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Preventing Marching Injuries

Jamie Mansell, Dani Moffit, Anne C. Russ | May 2014

    After a long break from school and training, coaches encourage student athletes to carefully increase their exercise and stretching regimens at the end of the summer. Doing this before serious training begins can decrease the risk of injury in the upcoming season. Marching band members should do the same. Band camp is one of the most physically demanding parts of participation in marching band. Performers spend long days marching while holding and playing heavy instruments, often in extreme August temperatures and humidity. Just as athletes should transition into the fall season by preparing their hearts, lungs, and muscles, so too should marching band performers. Training prior to the beginning of camp may help prevent soreness, stiffness, and injuries.
    The National Athletic Trainers’ Association (NATA) has created tips to keep marching bands healthy and hydrated on the field. They include acclimatizing to the heat, establishing a schedule that increases activity intensity prior to beginning camp, promoting a nutritious and balanced diet during band camp, and keeping hydrated. Stretches and strengthening exercises will condition muscles so student musicians can withstand the intensity of both band practices and performances.

    Stretching should occur before and after practice to prevent soreness and promote flexibility. A 5-10 minute brisk walk or jog prior to stretching increases circulation to the muscles, which warms the tissue and makes it more pliable for the stretches. Make sure students breathe through stretches.
    Perform the following sequence of stretches, holding each one for a 10-15 second count.

Calf stretch
    Stand with one leg extended in front of the body. While holding the back leg straight, bend the front knee until you feel a slight stretch in the back calf. For a deeper stretch, bend the back knee. Repeat on the other leg.

Hamstring stretch, standing with chair
    While standing, place the leg to be stretched straight out in front on a chair. Carefully bend the knee of the standing leg while gently bending forward at the waist until a stretch is felt in the front leg. Repeat on the other leg.

Lying hamstring stretch, with partner
    While lying on the back, lift a leg up in the air. Have a partner gently push the leg back further. This should be slow and should not reach the point of pain. Repeat on the other leg.

Hamstring stretch, forward bend
    This is an advanced stretch. Stand with the feet shoulder-width apart. Bend forward until the fingers reach the ground and walk the fingers slowly out in front until a stretch is felt in both hamstrings. Do not bend the knees during this stretch.

Quadriceps stretch, standing

    Stand with the feet a few inches apart. While balancing on one leg, bend the other knee while pulling your foot towards the buttocks.

Shoulder stretch
    While standing, bring the arms behind the body (keeping the elbows straight) while interlocking the fingers. To intensify the stretch, raise the arms higher while maintaining the interlocked fingers.

Shoulder stretch
    While standing, place the arms out to the sides with the elbows bent (arms and upper body should make a w). To intensify this stretch, pull the arms back further or straighten the elbows. This can also be done in a doorway by placing the hands on both sides of the door frame and walking forward.

Shoulder stretch, with chair
    Grasp the top of a chair while keeping the arms straight and bending at the torso.

Neck rolls
    Slowly and gently rotate the head in a clockwise direction. Stop and repeat in a counterclockwise direction.

Aerobic exercise
    Being able to jog a mile without stopping is comparable to an entire show performance. Other choices for aerobic exercise include using an elliptical or  stair-stepper machine, walking stairs, or biking. Aerobic exercise should be performed for a minimum of 15 minutes, which is a bit longer than a halftime performance.

    Weights are not necessary to strengthen the body, although hand weights can be used if desired. Keep in mind the weight of the instrument, which can range from under a pound for piccolo to a 45-pound bass drum. While strength training, remind students to breathe in when the muscle is working and out when the muscle is returning to the starting position. Each exercise (except for the planks) should be done for three sets of eight to ten repetitions.

Areas of focus
Calf raises

    Stand, with the legs a few inches apart. Raise up on the toes, then lower. As students progress try doing this with one leg while holding on to a chair for support.

    Have students start by lying on the stomach. Raise the body onto the forearms and toes, keeping it in a straight line. Hold this position for twenty seconds. To progress, push the body up onto the hands while still maintaining a straight line. Another option is to start on the side and raise the body onto the elbow, again while keeping the body in a straight line.

    Lie on the stomach with arms outstretched in front. Raise arms and legs simultaneously while contracting the abdominal muscles. Relax and repeat.

Core crunches
    Lie on the back, with the knees bent. Crunch the torso, but be careful to avoid neck strain.

Crunches with a twist
    Lie on the back, with knees bent. With hands behind the head, crunch up so that the elbow is drawn closer to the opposite knee. Do not pull on the head and neck.

Push-ups against a wall
    Stand with the arms straight in front against a wall. Lean forward, pushing the body weight against the hands while bending elbows.

Modified push-ups 
    Perform a push-up on the knees. Be sure to keep the body straight. This can then progress to a full push-up, with the body weight placed on the hands and toes.

    Stand straight up with the feet shoulder-width apart. Slowly lower the buttocks, while bending your knees as if to sit on a chair. The upper body should bend forward, and the knees should not pass over the toes.

Just for the wind section
Forward arm raises
    Stand straight with arms at the side. Slowly raise straight arms in front until they are even with the chest. Lower and repeat.

Side arm raises
    Stand straight with arms at the side. Slowly raise arms straight out to the side, keeping elbows slightly bent.

Static hold
    Hold the instrument in playing position as long as possible

    Stretching exercises should be done daily, and cardiovascular exercises should be done three to four days per week. Strength training should be done two to three times per week but not on consecutive days. Introduce students to these exercises before the end of school and encourage them to stay in good physical shape as they prepare for marching season next fall.
Marching band members may not be typical athletes, but they should do the same preparations for cardiovascular conditioning, strength, and flexibility. By preparing in advance for marching season, practices will be easier, music will be stronger, and students may avoid discomfort and even injuries. 

For a video that demonstrates these exercises and stretches, go to