Stretching Out For Drummers
by Dendy Jarrett
Prior to starting your daily regimen of drum exercises, playing gigs, or beginning any activity that will require the use of your hands, arms, legs and feet, it's important to stretch out. Your limbs are the primary tools of your trade, so take care to make sure you don't compromise them. Just as any athlete would warm up prior to running or playing ball, drummers should do the same.
Warming up does not have to be a tedious or long process. Here's a quick list of warm-ups that I use each day to stay limber and keep my playing muscles prepared for the demands of drumming.
Note: Some of these are straightforward and require no image .
First, loosen up and allow your hands and arms to become limber. I accomplish this by simply shaking my hands in a controlled manner; much like you would shake out your hands if you have ever experienced your arms and hands “going to sleep” or if you were shaking water off your hands.
Next, take each arm (one at a time) and hold your arm up with the palm of your hand facing skyward. Next, take your other hand and gently pull back on the fingertips of the skyward hand. You will feel the muscles stretching in your wrists and forearms.
Now place the fingertips of each hand (one hand at a time) on the edge of any surface (countertop, edge of your snare, etc) and push your arm downward. This will stretch your fingertips back toward you, further stretching your arm and wrist muscles.
This next stretch is the most difficult to master, but it will have the best stretching effect on your entire upper torso. Take your drumsticks side by side and hold them in both hands facing skyward. Now take your right hand and lift and twist it over and under towards the elbow of your left arm (this will form an “L” shape with your arms, leaving the sticks perpendicular to your left arm.) This motion will pull on your left hand, twisting it in the opposite direction.
You should then pull the left hand towards you and rotate it under following through until your arms are completely inverted from the starting position. Remember you must hold tight to your sticks and keep them together, as they are creating the stretch leverage. To further enhance the stretch out, pull your inverted arms back toward your chest…ouch!
You can "undo" from this position by reversing the twist steps. To provide a much more effective stretch, you should be able to work up to doing this motion rapidly. Your arms will “pretzel” in and out of the position in a twisting motion; see the video clip. It will look painful to others (and it will be to you in the beginning!), but in the long run, it will help you a lot.
NOTE: Remember to utilize proper breathing techniques with you warm up and during your playing to improve your endurance, and help you keep better time (watch for an upcoming article on Breathing Techniques)..
This exercise is great for your forearms and wrist. Take your sticks (side by side) and hold them in your hand. Making sure you have plenty of room so that you don't deck your bass player, rotate your wrist so that your sticks move in a propeller-like fashion. The pull on your muscles increases if you position your sticks further apart (extending the length of the propeller).
Simply link your fingers together, invert your hands, and then push your interlocked inverted hands away from you.
NOTE: When you do playing exercises, occasionally drop each arm to your side and shake it out to allow blood to flow to your extremities.
Most drummers focus primarily on their hands and arms when building chops, which is a huge mistake. Your feet and legs should get the same focus in development and in the same way, should be stretched out.
Rotate your ankles around and around, allowing the muscles to relax and stretch.
Extend your legs in front of you while sitting. With your legs extended, point your toes out in front of you. You will instantly feel the benefits of this exercise!
With your toes, stand on the edge of anything that will allow your ankles to hang or extend openly (e.g., the edge of a step, facing toward the stairs.) With your ankles hanging, lift your body using the balls of your feet to support your weight (you'll feel this in your calves). In the same manner, slowly lower your body back down and below the edge of the ledge. This will stretch out the muscles you use for the hi-hat and bass drum pedal.
This exercise is very much like a stretch that a runner would do. Simply stand and place one foot in front of you and thrust yourself down and forward. You will do this with both legs (one at a time). This will stretch not only your ankle and calf muscles, but also your hamstrings and buttocks muscles as well.
NOTE: To increase the effectiveness of this stretching process, remember to use proper posture while playing.
All of these stretching exercises are important in preparing your arms and legs for the workout that drumming inflicts on your muscles. These stretches should only take about 5 minutes before you warm-up or start a gig.
Proper stretching helps develop the muscles targeted by specific exercises, as well as improve your endurance. It also prevents muscle lock-up, and as drummers, we know how important that is when playing a 10-minute song at 244 beats per minute!
Disclaimer: I am not a physician, and this advice represents techniques that have worked for me. Before starting any kind of exercise program, please seek the advice of a physician (if possible, one trained in sports medicine). You may have suffered problems in the past (e.g., muscle tears, breaks, etc.) that may require special treatments or exercise techniques.
Dendy Jarrett is the Editorial Director and Director of Communities for Harmony Central. He has been heavily involved at the executive level in many aspects of the drum and percussion industry for over 25 years and has been a professional player since he was 16. His articles and product reviews have been featured in InTune Monthly, Gig Magazine, DRUM! and Modern Drummer Magazines.