A radio broadcaster once said, “if it doesn’t have a ball, it isn’t a sport.” His co-host quickly responded, “so boxing isn’t a sport?” “Well, except that, I guess.” The co-host quickly added, “Swimming is a sport too.” Right on his own radio show, the host was embarrassed at his original proclamation, “Well, maybe I need to rethink my position.”

For ages, it’s been debated between what classifies as a sport and who qualifies as an athlete for ages. Is Crossfit a sport? What about bodybuilding? Are Nascar drivers really athletes? Why is the Spelling Bee on ESPN every year? Major League Eating, really? What about hobby horsing? (if you don’t know it, look it up. It’s entertaining.)

Sports and athletes are highly subjective terms. Those who participate in the activity will usually vigorously defend it, claiming it’s the hardest and most demanding sport there is, even if nobody else agrees (looking at you, curling).

Regardless, we can agree that there are many “activities” that are just as physically demanding as any sport there is. And to prepare for it, strength and conditioning preparation is still very appropriate. For members of a marching band, the practices and performances can be just as grueling as two a days in football, just without the head smashing. Look at the drum major tryouts at Ohio State. Think these guys aren’t athletes?

For the sake of the article and consistency, we will refer to marching band members as athletes.

In terms of physical attributes for marching band, posture is everything. Maintaining the “set” position throughout a performance is just as important as the music itself. Dropping an instrument or being unable to maintain the set position during a performance is a big no-no. These often result in huge deductions in competition.

Holding a 7-pound brass instrument parallel to the ground throughout a halftime performance is no joke. The shoulders and entire back side have to be pretty strong to maintain such a heavy, awkward posture. Or what about having a 50-pound tuba strapped to your spine. That requires a pretty strong…everything. And do that in a uniform that puts you in a claustrophobic sauna. Good times.

So how can these athletes best prepare for their upcoming seasons? What exercises should they do to perform at their best? This article isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list of how to get ready for a season but rather a general preparation recommendation. Learning to master these strength and conditioning movements and principles will more than prepare a marching band athlete for band camp and their upcoming season.

Conditioning for Marching Band

Probably the most challenging aspect of marching band is the heat. Growing up in the midwest, my summers were hot and humid. I always remember seeing the marching band practicing in the school parking lot in August, presumably dying yet maintaining perfect composure.

Having a solid aerobic foundation is crucial in marching band. Without it, the athlete can quickly conform to exhaustion and fall to mistakes the band can’t afford.

For a healthy athlete, maintaining a heart rate between 130-150 for 40-60 minutes will allow any athlete to build a robust level of aerobic conditioning. This is my conditioning recommendation for all the athletes. It is tough, but doing this 1-2 times per week will get them in good condition to battle the heat and humidity and endure the length of a performance.

Strength for Marching Band

Brass and Woodwinds

Brass and woodwind training should be about the same, as these athletes hold the instrument in front of them, mostly parallel to the ground at 90 degrees. These athletes need strong and enduring shoulders, as well as strong backsides. Here is a few excellent bang for your buck exercises for these instruments.

  • Bottoms up kettlebell walk. This is a common exercise for baseball players. Still, it translates well to building brutally strong shoulders that can hold a heavy instrument for an extended period.
  • RKC planks. This is your standard plank, but harder. Marching band athletes need a strong core to maintain a neutral posture, despite a heavy instrument trying to pull them out of it. A strong, three-dimensional core is crucial for optimal performance and reducing or preventing back pain.
  • RDLs. In my opinion, there’s no better exercise out there to develop a strong posterior chain. This strengthens the hips, hamstrings, back, and can save the knees a lot of trouble. Again, this is an exercise that helps support the maintenance of proper posture in a performance. This exercise can be performed with a barbell or free weights.
  • Calf raises. You know you need calves, perhaps steers if you are in a marching band. No video is needed here. Just lift your heels up and down, a lot.

Of course, there’s a vast difference between carrying a tuba and a flute. Those that carry the heavier instruments need to practice getting stronger in these lifts. Members carrying the flute and other light instruments would benefit from these exercises, but not as essential for them. The conditioning, though, is very relevant for all.


The individual positions within the percussion section vary a lot. A set of tenor drums can weigh around 45lbs! That’s a lot of weight that the backside has to hold up. Then there are those in the pit, and they often don’t have to carry anything. So depending on individual position, these athletes should emphasize building strength in these exercises accordingly.

  • RDLs. I’m putting these at the top of the list because I feel they are the most important. Like the brass and woodwinds, RDLs are highly recommended for strong backsides to maintain the strength needed to carry these instruments and hold a neutral posture. Those that carry the heavier stuff should become brutally strong in this exercise.
  • Hip thrust. Again, special attention needs to be paid to building strength on the backside, particularly the glutes. There’s no better glute exercise than the hip thrust. This can be done with a barbell, or free weights can be used on the lap. You can also use no weights for lots of reps.
  • RKC plank. A strong core is a must for all.

If You Struggle With Back Pain

If you struggle with back pain or any pain at all, please see a doctor and get medically checked first.

Athletes will often be medically cleared for activity but still struggle with an achy back. I’d strongly recommend this routine of three exercises for a healthy back for these athletes. Don’t just go through the motions, though. Pay close attention to your technique.

As stated earlier, this is a general recommendation for marching band athletes. These strength and conditioning recommendations should serve as a foundation of programming for the athletes but is not an exhaustion of what these athletes should do. However, if nothing else, stick to these exercises and conditioning protocol to help you or your athlete perform their best.

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Original article posted on stack.com

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