Drumming as Exercise Routine

I wanted to get into a regular exercise routine, but I have a really hard time getting into a routine doing something I really don’t enjoy. In the past I’ve tried to get into running on my treadmill. Running on the treadmill is really hard for me – my mind starts to wander and I get utterly bored after only a few minutes. Even with music or Netflix to distract me while I run, I just can’t do it. My attempts to get into a running routine typically last around one week. I have decided to run an experiment of drumming as exercise routine, and see what happens. I have a lot of respect for people with the discipline to keep up an exercise routine.

Before I go into more detail about the drumming as exercise routine, first a little history. I got to thinking about how I was able to stay in shape during college. I never made any point to exercise in college and the food I ate was by no means healthy. Most of my time in college, I also drank Coke as my main liquid, drinking almost no water. I probably had a higher metabolism while in college, which contributed to staying in decent shape. I also played a lot of guitar hero and later Rock Band. Guitar Hero certainly isn’t going to burn as many calories as running or cycling, but standing for hours on end, on a daily basis, certainly burns more calories than sitting and watching TV or playing on the computer. The calorie burning was kicked up a notch when Rock Band was released in 2007 and I moved on to playing Rock Band drums for hours on end.

When Harmonix released Rock Band, I already owned an electronic drum set. With the help of the Rock Band forum community, we figured out a way to rig up a midi module with outputs soldered to the Rock Band drums so that we could play Rock Band with a real electronic drum set. With the upgrade to a real drum set, I was playing hours of drums everyday for the last semester and a half of college. I think the full drum set experience made a big difference toward staying in shape.

After college I continued to play drums on a fairly regular basis for a couple of years, but I eventually slowed down and completely stopped. Shortly before Thanksgiving last year I started to think about drumming again for exercise. I started by doing some Google searches in hopes to find some evidence that drumming is decent exercise. I found a lot of typical forum posts with people arguing back and forth, but to my surprise I found an actual scientific study, done by the University of Gloucestershire and the University of Chichester. A lot of the technical details of the study are available on the Clem Burke Drumming Project website, and the BBC also have an interesting article about the study indicating that professional drummers burn between 400 and 600 calories an hour.

Based on the research and my desire to exercise again I decided to start up a regular drumming routine again. Yes, I’m playing Rock Band 3 when I’m exercising, but I’m doing so on a real electronic drum set, and I choose songs mostly from the Nightmare/Impossible difficulty level. I’m definitely not burning 400-600 calories an hour, but I’d guess I’m burning somewhere between 150-300 calories per session. My goal is to play for 45 minutes or more at least 3 days a week. It’s been almost two months since I started and so far I have lived up to this goal. On the weekends I sometimes find myself playing 2 hour sessions.

Generally I create a playlist of 10 songs and start rocking out. By picking the songs ahead of time and creating a playlist it creates the smallest amount of downtime between songs; this way my heart rates stays elevated throughout the play session. I’m not any good at measuring my heart rate, but it is definitely elevated while drumming (though not nearly as much as when I run). I hope to get a digital heart rate monitor, so that I can get a better idea of my heart rate while playing, and at least make some back of the envelope calculations on how many calories I’m burning.

Around the same time I started my drumming exercise routine my girlfriend started a more traditional exercise routine. We have turned it in to a little competition. We are both going to continue with our separate exercise routines and in May we are going to run a 5K. We will determine which exercise routine is better based on who finishes first. Realistically both exercise routines are good, but it’s always fun to add a little competition as additional motivation.