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Burning Calories With Tim Alexander

Nadia Azar  /  UPDATED Aug 30, 2022

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

How many Calories does Tim Alexander burn during a show with Primus?

It’s early morning, mid-March 2018. I stumble downstairs, eyes half open (I am not a morning person). I’m barely coherent, especially with only about two sips of coffee in me, but for some reason I decide to check my email.

There’s a message in my inbox with the subject “Drummer study”…and it’s from Tim Alexander, drummer for Primus.

Good morning…wide awake now!

I was excited to have Tim on board for the study, simply because he’s a highly accomplished drummer. However, I quickly realized that this was an interesting prospect for another reason: Tim suffered a heart attack in 2014, underwent triple bypass surgery, and then suffered a second heart attack in 2016. Given the importance of exercise in the prevention of cardiovascular disease and in cardiac rehabilitation1,2, seeing Tim’s energy expenditure during a live show could provide some unique insights into the use of drumming as a potential mode of exercise.

Tim wore the Bodymedia armbands for two shows on the North American leg of Primus’ 2018 spring tour. The band played their newest album (The Desaturating Seven) in its entirety at both shows, plus 10 other songs each night – including my personal favourite to close out Show #2 (“Tommy the Cat”…LOVE that song!).

Setting Up photo by Dory Azar 1

Here’s what we found:

Tim’s total energy expenditure for the full show was 556 Calories over 89 minutes for Show #1, and 554 Calories over 85 minutes for Show #2. These numbers represent the total number of Calories that Tim burned during each show, from the first note to the last, including downtime between songs. I also calculated Tim’s energy expenditure to play through The Desaturating Seven, since they played the full album from start to finish: 203 Calories in Show #1, and 240 Calories in Show #2.

Bar Chart Show 1
Bar Chart Show 2

‘Intensity’ refers to the level of effort, and it is calculated by dividing the total Calories burned by the duration of the show or song – the higher the number, the higher the effort level. Tim’s average intensity was very similar between shows: 6 and 7 Calories/minute, respectively. The average intensity for The Desaturating Seven was also very consistent: ~6 Calories/min at both shows.

Based on his body mass, this rate of energy expenditure is similar to what Tim would expend by walking at 3.5 mph for the same amount of time3. It might not seem very intense on the surface, but this would be like walking just over 5 miles – that’s some solid exercise! Also, remember that this was Tim’s average intensity level. On both nights, “My Name is Mud” was the most intense song to play (i.e. the highest Calorie burn rate, at 9-10 Cal/min). There were also several other songs where Tim got up into the 8 Cal/min range. For his body mass, these intensity levels are similar to the energy expenditure associated with walking/running at a pace of 4-5 mph3.

You can see from the bar charts that Tim’s intensity level varied a lot song by song, and so it more closely resembles interval training than continuous aerobic exercise. Even more importantly, these intensity levels are enough to reap the cardiovascular health benefits of exercise1.

set breakdown 2

Top 3 takeaways:

1. Tim’s average total energy expenditure across both shows was 555 Calories.
2. His average rate of energy expenditure was roughly equivalent to walking at 3.5 mph for nearly 90 minutes (equivalent to just over 5 miles total distance).
3. Tim’s intensity level over the course of the show more closely resembled interval training than continuous aerobic exercise, and was in the range associated with cardiovascular health benefits.


1. How much exercise is optimal for heart health? [document on the Internet]. Boston (MA): Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School; 2016 [cited 2019 July 22]. Available from
2. Lavie CJ, Thomas RJ, Squires RW, Allison TG, Milani RV. Exercise training and cardiac rehabilitation in primary and secondary prevention of coronary heart disease. Mayo Clinic Proceedings. 2009 Apr; 84(4): 373–383.
3. Calories burned in 30 minutes for people of three different weights [document on the Internet]. Boston (MA): Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School; 2018 [cited 2019 May 29]. Available from

Headline Image: Joe Orlando
Other Images: Dory 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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