Updated: Sep 15, 2018
“Get with a partner and stretch.”
“If you messed up that rep you should be doing PUSH-UPS!!”
Do these phrases bring back painful band camp memories of brutal amounts of running and pointless stretches? These concepts have been repeated since groups still marched timpani and the American Legion was a primary sponsor of drum corps. We’ve gone along with these rehearsal routines because “that’s what we were taught”. Why fix it if it isn’t broken, right? WRONG.
The physical demands of the marching activity have significantly evolved (see Bluecoats’ “Ninja Warrior” – I mean, “Downside Up” - show from 2014), but most bands are still stuck in the 1980s with their conditioning routines! Directors and staff members unknowingly push their students to achieve world-class visuals while training them at the level of elementary school P.E. standards! Think about it, aren’t most of the stretches you do before band practice the same ones you used back when you were learning to hula hoop and play hopscotch?
It’s time to change that. It’s 2018. It’s time to stake hold of the claim that marching musicians are athletes and that marching band is a sport.
The first step is to cut out the outdated routines that we’ve been doing and begin to train like world-class athletes. Here are the top 6 training mistakes your band needs to eliminate today.
1. Static Stretching Before Rehearsal
Static stretching means holding a position for an extended period of time in order to gain motion in that direction. An example is the “partner calf stretch” and hamstring stretch that nearly every band does. Static stretching has been shown to decrease muscle strength for up to 1 hr(1). That’s a significant amount of rehearsal time that you are decreasing performance capacity!
Contrary to that, dynamic stretching has been shown to increase muscle performance prior to activity compared to no stretching or static stretching(2). Dynamic stretching (or warm-up) is using movements to improve blood flow prior to an activity. Classic examples of this are Jumping Jacks and Grapevines.
2. Too Much Running
Marching band is not all steady-state cardio. There are many holds, tempo changes, and rests in a marching band show. We can move away from going on long jogs and move towards doing more sprint interval training (sprint 15 seconds, walk 30 seconds). Don’t get me wrong – cardio is good for your band. However, make sure you are mixing up the pace and amount so you have a variety in heart rate while training.
3. Teaching Muscle Imbalances
Newton’s Law states, “for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. Every time you contract one muscle (the agonist) you are lengthening the opposite muscle (antagonist). A real-world example is having your band only do push-ups without doing any back and postural strengthening. This will create tight pectoral and anterior (front chest) muscles, create “rounded shoulders” posture, and lead to decreased lung capacity. You MUST strengthen and stretch opposing muscles to decrease muscle imbalances and injury risk.
4. Poor Exercise Dosage
Just like your doctor tells you to take a certain amount of medicine, there is a precise amount of exercise you should do to promote improvements but prevent injury. I have been guilty of making my students do too many reps of an exercise, which can put them at risk of muscle strain. I’ve also made the mistake of not doing enough repetitions of certain exercises, which won’t help them grow stronger and have more endurance.
Exercise dosage is a science. There is a fine line you have to walk between challenging your students and not over-stressing their muscle tissue. Seek professional advice to make sure you are exercising your students appropriately.
You had great intentions. You started the season with your band doing conditioning every day but had to stop after a couple of weeks to get the show on the field. Unfortunately, it takes muscles 6-8 weeks to get past the “neural adaptation” phase and actually grow (termed “muscle hypertrophy”). Start a plan and stick to it. I promise those 15-20 minutes spent in July and August will be well worth it by the end of the season!
6. Put the Wrong Person in Charge
It is no fault of your own. We (band people) simply did not get adequate, or any, physical education. Just like with any leadership activity, the person in charge has to know the direction the group is going and how to get them there. Otherwise, it's the blind leading the blind.
If you feel uncomfortable leading the band through conditioning, find a health or fitness professional you know has the abilities to teach these concepts to your staff and leadership. Have them train your student leaders on this so the students can confidently and effectively run the first 10-15 minutes of every rehearsal.
Where do we start?
If you read these and think to yourself, “Wow, we make all of these mistakes”, I encourage you to make one change in your program today. It can be overwhelming and you may get push-back if you try to abruptly throw out old traditions. Instead, make the target smaller.
Start by beginning every rehearsal with dynamic stretching. It doesn't have to be monotonous exercises; you can use fun dance routines to get your muscles warm and teach coordination! Taking this first step will help members begin to see themselves as athletes and performers. As always, have fun with it!
1. Reduced strength after passive stretch of the human plantarflexors. J. R. Fowles, D. G. Sale, J. D. MacDougall. Journal of Applied Physiology Sep 2000, 89 (3) 1179-1188
2. Effects of static stretching for 30 seconds and dynamic stretching on leg extension power. Yamaguchi, T., Ishii, K. Laboratory of Human Performance, Hokkaido University. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 2005 Aug.