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Home > Spotlight > Training Plan for Marching Athletes

Prep your body for marching season with this training plan by Rob Stein

Use the off-season to become lean, strong and in shape

Video demonstrations and free worksheet downloads below

By Rob Stein,
Posted February 24, 2016

Marching band is a sport, and so is drum corps. There, I said it! Not only are these musical activities sports, they are some of the most mentally and physically demanding sports in existence.

Rob Stein leads an intense physical training session with the students of Homestead H.S. in Cupertino, CA. Let's examine further:

• Athletes train, and train hard. The average drum corps rehearsal day lasts roughly 12-14 hours, contains morning strength and interval training sessions, and places extremely high levels of physical stress on the body throughout the day. Performers carry instruments and equipment around all day, including heavy metal horns, six-foot flag poles, heavy wooden rifles and massive drums (have you seen bass 5?!). Do you know any other athletes that practice with an extra 10 to 50 pounds of weight on their bodies for 12 hours a day? Me neither.

To further this point, we can reference the 2005 study by Dr. Jeff Edwards, who was the chair of physical education and athletic training at Indiana State University. Edwards used a metabolic machine to measure the heart rate and energy output of a marching percussionist in The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps. Results showed that the performer's metabolic rate — the amount of energy/calories the body utilizes — was 13 times that of his normal resting metabolic rate. Edwards concluded, "The oxygen consumption is about where it would be in the middle of a marathon for a well-trained runner." (Edwards et al., 2005) Edwards also concluded that the performer's heart rate was equivalent to someone running a 400- or 800-meter sprint. And remember, this guy had a 40-pound set of quad drums attached to his upper body! Are drum corps performers athletes? You bet, and then some.

• Athletes are extremely dedicated to their sport. Serious success requires serious dedication. If you want to participate in drum corps, you have to devote hundreds of hours to practice and preparation just to audition in hopes you'll be accepted to the team of your choice. Dedicated athletes revolve their life around their sport, and often miss social gatherings, family events and daily routines that are typically taken for granted. They make sacrifices, whatever it takes to get the job done. I've missed weddings, birthdays, family gatherings and vacations for winter camps and tour.

Quick story: Going into my first band camp as a freshman in high school, I won concert tickets on a radio contest to one of my favorite bands, Aerosmith. After learning the concert was during band camp, I promptly gave the tickets to a friend, also in the band, who went to the concert. Extreme dedication isn't for everyone.

• Athletes compete. Competition, while not the most important aspect of the activity, is a significant aspect. Competition drives us, encourages teamwork and can be a fierce motivator. Drum corps and marching bands obviously compete, and these shows help keep the fire going throughout the season. We also compete in world championships in Lucas Oil Stadium, and have regional contests at venues like Mile High Stadium and the Georgia Dome. How many of your sport-involved classmates can say the same?

FREE WORKOUT PLAN DOWNLOAD 1. Click to view and download the summer training plan exercise guide. (112 MB, PDF format) OK, we've established that we are hard corps athletes (see what I did there?). While anyone involved in these activities knows the nature of the beast, it's surprising how many members are not prepared for the physical demands of the marching arts when the season begins. We often think of move-ins as the time when we'll "get our endurance up" and "get in shape." You should already be lean, strong and in shape by day 1. If you're not, to say you're shooting yourself in the foot is an understatement. Marching around a field with a brass instrument, not being able to breathe when you want, is extremely challenging. So is marching with a 30-50 pound drum attached to your chest, or hurling a rifle in the air to be caught with extreme precision. Move-ins should be time to learn your show and get performance quality reps, coming out of the gate on fire for your first show. It should not be time to hope you make it to the end of the first run-through without hurting yourself, throwing performance quality out the window.

Now that we're all motivated to kick butt and take control of our fitness, what should we do next?! Let's go for a run! Just kidding, don't do that, at least not yet. Running can be beneficial for endurance, and you should add some steady paced jogging as your schedule allows. However, prioritizing running over strength training will not be helpful in the long haul of the season, and certainly won't help you get stronger or carry anything around a field. Strength training with weights, interval training, sprints, with a few long jogs sprinkled in here and there, will turn you into a lean, mean, performing machine.

FREE WORKOUT PLAN DOWNLOAD 2. Click to view and download the summer training plan personal progress worksheets. (0.2 MB, PDF format) Ideally, I'd recommend a gym membership to get it done, or your college weight room if it is well equipped. While you can get some exercising in at home, it simply isn't possible to build the strength needed using just bodyweight exercises, and without the proper equipment. If you're serious about your health and fitness, and preparing for the season, get a gym membership. The facility doesn't need bells and whistles, and with plenty of inexpensive gym chains to go around, it shouldn't be challenging to get a membership. Remember, you're an athlete, and athletes train.

Below is a complete specialized training program that I've constructed that will set you up for a successful drum corps season. While a more extensive, in-depth program could be used with a wider variety of exercises, I believe this program to be well rounded, and achievable by the average drum corps member in both exercise selection and time commitment. If you feel that you don't have time to exercise for an hour, three times a week, I'd recommend you rework your schedule however necessary and analyze your commitment to your sport. Remember, you're about to exercise for 15 hours a day all summer. Extreme success takes extreme dedication. Make it happen.

This article contains large amounts of detailed information, be sure to read all of it before attempting this program. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to reach out to Rob at It is your responsibility to practice safe exercising habits. As with any exercise program, be sure that you are cleared to exercise by your physician.

FREE VIDEO TUTORIALS. Click to view the summer training plan video tutorial playlist on YouTube. The program is divided into 4 days: 3 days for weight training at roughly one hour sessions, and a separate day for a mere 15-30 minutes of interval/cardio work. Jogging would be helpful for your endurance and can be added at your discretion, in addition to the training and intervals. I recommend having an off day between weight training sessions if possible to allow for maximal recovery and muscle growth. For example, weight training Monday, Wednesday and Friday with intervals/cardio on Saturday or Sunday would be ideal. But ultimately, what matters most is getting these 4 sessions in throughout the course of the week. If you go for a jog, try to do it before you train, or on a non-training day.

Without further ado, listed below are three links to the source materials for the training plan, complete with demo pictures of proper form and execution, and common mistakes to avoid. Execution is key, as it ensures you are building the targeted muscle. So, be sure to prioritize form and execution above all, and the strength and muscle gains will come with time. There is a summary of each exercise, and even a neat and tidy chart you could (and should!) print out to track your progress.

• Summer training plan exercise guide (3.4 MB, PDF format)

• Summer training plan personal progress worksheets (0.2 MB, PDF format)

• Summer training plan video tutorial playlist on YouTube

It is absolutely essential to understand that progress will be made by emphasizing performance of these exercises, and feeling the "pump" in the desired muscle. For example, if you're doing a dumbbell shoulder lateral raise, but feel more of a burn in your back and elbow than shoulder, use a lighter weight. If you're doing a chest exercise and don't feel the burn in your chest, use a lighter weight and really think about using your chest and not your arms. Try to develop what is known as the "Mind-Muscle Connection", or, "MMC" for short. Making your muscles bigger and stronger is not about trying to lift the heaviest weight you can, it's about connecting with your muscle and using the targeted muscle to get the job done. So, put your ego aside if you must, and make sure you're using a weight that allows you to target the desired muscle. Always start with a lighter weight than you think is necessary to ensure you don't injure yourself.

*The author of this article is not a physician or registered dietitian. The contents should not be taken as medical advice. It is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any health problems - nor is it intended to replace the advice of a physician. Always consult your physician or qualified health professional on any matters regarding your health.

Rob Stein is the owner of Standing 'O' Marching (online at and is an experienced performer, educator, adjudicator and writer. Aside from composing music for bands nationwide, Rob has spent over 15 years involved with the drum corps activity. Rob marched in DCI for 8 years, as a member of Jersey Surf '99-'04 (Soprano Soloist and Drum Major), and The Blue Devils '05-'06 (Upper Lead Trumpet). Rob has been teaching DCI and DCA since his age out, including most recently 5 years on brass staff with Blue Devils B. Rob is also a nutritional coach and competitive natural bodybuilder. He's taken this combination of experience to write this article, providing a specialized training program for those preparing to dedicate their summer to the best activity in the world, drum corps.

Text, images and downloads by Rob Stein. Video editing by Robert Machado.

Copyright 2016 All rights reserved. This material may not be published or redistributed without permission.

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