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The Drummers Guide to Being a Healthy Road Warrior

Article by Sean Mitchell // October 04 2013
The Drummers Guide to Being a Healthy Road Warrior

For those of us that enjoy the trials and tribulations of road life, many can attest to the strain that touring puts on one’s body. What we often forget—or rather fail to make a priority—is taking care of the ol' skin-suit. Yes, friends, even at a young age, road life can (and will) destroy your youth if you don’t heed some very basic physical needs. While the screaming fans in the front row may make you feel 10-feet tall and bullet proof, the unfortunate truth is that everyone has an expiry date. 

Keep in mind that touring is not a lifestyle the average person lives; it can create extreme conditions on the body. A combination of erratic sleep patterns (try sleeping sitting upright in a Ford Econline), bad restaurant food, excessive indulgence in booze or drugs, long hours of sitting in a vehicle and a lack of fresh air can bring about a host of health problems and an abbreviated musical career.   

Luckily, there are some super simple things that you can do to offset the health rigors once the rubber hits the road. 

Diet - Go Green and Mix It Up 

By this I don’t mean "eat less" or "follow some crazy high protein/low carb plan." What I mean is that you need to eat a little healthier than the average person to offset the greasy burgers and pints of beer that are hard to avoid on the road. Let’s be honest, unless you are incredibly big on fitness and nutrition, you are going to indulge in the temptations of touring life. 

Bring a blender on the road and buy copious amounts of any of the following greens for green smoothies. 

  • Kale
  • Watercress
  • Spinach
  • Collard Greens
  • Chard
  • Romaine
  • Parsley

All of these leafy greens are incredibly good for you and considered super foods. Greens are literally the earth’s way of providing pure oxygen and sunlight in food form. They help your heart, liver, blood and other organs repair themselves. Not only are they incredibly healthy, they are generally pretty cheap and you only really need a couple smoothies a day to offset any road rash brought about by weak willpower. I say smoothies because they are fast and easy to make versus a salad that takes time to prepare and requires dishes, etc. A smoothie can be made in under five minutes and can be drank right out of the blender. 

In addition to the greens, add these veggies/spices/fruits to your smoothies. Remember to keep the ratio in favor of veggies. I recommend 2 veggies to 1 fruit, as fruit can make “healthy” tasting smoothies more palatable. 

  • Apples – lots of soluble fiber, high in Vitamin C, good for your heart
  • Avocado – another straight up super food; a million reasons to eat these
  • Cinnamon – good for the heart, regulates blood sugar, reduces cholesterol
  • Cucumber – awesome for re hydration, kills bad breath, promotes joint health
  • Ginger – strengthens immune system, natural antacid, improves absorption of nutrients into your body
  • Strawberries – lots of antioxidants (which kill free radicals brought on by coffee, alcohol and bad food)
  • Turmeric – really good for the liver and lungs, eases pain of tendinitis, mood enhancer 

I never tell anyone what they shouldn't eat, but I will say this: processed sugar in all its forms (high fructose corn syrup, glucose, malt syrup, invert sugars, etc.) is like poison to your body. And no, the sugar you eat today is not the same as your grandparents—it's worse and does worse things to your body! Same rule applies to artificial sweeteners like aspartame (i.e. diet coke) and sucralose (Splenda). 

Don't forget to drink at least two liters of water a day. Your body absolutely needs it to stay hydrated. Don't add anything to it—just straight up water. You really don't need to drink anything other than water, not even milk. Collard greens and sesame seeds have way more calcium than milk!  

I have recently discovered this incredibly brave lady named Kris Carr (no relation to Eric) who has a website dedicated to eating for optimum health. In 2003 she was diagnosed with a stage 4 cancer that was incurable. Through change of diet and lifestyle she has put the cancer into a sleep-like state. Essentially the tumors have stopped growing and have been inactive for ten years. Visit her website, www.kriscarr.com, and you'll find a myriad of great smoothies and healthy recipes. Check her and her story out—a huge inspiration, and proof that you are what you eat! 

Get Moving 

Exercise is one of the best ways to combat fatigue, writer's block, chronic disease, and the dreaded beer belly. Simply getting 60 minutes of exercise per day will keep you motivated on tour, not to mention in a good head space. 

If you can do a drop-in at a gym or yoga studio, do it. Lots of options and generally pretty cheap to do (for those of us whose band is still paying their dues). If you can go as a band, you will stay a little more motivated, and sometimes the gym will give you a better rate. 

But often there is very little time to go anywhere between lobby call, driving, set-up and sound-check. So what then? Simple. Push-ups, crunches, burpees and mountain climbers. These are all exercises you can do in your hotel room, in a green room or onstage before sound check. You can Youtube them to find out how to do them, but they are pretty easy to learn. And don't kid yourself, doing these exercises will give you a wicked workout. I once lost 10 pounds in 3 months doing the following routine: 

  • Push-ups – 15 (yes, you can do cheater push-ups too)
  • Crunches - 50
  • Burpees – 15
  • Mountain Climbers – 15 

Rest for one minute and repeat. Do this routine five times. As you get better at it, increase your reps by 10 each time. 

You can also buy a five-dollar rope and jump rope for 30 to 60 minutes—an insane cardio workout! Jump for five minutes, rest for a minute. This type of interval keeps your heart busy going from rest to intense activity and helps makes your heart stronger. You can also do stair-climbing for 30 - 60 minutes. This is a killer exercise, especially if you run up the stairs. Simply walking up and down a large flight of stairs can also give you an incredible workout. (Note: If you have a pre-existing heart condition, I do recommend seeing your doctor before you start any exercise routine.) 

I am hesitant to encourage drummerkind to take up running. While running is a great exercise, it is super hard on your knees, as I found out first hand through experience. There are other forms of exercise that are less taxing on the joints we rely on as drummers, so try some on for size! 

Take It All In 

Deep-breathing exercises have long been something the western world has failed to acknowledge as beneficial to one's health. The indigenous peoples of Hawaii used to call the white settlers Haole (how-lees) which literally translated means people who don't breathe. In fact, deep belly breaths are essential to getting oxygen into your lower chest cavity and into your blood to properly circulate through your vital organs. Most adults breathe high in their chest. Just ask your singer how important proper breathing techniques are to their performance. 

So what is the trick to deep breathing? Well, you know how you breath deep before you hold your breath underwater? There ya go; now you know how to deep breathe. It is even more beneficial if you can do it outside. Sit down or lie down (as deep breathing can cause light headedness), hold your hands on your belly and breathe in deep—filling with air from the bottom, up—so that your belly bloats out. Hold it in for a few seconds (stay relaxed here) and breathe out slowly. Do this no more than a few times to start and work your way up. 

Use Your Head 

Paul McCartney does it. The Dali Lama does it—for eight hours at a time. Yes, friends, meditation is a huge part of mental health. While I am no expert, I will only say this: meditation puts your brain into a relaxed state, increasing the brain waves that cause more creativity, much like when you are playing, sleeping or reading. When your brain is in this state, it is at its finest. It's like a workout for your brain; the more you flex that muscle, the more it builds and repairs itself. 

Speaking of reading, it too is entertainment much better spent with than television, video games, and yes, even the internet. Neil Peart, Terry Bozzio, and Mike Mangini. Not only are these cats monster players, they are incredibly intelligent and avid readers.

I know, I know, we need time to tweet, Facebook, YouTube, build fan lists, and other "business" stuff, but let's make time to read. Maybe you read about social media marketing, or how to start your own record company. Much like practicing something on the drums that is difficult or challenging, so too is reading and comprehending new concepts. That  is exactly how your brain creates new neural pathways. These little guys are the reason you grasp new concepts or can easily play difficult patterns. 

It Is Written 

Last but not least, this is something you should be (and maybe are) doing not only for your mental health, but for the sake of maintaining any royalties when it comes to recording music. Write. Write often and write anything that comes to mind. On the road, we are given mass amounts of time to "be in our head." That stuff does you no good if it stays locked up in there. Get  it out on paper, your laptop or iPad, but get it out. Liberty DeVitto (Billy Joel) has numerous #1 hits to his credit, so does Denny Seiwell (Paul McCartney), and both played a vital part in contributing to the songs those artists had commercial success with. 

But what Liberty and Denny don't have are their names on the song writing credits that equate to the publishing rights to those songs, that equate to the royalties paid out on those tracks, that equate to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Are ya picking up what I'm putting down here? In the music business, thy pen is always mightier than thy drumstick. 

Let's be honest with each other; for the most part, life on the road is as far removed from fitness and health as the Pope is from Miley Cyrus. But in this day and age of information and wellness, many musicians are getting it. The bar is a lot higher and the performance expectations on many of today's top players are just shy of professional athleticism. 

Allow me to leave you with one final thought. Would you polish your brand new drums with corn syrup or Red Bull, or wipe your cymbals off with diet soda? Would you store your drums in a smoke filled room, or pour pint after pint of beer on them?

Then why is it okay for your body?



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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.

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