On One Condition

Stretching. Sit-ups. Pushups. Weight training. Dance moves. Sound like an aerobics class at the gym? Actually, it’s the start of marching band. More and more marching ensembles have implemented a physical fitness program to improve students’ stamina and overall performance. You can too.

For years marching band has been stuck with the unfair stigma as an activity for unconditioned, out-of-shape students. But that perception is changing. Band directors at all levels are realizing the importance of incorporating physical conditioning into their regular practices. These types of programs will not only help their musicians play better but will also improve their overall health. Whether bands work with a marching professional to devise a conditioning program or implement a do-it-yourself plan, any combination of yoga, stretching, cardio and dance before every practice can benefit students physically, mentally and musically. Here are tips from marching fitness experts and band directors who’ve implemented successful fitness programs.

Chris Mader
Vice President and CFO
Dynamic Marching

“We encourage every band to have a solid fundamentals program, even if it’s a very basic technique of marching for 15 to 30 minutes. If you start this early in the season, it’s a controlled environment and not as strenuous as the show. Band puts stress on joints and muscles you don’t use much in ordinary life, so the best thing you can do is ease the body into using these muscles. If you go through this over the course of the season, it will improve the quality of the show.

Marching band is an endurance sport. It’s sort of like cross country based on the endurance you need. One of the biggest challenges for us is getting band directors to see that they are directors and coaches. The band should train like a sports team would.

I see one big over-arching idea: The biggest problem is that people do it in the beginning, but the focus shifts to getting the show on the field, so the preventative stuff goes to the wayside. The healthier and stronger you have everyone, the better they play. It’s better to put a program into place early and stick with it for the entire season.”

Mel Morse
Band Director
Lewisburg (Miss.) High School

“Our program is for 7th to 10th graders, and the physical changes that take place for the 12- to 15-year-olds vary. Holding up the instruments was a huge challenge, so in 2008 we instituted a body program. Jeff Young from Dynamic Marching came in and started us with a combination of stretching, yoga and dance moves that we could integrate into the show. We’ve since broadened that out to include more pushups, sit-ups, ‘planks’ to strengthen the core and upper body work to hold up the instruments.

We spend roughly 30 percent to 40 percent of our practice time at the beginning of the season to try and prepare our students. … The great thing that the students like about it is that we do it at the beginning of class. I’ll have the seniors get a mixed tape of popular songs, and we blast them in the band hall. Kids can come in and unwind, talk to their friends and do the exact opposite of what they do all day.

Our physical program has absolutely benefited our playing just because we’re stronger throughout the show. Kids feel better and look better—there are not a lot of heavy kids in the show. When you start being physically active, you start making better choices with meals, and it becomes a healthier lifestyle.

You have to have some kind of buy-in from the students. The first time we did it, they all looked at me like I was crazy, but because I put so much emphasis on it at the beginning, they understood it to be important. There was a buy-in immediately. If that weren’t the case, it would be a waste of time. We only want to do things that are beneficial, and it has been and continues to be the part of the day the kids look forward to.”

Jon Shultz
Director of Bands
Lake Hamilton High School in Pearcy, Ark.

“We started our [conditioning] program to help our kids have enough stamina to finish their marching shows. It became too hard for the kids to complete the show without physical exhaustion. Jeff Young from Dynamic Marching started implementing some dance moves into our show and giving us a vocabulary of movement. He expanded our warm-up to include a lot of ballet and a lot of dance.

Our goal is to develop a good diet and create an overall health and wellness program. Instead of us feeding the kids pizza, parents started cooking vegetables and healthier foods. The kids are eating green beans instead of nachos. With the physical conditioning and nutrition, we have the least amount of injuries during marching season that we’ve ever had.

The students have stuck with the schedule. We start at the same time every day, so that has built a sense of discipline. After a hard day of school and then rehearsal, it helps them focus and gets rid of the day’s stress.”

Craig Bales, M.D.
Lead Physician
Cavalier Medical Group

“Some of the most common injuries we’ve seen are repetitive stress injuries, such as muscular or tendon pain, or aches similar to fibromyalgia—pain anywhere on the body that can be relieved through various modalities like massage therapy or needle-less acupuncture.

Oboe, bassoon, saxophone, clarinet players use fine motor movements of the fingers and lips. Percussionists have problems with the vibrations of striking the instrument, so they have more pain in the wrist, forearm and shoulder. And from a psychological point of view, professional, high school and college musicians all have pre-performance anxiety. They need to learn to relax properly, so they can play better. Any kind of limbering exercise they do prior to rehearsal helps them physically if they use the right psychological modalities as well.”

Gary Granata, Ph.D.
Exercise Physiologist, Sports Nutritionist

“Marching bands and drum corps are performing shows that place incredible physical demands on the individual performer. College, professional and most high school sports teams have year-round conditioning programs operated by full-time conditioning coaches. The full-time conditioning coaches design training regimens that meet the specific need of each athlete according to the demands of the athlete’s sport and position. Football is a great example: Linemen are trained differently than skill players as their positions have considerably different physical demands. Similarly, the physical demands placed on a snare drummer are different from someone in the color guard, whose demands are different than a tuba player, whose demands are different from a trumpet player.

Band directors need to come to the realization that competitive marching band has become an athletic sport, and they need to employ trained sports medicine staff to ensure the safety and welfare of their performers. Having a professional sports medicine staff is just as, if not more, important as having instructors for the horn line, drum line, color guard and pit. The health and welfare of marching band members are at stake.”

About the Author

Sara Hodon is a freelance writer and proud alumni of her high school band’s front silks squad. Her writing has appeared in a variety of print and online publications, including Match.com’s Happen Magazine, History, Lehigh Valley Marketplace, Pennsylvania, and Young Money, among others. She is also a copywriter for corporate clients. She lives, writes and relives her band memories in northeast Pennsylvania.

About author

Mike Jackson Signature Stick

Vic Firth has released a new signature stick created by WGI Hall of Fame member Mike Jackson. The design features a reverse taper, meaning it ...