

Some people love to run, other people hate to run. Either way, nothing can quite beat running to get your heart, lungs and legs ready for marching. The U.S. Marines are second to none in running forever and they all didn’t start out that way. Fortunately, they have a plan to take you from never running in your life to clicking off 3 miles at a pretty good clip that isn’t as bad as you might think. First, off you need to assess your starting fitness level. Use this simple chart to determine your starting fitness level:

Total Miles Run During Last 4 Weeks Starting Stage
Less than 9 1
9-12 2
12-15 3
15-18 4
18-21 5
21-24 6
24-27 7
27-30 8
30-36 9
36+ 10

Next, find your fitness level on the next chart for a starting distance for your runs:

Stage/Week Distance (miles) Times per Week
1 2,2,2 3
2 2,2,2 3
3 2,2,2 3
4 2,2,2 3
5 2,2,2 3
6 3,3,3 3
7 3,3,3 3
8 3,3,3 3
9 2,4,1 3
10 2,4,1 3
11 2,4,2,1 4
12 3,5,2,1 4
13 3,5,2,1 4
14 3,5,2,2 4
15 4,5,3,2 4

As an example, let’s say I am a stage 5 runner. On the first week of my program I would run 2 miles on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The next week and I would go to the stage 6 workout and run 3 miles on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The following week I would move on to Stage 7 and so on. By doing this for at least 6 weeks will bring even the weakest runner up to running 9 miles a week. What is important to remember is what the goal of running is in preparing for Drum Corps. In this scenario, your run time isn’t really all that important. If it takes you 45 minutes to jog three miles that is fine so long as you are pushing yourself. It is the endurance you are building that is important. If you have trouble running two miles in the beginning don’t hesitate to jog the distance for the first week and then move to running in later weeks. Just make sure you are always pushing yourself and most importantly, DON"T SKIP RUNNING DAYS!

While actually running outside will be most effective for working the muscles used in marching, if you have any knee pain or soreness you may want to consider using an elliptical machine which has less compression on the knee if you have access to one at your local gym. Alternatively, riding a stationary bike twice the distance is another acceptable alternative to running outdoors.

Finally, remember to take 3-5 minutes to cool down after your run by walking around and taking deep breaths. This will prevent your muscles from cramping and allow your body to slowly return to normal operation.

Strength Training
While it is not necessary to look like Arnold Schwarzeneggar to compete in Drum Corps, a simple and targeted strength training program can make handling your instrument through quick direction changes much easier yielding a cleaner marching technique and style. I recommend that on the days that you are not running (i.e. Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday, if running 3x a week) you do some targeted strength training exercises. Again, relying on techniques used by the Marines and adding some alpine skiing exercises you can strengthen your legs, back and core which will make the marching activity much less difficult. The following exercises can be conducted with no equipment and can be done almost anywhere, including on tour! Here is a typical recommended workout plan:

  • Push Ups – 3 sets of 25 reps (or as many as you can do)
  • Standard Ab Crunches – 3 sets of 25 reps
  • Leg Lifts – 3 sets of 15 reps
  • Jumping Jacks – 3 sets of 50
  • Wide Stance Push Ups – 3 sets of 25 reps
  • Oblique Sit Ups – 3 sets of 25 (These are when you lay on your side and do crunches using your oblique muscles)
  • Diagonal Jumps – 3 sets of 20 (Put feet and knees together and jump at a 45 degree angle forward while keeping your upper body facing forward. Think ski moguls.)
  • Jump Rope – 5 minutes (optional)

This routine can will workout most of the major muscle groups in the body. Repeat this routine every week while increasing either the number of reps or the sets done as needed. Remember, if you can do another push up at the end of your workout, it is time to increase the intensity. Never stop pushing yourself and it will pay off immensely during those first couple of weeks of camp when everyone around you in suffering from soreness and you came well prepared. Also don’t be afraid to get creative with your routine. Swap in Scissor Kicks for Leg Lifts, try combining these exercises with your run in a circuit drill. Remember the key phrase, Endurance, Endurance, Endurance, keep trying to add one more set of push ups, or an extra half a mile to your run.

Physical Therapy
Your body is a machine and just like mechanical machines it can break down from overuse. While good nutrition and hydration can keep your body machine fueled and oiled to run smoothly eventually all the stress and wear and tear of a marching season can catch up with you. You can think of Drum Corps season like the 24 hour LeMans road races. How many tire changes are conducted during the race? Also, did you know they only use those racing engines for one race?! Unfortunately, we are stuck with our same engine and same tires and parts for the whole season so it is best to take some preventive care.

The main source of tear and stress on the body in a physical activity such as Drum Corps is on the joints. These are both constantly moving and wearing against each other and also undergo a large amount of compression over the course of a season. Therefore, it is important to protect our joints by strengthening all the support muscles around them. Remember, muscles are more flexible and forgiving than ligaments and even tendons and can help protect against compression and shock to a joint. Unfortunately, these muscles require more specific exercises to work them out then your standard strength training exercises. I recommend you add these 5 physical therapy exercises to your workout routine that you do on strength training days.

  • Ankle rolls – Slowly roll your ankle through its entire range of motion 10 times in both directions
  • Hip Flexor Roll – Lay on your back and bring your knee to your chest and rotate you entire leg through the entire range of motion for your hip 5 times in each direction
  • Reverse Swim – Lay on your stomach with arms outstretch above you. Raise your right arm and left leg about 4 inches off the ground and hold for 3-5 seconds. Repeat with left arm and right leg. Repeat entire sequence 10 times.
  • Rotator Cuff Exercise – Hold you elbow to your body with forearm facing forward holding some weight (i.e. an instrument). Swing your arm out to the side while keeping your elbow pressed against your body. Repeat 15 times for each arm
  • Neck Rolls – Move you head through its entire range of motion in both directions several times while making sure to open your jaw when you are looking straight up

These exercises will keep your ankles, hips, lower back, shoulders and neck flexible and will strengthen the support muscles in those areas and help prevent common marching injuries such as sprained ankles, hip stingers, pulled backs and necks. They don’t take much time at all to do and while it may not feel like you are doing a while lot, over time it will make a huge difference.

During your preparatory training for Drum Corps season you will be challenging your body to get in shape. In order for your efforts to be effective you must make sure to allow your body to recover after each workout session. Be sure to get at least 8 hours of sleep a night. Most people skimp on sleep and this can have a very adverse effect on your progress. A lot of people I know think that 6 or 7 hours is good enough for me. This is not true. Equally important to the quantity of sleep that you receive is when you are waking yourself up out of that sleep. 8 hours and 15 minutes of sleep will cause you to wake up when you are in the shallowest part of your REM or sleep cycle. You will awake feeling refreshed and ready to go. If you attempt to wake up an hour or two before this you will be awakening from a deeper part of the sleep cycle which is why you may be groggy and disoriented. This process is abrupt for your body and can start your day of out of sync. In addition, once on tour sleep will be harder to come by and may be at odd hours so make sure you get good sleep while you can! Finally, Day 7 of whatever plan you use is a rest day. Use it! Try to avoid moving heavy furniture or playing tackle football on your rest day! I am giving you an excuse to go watch TC for a day, use it! Most importantly, listen to your body. If you feel like you’ve pulled your back or rolled an ankle, back off in intensity for a while to let your body heal. Good physical training is a combination of pushing your body’s limits but also knowing when you’ve gone a little too far and allowing yourself to heal.

Tips for DCA members
Often in DCA corps the schedule of everyday life doesn’t permit 6 days-a-week exercises. However, this doesn’t mean that preparing for the season is any less important. At the very least you should have some sort of jogging or running program in place at least 6 weeks before the start of the season. In addition, the physical therapy exercises described above can be done in the morning in your own bedroom with no special equipment and should take no more than 15 or 20 minutes a day. Even this cursory level of training can make a world of difference in preventing injuries as the season progresses. If participating in Drum Corp is a priority for you then you need to make sure to plan time to get in shape. If pressed for time during your week, here is a 3 days a week complete workout that can be done to help prepare you for the season.

  • Day 1 – Stretch, 2 mile run/walk, jumping jacks, physical therapy
  • Day 2 – Stretch, Rest
  • Day 3 – Stretch, 2 mile run/walk, Push Ups, Crunches, Leg Lifts
  • Day 4 – Stretch, Rest
  • Day 5 – Stretch, 2 mile run/walk, physical therapy

Depending on how fast you run, each day’s work should last between 45 minutes and 1 hour. Obviously, the more time you can dedicate to training the better off you will be but this simple routine should be sufficient to get you prepared for an enjoyable marching season.

Final Thoughts
The benefits of preparing yourself physically for Drum Corps go well beyond just getting your body in shape. The process requires will power, motivation, and dedication as well as strength and endurance. These mental qualities some might even consider more important for the marching activity as perfecting a show over the course of many months certainly requires mental fortitude. Treat this training time as both a time to hone your physical body but also to adjust to the demands that will be placed on you mentally. The end result is a body that is in shape and looks good, a great feeling of well being, and a much more enjoyable marching season and experience. The body is an amazing machine, it is only fair that we take good care of it and maximize its potential!

Publisher’s Note: Dynamic Marching is the latest in our series of columns written by leading educators – providing expert information on the marching band activity. Jeff Young is a respected educator, clinician, adjudicator, and consultant – specializing in the art of marching and movement. We’re excited that he’s agreed to be one of our regular contributors on Drum Corps Planet. You may send your questions to AskJef (AskJeff [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com?subject=Question%20from%20DCP) f [at] drumcorpsplanet [dot] com.

Jeff Young teaches science at Carmel High School in Carmel, Indiana, has a degree in Biology from the University of Notre Dame, and a Masters degree in Curriculum & Instruction from Indiana University. Jeff is the visual caption head for the 2005 BOA Grand National Champion Carmel Marching Band. He is also honored to work with the Colorado State Champion-Pomona High School from Arvada, Colorado. Jeff is a visual caption judge for Drum Corps International and enjoys being a judge, designer, and instructor for marching band programs across the country. He has also been the visual instructor and drill arranger for the Bands of America Summer Band Symposium Marching Band for the past four years. Jeff is also the co-founder of Dynamic Marching and Movement.

Jeff’s "Dynamic Marching and Movement – Volume 1" instructional DVD is distributed exclusively thru Hal Leonard and available thru your favorite Hal Leonard dealer.

Posted by on Friday, April 20th, 2007. Filed under Dynamic Marching.