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Drummers Are Athletes, And Here’s The Evidence

Nadia Azar  /  UPDATED Aug 23, 2022

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

Over the rest of the summer and fall of 2018, I continued to recruit and collect data on professional drummers for the Drummer Lab energy expenditure study, including Christian Tanna (I Mother Earth) and John Clardy (Tera Melos). Given that I only had a single data set for each of them, I decided to combine them here. It’s important to note that the goal is not to compare results between individual drummers, but to showcase their individual data and some interesting observations from each of them.

I’ve also summarized the results from all the Year 1 participants to start to look for trends in the data. Make sure you read to the end!

How many Calories does Christian Tanna burn during a show with I Mother Earth?

Christian wore the armbands and heart rate (HR) monitor during a show at Toronto’s Festival of Beer (July 29, 2018). This was an interesting data collection, because Finger Eleven played right before I Mother Earth, and Steve Molella joined Christian during the encore – the first time collecting data on two drummers at the same time!

Tanna Setting Up 2 photo by Dory Azar

Here’s what we found:

Christian’s total energy expenditure over the 89 minute set was 1218 Calories, for an average intensity of just under 14 Cal/min. “Used to Be Alright”, “Raspberry”, and “No One” all registered intensities of about 15 Cal/min, but “No One” claims the title for Most Intense Song because Christian registered the highest average HR (184 BPM) and peak HR (189 BPM) during this song.

One commonly used formula to calculate the maximum possible heart rate a person can achieve is HRmax = 220-age1. However, HRmax varies a lot between different people, so a person’s actual HRmax can be very different from their age-predicted HRmax.

Tanna Bar chart

Christian’s HR data shows that he is one of the individuals for whom this calculation does not hold. His average and peak HR during the show were both well above his age-predicted HRmax, at 175 BPM and 189 BPM, respectively. This was the case even when I used another commonly used equation to predict his HRmax (HRmax = 208-[0.7*age])2.

Christian’s true HRmax could be the peak HR achieved during the show (189 BPM), or it could be even higher – without physiologic testing, it’s not possible to know.

Regardless, given that the average adult’s resting HR is between 60-100 BPM3, it’s clear that Christian was working very hard up there! If I assume that his HRmax is the peak HR he reached during the show, then Christian spent 72% of the show at a ‘vigorous’ intensity (77-95% HRmax) and 27% of the show ‘near or at maximal’ intensity (96-100% HRmax)4.

How many Calories does John Clardy burn during a show with Tera Melos?

John wore the armbands and HR monitor during a show at the Pike Room in Pontiac, MI in November of 2018.

Clardy Setting up 2 image by Joe Orlando

Here’s what we found:

John burned a total of 516 calories over the 56-minute set (~9 Cal/min), and “Your Friends” was the most intense song (average intensity: 11 Cal/min, average HR: 154 BPM, peak HR: 162 BPM). His average heart rate over the entire set was 134 BPM, representing 72% of his age-predicted HRmax. He spent 52% of the show in the moderate intensity zone (64-76% HRmax), and 33% in the vigorous intensity zone.

After I sent him his data, John wanted to know how his numbers compared to the other drummers I’ve worked with. I don’t want to turn this into a contest (although, John isn’t the first one to ask me this…lol…). However, it is a fair question, and John agreed to let me share my answer:

Clardy Bar chart

In terms of his rate of Calories burned per minute, John was in the middle to lower end of my data pool, but his body mass is also one of the lowest in the participant pool, and people with lower body mass burn fewer Calories overall for the same activity intensity and duration than people with higher body mass5.

When I accounted for body mass and looked at his rate of Calories burned per kilogram of body mass per minute, John had one of the highest energy expenditures in the study so far! This could be related to many factors, such as playing characteristics (e.g., movement efficiency), musical genre, fitness level, ambient temperature, etc.
drummer lab summary table

Drummer Lab: Energy Expenditure during Rock Drumming – Year 1 Summary

Over the first year of this study, I collected data on 14 professional drummers during live performances. Thirteen participants yielded useable energy expenditure data, and six yielded useable heart rate data. The average rate of energy expenditure across these 13 participants was 10.2 Calories/minute. The average heart rate (6 participants) was 150 BPM, and the average peak heart rate was 179 BPM. On average, these participants spent 62% of their performance time working at a moderate-to-vigorous4 intensity.

Y1 Summary Intensities

Y1 Summary Heart Rates

The results from the first year of this study compare favorably to the findings from previous research on energy expenditure in rock/pop drumming6,7. In terms of energy expenditure, Romero et al.6 (5 drummers) and De La Rue et al.6 (14 drummers) reported average rates of energy expenditure of about 9 Cal/min and 10 Cal/min, respectively. Romero et al.6 reported an average HR of 145 BPM, and De La Rue et al.7 reported an average HR of 166 BPM. Although there were methodological differences between my study and theirs, it was still exciting to see that I was getting similar results to previous work.

Overall, we’re building a body of evidence that converges on the same point: playing the drums can be a vigorous physical activity, and professional drummers can reach intensity levels during live performances that are comparable to those seen in other professional athletes8. Nevertheless, I wanted to continue to collect data, especially on drummers from many different musical genres. Interest from drummers who wanted to participate in the study was still high, and Year 2 of the study promised to be a very exciting and interesting one. Stay tuned!

Top 3 takeaways:

  1. The average rate of energy expenditure across 13 drummers from Year 1 of the Drummer Lab Energy Expenditure study was 10.2 Calories/minute. The group’s average heart rate was 150 BPM and their peak heart rate was 179 BPM.
  2. The Year 1 participants spent of 62% of their performance time working at a moderate to vigorous intensity.
  3. The results from the first year of this study compare favorably to the findings from previous research on energy expenditure in rock/pop drumming6,7.


  1. Fox SM III, Naughton JP, Haskell WL. Physical activity and the prevention of coronary heart disease. Annals of Clinical Research. 1971; 3(6): 404–432.
  2. Tanaka H, Monahan KD, Seals DR. Age-predicted maximal heart rate revisited. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2001; 37(1): 153–156.
  3. American Heart Association. All about heart rate (pulse) [Internet]. Dallas, TX: American Heart Association, 2015 [cited 2020 March 9]. Available from:
  4. ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription (10th Ed). 2018. Deborah Riebe, Jonathan K. Ehrman, Gary Liguori, Meir Magal (eds.). Wolters Kluwer Health, Philadelphia, PA, 472 pp.
  5. Westerterp KR. Physical activity and physical activity induced energy expenditure in humans: measurement, determinants, and effects. Frontiers in Physiology. 2013 April; 4 (Article 90): 11 pages.
  6. Romero BR, Coburn JW, Brown LE, Galpin AJ. Metabolic demands of heavy metal drumming. International Journal of Kinesiology & Sports Science. 2016 July; 4(3): 32-36.
  7. De La Rue SE, Draper SB, Potter CR, Smith MS. Energy expenditure in rock/pop drumming. International Journal of Sport Medicine. 2013 Oct; 34(10): 868-872.
  8. Torreño N, Munguía-Izquierdo D, Coutts A, de Villarreal ES, Asian-Clemente J, Suarez-Arrones L. Relationship between external and internal loads of professional soccer players during full matches in official games using global positioning systems and heart-rate technology. International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance. 2016 Oct; 11(7): 940-946.

Photos by Joe Orlando & 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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