All Cristina Peerenboom wanted in the summer of 2010 was to escape some romantic drama by disappearing into her drum playing. But the petite Peerenboom had broken her drum stool standing on it to reach a book, so she spent an hour squatting as she practiced her favorite Rage Against the Machine songs.
The next morning Peerenboom — a Los Angeles personal trainer who is so hyperactive she has a computer power button symbol tattooed on her inner left wrist (“it’s a pressure point," she noted) — had such aching abs and legs she could barely stand.
“I realized moving around the kit while squatting was pretty much like Pilates but on your feet," said Peerenboom, now 26. Her friend, Kirsten Potenza, now 27, a fellow drummer and former college rower, was intrigued. (The pair met, fittingly, while taking turns on the Velvet Revolver drummer Matt Sorum’s kit at a party in the Hollywood Hills.)
The pals spent three months on a friend’s rooftop deck, hashing out fast-paced but simple squat and lunge-centric routines. They added innuendo (in a “T&A" segment, the T stands for “thighs") and plastic weighted drumsticks in a Nickelodeon slime-green hue. In a 50-minute class, they calculate, participants smash a mat on the floor with the quarter-pound Ripstix (double the weight of an average drumstick) an average of 15,000 — yes, 15,000 — times.
Rock star fitness
Their workout, Pound, has been a hit, inspiring cardio catharsis (and a scramble for spots) at gym chains like Crunch, home of Coregasm and other cheekily named classes, as well as at corporate gyms on the Sony Pictures lot and, perhaps inevitably, the Recording Academy’s Santa Monica headquarters. Jack McAlpin, a 26-year-old management consultant, confessed he regularly sneaks in the side door of his gym to snag a spot. After his first time trying Pound, “I was walking funny the next day," he said approvingly. “The weight of the drumsticks throws off your balance, so your core is killing you at the end."
Rock musicians hardly have a reputation for healthy living, and until recently, taking fitness cues from the drummer — the one guy on stage who spends the whole concert sitting down — might have seemed about as effective as hitting fat with drumsticks and hoping it disappeared. (“We’re easy scapegoats," said Clem Burke, the Blondie drummer, with a laugh. “We’re not moving targets, we’re stationary in that respect.") But Pound and a handful of other drumming-inspired offerings, like Drums Alive, a German import, are turning the percussionist into the rock star of the fitness world.
Donna Cyrus, Crunch’s senior vice president for programming, said Pound’s instant popularity prompted her to expand the chain’s offerings of it “far more than other signature classes we have launched in the past." Hard Candy, the gym chain partly owned by the workout voguista Madonna, will begin offering the workout at some clubs in 2013. Next up: a training session at the Mexico City health club of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez.
Meanwhile, Drums Alive, which involves taking a pair of hickory drumsticks to a hip-height exercise ball perched on step aerobics risers, has spread to all 50 states (and at least six other countries). Its core fans: suburban women older than 40 who often take the class in recreation centers, said Jen Dagati, head of the company’s North American licensing arm. The workout, available in Queens, is also big in senior centers (usually accompanied by a big band soundtrack) because it is easily modified for limited mobility. Its founder, Carrie Ekins, an American living in Germany, hit upon the workout while drumming on boxes in frustration after she injured her hip in a car accident.
Dagati said, “I don’t think you ever get too old to want to feel like a rock star."
Richard Cotton, an exercise physiologist and the national director of certification for the American College of Sports Medicine, pronounced Pound more challenging than Drums Alive “because of the core strength and flexibility required to reach the floor." But Drums Alive, he added, can still be very aerobic." Skeptics take note: “If you’re in decent shape for either one of these workouts, you’re going to burn at least as many calories as any other vigorous group exercise class," he said. “It’s certainly not going to be less."
Even air drumming has started getting some respect, at least aerobically. Ari Gold, the writer and director of the 2008 air-drumming comedy “Adventures of Power" (and, to his amusement, “accidentally the world emissary of something so sublimely ridiculous"), last year ended up air-performing Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher" for an audience of 5,000 in Finland. “It was by far the most intense workout I’ve ever had," said Gold, whose film’s cast included (drum roll, please) Adrian Grenier. (Ari Gold is also the name of Grenier’s character’s agent on the television show “Entourage." In real life, the pair are members of a band called the Honey Brothers; Grenier is the drummer.)
Cotton said: “Even if you’re just drumming randomly, all of your limbs are moving. That’s a ton of core work."
150 beats per minute
Marcus Smith, who worked with England’s Olympic boxing team and studies sports and exercise physiology at the University of Chichester in England, has been waiting for a drumming fitness boom.
Over an eight-year period, Smith and his team ran tests on Clem Burke of Blondie, measuring his heart rate, oxygen uptake and levels of lactic acid in his blood while on tour. (Smith has been a Blondie fan since he was 15 and, he said, “in love with Debbie Harry.") Burke’s heart rate averaged 140 to 150 beats per minute, which is roughly equivalent to running 10-minute miles, with peaks at 190 beats, or five-minute miles.
“You try getting on a treadmill and matching that for three hours night after night," said Smith, who estimated that only a professional athlete could. Burke, now the namesake for the Clem Burke Drumming Project, which has also worked with drummers from Bloc Party and Primal Scream, burned nearly 600 calories an hour in concert. That’s more than he would have burned running, Smith said.
What does Burke, 56, think of drumming’s fitness moment? Of course he is in favor of anything that puts “a positive spin" on drumming, but he said doubtfully of the new workouts: “Fifty people with drumsticks? Sounds like it would be pretty noisy." (Surprisingly, it’s no worse than any other class with loud music; the Pound founders often teach without microphones.)
Neil Peart, who was named the third-best drummer of all time in a 2011 Rolling Stone readers poll and provides inspiration for some gymgoers, said that in the three and a half weeks of rehearsals before his band, Rush, began its 2012 tour last week, he dropped at least 10 pounds.
Peart, who reported changing out of sweaty clothes two and three times a day, joked: “Obvious business opportunity. ‘Do you want to lose weight and tone your entire body, from your nose to your toes? Sign up now for the fabulous new Bubba Drum Workout!’" (Bubba is Peart’s nickname.)
The weight loss wasn’t because Peart, 59, was out of shape. He took up distance swimming in his 30s and favors cross-country skiing. On a day off between shows in Red Rocks, Colo., in 2010, he chose to flesh out the plot of a novelization of the band’s 2012 “Clockwork Angels" album by climbing the 14,265-foot Mount Evans with his co-author, Kevin J. Anderson.
This year’s pre-tour training regimen began in February. Three times a week, Peart would bike 20 minutes to his local Los Angeles YMCA, swap his helmet for a bandanna, and spend 30 minutes on the cross-trainer (keeping his heart rate near his recommended maximum), followed by calisthenics, yoga sun salutations (he held each pose for a count of 20 Mississippi) and the return bike ride home.
His favorite workout track? Silence. “The only activity I combine with music is driving," Peart said. “For me, exercise is an act of will."