So says the BBC. Researchers tested oxygen uptake and heart rate for rock drummers, including Blondie’s Clem Burke. They concluded:
“It is clear that their fitness levels need to be outstanding – through monitoring Clem’s performance in controlled conditions, we have been able to map the extraordinary stamina required by professional drummers.”
“It is hoped that the results could help develop outreach programmes for overweight children who are not interested in sport.”
Hey, a study aimed right at the intersection of my avocations. Wonderful! I’ve been drumming for about 40 years and running/racing almost as long. While I agree that drumming, especially hard rock drumming, does require some effort and stamina, I would not classify the energy expenditure as anything near top athletic performance. Consider their numbers. Mr. Burke was tested as having a heart rate of 140 to 150 beats per minute with a peak of 190. That’s considerably higher than the resting HR of 70 for a typical male, but we don’t know what Mr. Burke’s HRmax is, and it’s the percentage of HRmax that counts. By comparison, if a runner has an HRmax of 210, 140-150 BPM would be considered an easy recovery run. For an older guy like me with an HRmax of around 180, that same rate represents something a bit harder, but it still doesn’t even qualify as a solid lactate threshold “tempo run”.
The researchers go on to comment that Mr. Burke played 90 minute sets, so these are sustained levels, not peaks. Further, they estimate that during an hour of concert playing he’d burn between 400 and 600 calories. Time for a few numbers from my own “personal experiment of one”. I weigh about 145 pounds and that means that I will expend roughly 100 calories per mile of distance running. My normal, every day pace is in the low to mid seven minute per mile range, so that yields around 800 calories expended per hour. And while the researchers make a big deal about drummers playing perhaps 100 concerts per year, I run every day. Sometimes twice, and averaging over 10 miles per day for months on end. And mind you, these are my “easy” runs. If I look at a race, the numbers are a bit more extreme. For example, I have run a local half-marathon (13.1 miles) twice in recent years with times of 1:16 and 1:17. In about an hour and a quarter, I’ve expended a good 1300 calories. Last year I ran the Boilermaker 15k (9.3 miles) in a shade over 54 minutes. Both of these examples show energy outputs way above the drumming numbers and I’m decidedly not a world class runner. Granted, I don’t do 100 races per year, but I certainly do a very large number of hard workouts per year which are well above my easy runs.
As a drummer, I know my practice sessions are nothing like my running workouts. Out of curiosity, several years ago I strapped on my HR monitor and sat down to see what I’d get. I had to drum in an exaggeratedly furious fashion in order to get my HR up to even my “easy run” HR, let alone a hard workout or race. In fact, on average, I’d say my drumming output is no higher than that of a brisk walk. To be fair, one of my goals as a drummer has been an economy of motion. I’m not a thrasher. I tend toward a more “jazz” approach to the kit, but still, I can bang it out if I need to and the numbers are just not there. I have also used my HR monitor while performing workouts on my bike and water running, and again, the drumming numbers do not compare.
While I receive great enjoyment from drumming, in no way would I expect it to keep me in nearly the same shape as running. It is undoubtedly better than watching TV or eating cupcakes, perhaps the equivalent of a brisk walk or easy bike ride, but it in no way rivals top athletic performance for energy output.