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Drummer Lab is a series that follows Nadia Azar’s kinesiology research on some of your favorite drummers.

How many calories does Mike Mangini burn during a Dream Theater show?

If you’re a drummer, you already know that playing the drums is really hard work. But have you ever wondered how much energy it takes to play the drums? Or more specifically, how many calories you burn during a gig or even a practice session?

A couple of years ago, Mike Mangini tweeted a guess at how many calories he burns during a Dream Theater show, which he based on previous studies of energy expenditure during pop/rock drumming. I’m a Kinesiology professor and a Dream Theater fan, so when I saw his tweet, I thought to myself…how cool would it be if we could find out more specifically? I have equipment that could do that!

The device I had in mind was the BodyMedia® armband. It is made up of four different sensors housed within a small plastic casing (about 1.5” square), which is secured to the back of the upper arm using an elastic Velcro strap. The device contains four sensors:

  • A triaxial accelerometer, which measures motion in three planes (up-down, side-side, front-back)
  • A temperature sensor, which monitors skin temperature
  • A heat flux sensor, which monitors the rate of body heat dissipation
  • A galvanic skin response sensor, which monitors skin conductivity (a value that increases with sweating)

The software that comes with the device contains algorithms that use the sensor data along with basic demographic information (height, weight, age, sex, handedness, and smoking status) to predict energy expenditure (i.e. calories burned). Unlike other laboratory-standard equipment, the BodyMedia® armbands are very small and wouldn’t get in the way of his playing.

I reached out to Mike about wearing the armbands during a couple of his shows. He was interested, so we made plans to make it happen on the Images, Words & Beyond 25th Anniversary Tour (yes, I do have the coolest job ever).

Here’s what we found:

Dream Theater played two sets and an encore, and they played the same sets on both nights. The first set consisted of a mix of songs, the second set was the Images and Words album in its entirety (including a 4-minute drum solo in the middle of “Metropolis Pt. 1”, and the encore was “A Change of Seasons”. Total show time was about 160 minutes on both nights.

On average, Mike used about 532 calories in the first set, about 614 calories to get through Images and Words, and 193 calories for A Change of Seasons. Mike’s total energy expenditure (averaged across both shows) was a whopping 1,338 calories. This included the calories burned over both sets and the encore, including time between songs, but did not include time between the first two sets or between the second set and the encore.

In addition to the totals, I was able to get estimates of energy expenditure for each individual song. Given that longer songs would naturally use up more calories, I divided each song by its duration to get an estimate of each song’s intensity (i.e. rate of calories burned per minute). Predictably, the lowest intensities were recorded during the portions of the show where Mike wasn’t playing – during “Wait For Sleep” and during John Myung’s cover of Jaco Pastorius’ “Portrait of Tracy” (both about 4 calories/minute on average). On both nights, the highest intensity part of the show was the second half of “Metropolis Pt. 1” (about 11 calories/minute), after they came back in from the drum solo.

I had thought the solo itself would be the most intense, but Mike disagreed. To him, the solo was the part of the show where the playing was easiest – the dynamics were a lot lighter than when the whole band was playing, so he didn’t have to hit nearly as hard. Mike’s average intensity for each show was a little over 8 calories/minute. Based on his body mass, that would be comparable to riding a stationary bike at a moderate pace for over 2.5 hours!

However, what I found truly incredible was Mike’s consistency in energy expenditure between the two shows. There was only a 3% difference in total calories consumed for Images and Words, 3% difference for the whole show, and no difference for A Change of Seasons!

So, Mike – you can sleep easy knowing you’ve earned at least one full serving of linguine con vongole (964 cal) and a glass of Amarone (176 cal/8 oz) after each show…with a few calories to spare.

Top 3 takeaways:

1. Mike burned just over 600 calories playing the Images and Words album, front to back.
2. In this set, Mike burned the most calories in the second half of Metropolis Pt 1.
3. During these shows, Mike burned an average of 8 calories per minute.

Feature image: Avihai Levy Photography

Nadia Azar

Nadia Azar Ph.D. is an Associate Professor of Kinesiology at the University of Windsor, where she runs the Drummer Mechanics and Ergonomics Research Laboratory (DRUMMER Lab). Follow Nadia at @DrNadiaAzar or learn more here.

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