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The Essential Touring Musician’s Guide to Working Out on the Road

Fitness starts with the diet, and this can be one of the absolute hardest things to control on the road. Touring is always a sacrifice of sorts, but it doesn’t have to ruin your body. I once spent five weeks on tour with a $10/day stipend for food and drinks. I ate two granola bars in the morning and a Wendy’s “4 for 4” in the afternoon.

By the time we arrived at the venue, I was hungry again and relied on fans to bring baked goods to the gig, which they did — mostly cakes, cookies, and occasionally a care package with chocolate bars, Throat Coat, and adult beverages. I made it through that tour but clearly not exhibiting the best self-care.

Staying healthy on the road is important. Here is my best advice, told through some of my own touring misadventures, starting with food because, clearly, it’s an issue.

Keep It Fresh: Tips for Eating Healthy

Eat as much fresh food as possible.

When I was on tour with Death By Chocolate (don’t get any ideas), I was totally blown away by their resourcefulness. A quick trip to a truck-stop minimart turned into a small but quality meal. For the first several days, I sat ashamedly with my bag of chips while they shared a loaf of bread with cheese and several pieces of fruit. I honestly never considered buying bananas or a block of cheese at a gas station, but it’s leaps and bounds better than packaged foods that contain tons of sodium and sugar.

Try to stop at a Wal-Mart or other grocery store every few days, bring a small cooler with you, and keep things like fresh fruit, hard cheese, peanut butter, and bread. If it’s hot, bring the cooler inside the venue with you, if you’re touring in cold-weather areas, even better! You have a free refrigerator.

Drink. Water.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate, especially if you’re on a summer tour or performing on a festival circuit like Warped Tour. If you wake up and your clothes are already soaked, your fingers are sliding off of your guitar from sweat, and you have to tear the sleeves off an old t-shirt to create a makeshift sweatband, you need to be drinking a lot of water. Drink water all day, every day, and if you’re drinking alcohol, make sure you’re drinking just as much water. The last thing you need before you take the stage is a heat stroke.

If you’re touring in a van sans washroom facilities, hydrate when you arrive for load-in or after you settle down for the night. This is a balancing act, but to avoid unnecessary stoppage and bathroom breaks (to the chagrin of the non-water-drinkers or iron bladders in your band), try to plan for long journeys.

Natural isn’t always enough.

With the emphasis on organic and non-GMO foods these days, it’s easy to dismiss proper nutrition in favor of new trends and loud “all-natural” packaging. Bear in mind, however, that just because something is natural, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you, and vice-versa.

While you may be tempted by that $7.00 bag of GMO-free, sprouted-grain blueberry muffins covered in Fair Trade chocolate, you’d be much better off with staples like brown rice, broccoli, and chicken breast or fish. These types of foods provide your body with the nutrients it needs to hold you over until you take your next meal, and as many of us know, it isn’t always clear when your next meal will be!

Trail mix is incredibly dense calorically. It’s a great option for musicians on the run, but remember to buy the clean stuff: no M&M’s, yogurt-covered raisins, or sugary clusters. Stick to almonds, cashews, and peanuts. Nuts are incredibly healthy and loaded with healthy fat, and your body can consume copious amounts of them.

Heavy Lifting

Gyms are everywhere.

There are gyms everywhere, and many of them would happily offer up a day pass or week-long free trial if you’re “new to town.” We don’t advocate taking advantage of anyone’s generosity, but don’t be afraid to ring up the nearest gym and ask if you can stop by to check out the facilities. My friend Sean Kelly, who was also on that infamous Death By Chocolate tour, found a gym in every city we performed in; some places even gave him a +1, free of charge. It’s amazing what you can get just by talking to people.

If your standards of personal fitness are higher than average, and you need high volumes of protein, I suggest bringing your own. Keep a large container of whichever protein powder you use, and mix it with water at the venue or hotel to cut costs and save space in the bus or van.

Take it on the road, literally.

The easiest way to stay in shape while you’re on tour is to take your routine with you. While this can be a challenge if you’re used to working with large apparatuses, a portable fitness kit can be easily assembled and can even be shared between bands! Trace Cyrus had his two dogs and a Perfect Push Up on tour with Metro Station. That was all he needed to stay on top of his game. Things like ab wheels, resistance bands, and small weights are also easily portable and incredibly effective.

If you’re flying and concerned about baggage allowances, pick up a pair of hollow weights, which can be filled with sand or water at your destination and emptied when it’s time to weigh in en route to the next gig.

ISOMETRICS ISOMETRICS ISOMETRICS

These were practically made for touring musicians. Things like planking are great strength trainers, help build your core, and add endurance. Whenever I’m preparing for a long tour, I try to do as much endurance training as possible. Not only does this have far-reaching benefits for your performance, personal well-being, and ability to stay on the road for a very long period of time without falling to bits, it’s great for your mind and spirit as well.

Interval training is a must for me. That is, a high-intensity cardiovascular activity followed by a lower intensity anaerobic activity. Combining sprints with jogs and low-intensity strength training is a good start. Try sprinting 20 meters each way, then jogging 50 meters and adding several burpees or push-ups. Experiment with varied and shorter recovery periods to maximize your workout. Best of all, this can be done with no equipment, making it easy to implement while you’re traveling. This can also help get you amped before the show if your thermostats are running low and you’re starting to get weary!

Ride the wave.

This option may not always be available. But nothing whips you into shape like turning tides. If you’re playing along the coast, or have a hotel with a pool for the night, take advantage of any opportunity to get into the water. I’ve known a band to have a “swim every day” mandate. Not only is this great for your muscles and a welcome respite from being a DIY road warrior, it’s great for your heart and lungs.

Swimming is also incredibly safe, which is important if you’re a drummer or keyboardist afraid of snapping your wrist or breaking a few fingers playing full-contact football on the beach somewhere. (I’ve seen it.) According to a study published on Livestrong.com,

“50% of injuries came from running, 43% from cycling, and only 7% from swimming.”

On the Job

Being on the road can be a workout in and of itself! Don’t underestimate the cardio, strength training, and endurance you’re clocking on a daily basis. Look for your opportunities! DIY bands who are driving themselves, loading in and out, and playing a 45-minute set every night reap the most rewards. Not only does it make you a team player, but jumping in on load-ins and even helping the other bands with their equipment is a great way to get in some additional workout time while you’re “on the job.”

Give 110%. The rowdier you get onstage each night, the better for you (and your fans).
You’d be surprised how many calories you can burn onstage! This website lists average calories burned during performances for several instruments. Does it list yours? How does it measure up? Drummers (204 calories per hour) are obviously at the top of the heap with some surprise contenders, like trombone at 170 calories an hour!

Festivals often offer tons of programming that’s accessible with an artist’s badge. Things like yoga are commonplace at many festivals today, and even if the festival itself isn’t offering anything, many festival-goers will congregate for a healthy stretch or workout in the mornings. Not to mention fans and artists alike engaging in activities like football, frisbee, and plenty of high-energy dancing in their free time.

Find a partner. If you have a pre-existing fitness goal, or are looking to find one, while on tour, find a partner to compete with. Another band member or member of the crew may have similar goals or just be up for a challenge. There’s nothing like friendly competition to motivate you to stay on top of your routine.

Rest, Rest, Rest

I know how hard it is to tune out life on the road in fear of missing out on something exciting, but rest is a crucial part of any workout regimen and incredibly important for your body and mind. If you don’t have to stand, sit. If you don’t have to sit, lie down. Take every opportunity you can to catch up on some R&R. Don’t feel the need to make up for lost time on days off. If your band has a travel day, or a day off to take in a new city, take advantage of that opportunity to relax. Keep your workout light and never push yourself to the point of injury.

Katie Rosenbrock at The Active Times says:

“Sometimes we take on that frantic ‘must work out every day’ mindset and completely forget that one of the most important parts of exercising effectively is giving our bodies time to recover.”

Our Recommended Road Workout

Here’s a sample workout that can be executed with no equipment in the green room, outside, or out in the house while you’re waiting for doors! If you aren’t used to working out regularly, go ahead and cut these reps in half to start and gradually build up to the suggested number of reps.

Remember to keep your back straight and legs fully extended. Maintain a steady pace and keep your face forward and your neck relaxed.

+ Advanced Tip. Add 5-10 tricep push-ups to your routine. These involve keeping the arms tucked closely to the body and completing the exercise without letting them flay out to the sides. This works the tricep and is surprisingly challenging even if your standard push-up game is on point.

Lay flat on your back with your hands cradling the back of your head. Extend your legs, as in a leg lift, 6-12 inches from the ground. Hold a crunch as you kick your legs out as if riding a bicycle, in a full, circular extension. Continue for one minute or until exhaustion.

Make full extensions with the arms and legs, keeping the glutes tight and letting your hands make contact behind your back.

Imagine you’re trying to sit down on a chair that is just out of reach, breath through each rep.

Complete the full-body workout with 10 burpees, also known as squat thrusts.

+ Advanced Tip. Instead of performing a single push-up on each rep, perform three rapid push-ups from half the distance to the floor.

Lastly, no matter whether you regularly do yoga or not, I cannot recommend daily stretching enough. It’s one of the most important ways to keep your body limber and ready to rock night after night.

Remember! Destroying hotel rooms is easy (too easy); killing it onstage every night and looking/feeling great is a much better challenge! Raise the bar for other artists. Taking care of yourself is the new debauchery. Stay strong out there, and good luck!

Below are a few food tips to help you feel healthy and strong for the long haul, and here’s a video we grabbed from Soundfly’s free Touring on a Shoestring course offering a more general overview of things you can do to keep your mind and body in shape.

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Dre DiMura
Dre DiMura

Dre DiMura is a creative artist from New Jersey. As a guitarist he has shared the stage with legendary artists such as Gloria Gaynor, Dee Snider, and Steve Howe of YES. He is the lead guitarist in LA based soul/rock band, Sugar Fly, and the primary creative force in psychedelic rock trio, Lunar Electric. He has toured internationally with Australian rock band, Evol Walks, who were recently cited as one of Australia’s top 5 emerging artists. As an actor he has appeared in commercials, independent films, and on television shows for ABC, Nickelodeon, and HBO where he worked with critically acclaimed director, David Fincher. You can hear more from Dre in Soundfly's free course A Conversation with the Blues.