It’s the first of March, and if warm weather hasn’t hit where you are (not even close where I am), it’s coming soon. It’s a time when some of us start to think about fitness, or at least about other people’s fitness. The winter fat layer has been building since Christmas, not counting that traditional burst of fitness awareness which takes up the first week of January, at most. Many of us just don’t feel bluegrass festival-ready, especially for the traditional evening swimwear set that many bands play at festivals (maybe you don’t stay up late enough to catch those shows).
For road musicians, finding a consistent plan for physical exercise is challenging. We’re told that “sitting is the new smoking,” which isn’t good news for us; most of us were under the mistaken impression that “sitting is the new black,” or “the new untucked shirt.” A new study (published by a guy somewhere) estimates that your average road musician sits for the equivalent of at least three packs a day. This puts us at risk for all sorts of health issues, like heart disease, diabetes, and standing.
For Bill Monroe and his band, physical fitness was never a problem: in the early days, he had all of his band members organized into a baseball team (Lester Flatt at third). Bill also worked with draft horses when he was home, and he was renowned for getting his band members to work on the farm with him. He also danced on stage.
How far we’ve fallen since the robust Blue Grass Boys of the 1940s. What we need to turn around our mushy road lifestyle is a program that turns our everyday road picker activities into fitness opportunities. Here are a few to consider:
Long Distance Parking: You’ve maybe heard it suggested that you should park in the area of the lot that’s farthest from the entrance. Almost no one in the world has ever heeded this advice, but it’s something you can easily try when making a stop for food. This is not only a good chance for some exercise, but it also saves you the tedium of driving around searching for the closest space (or having your spouse point out the closest space to you). In some big cities, this far corner of the lot might be where the drug deals are taking place; this just adds the element of danger, which in turn raises your heart rate in a beneficial way. If you explain that you didn’t see what they’re doing, they might not kill you.
You should note that it’s unlikely any of your other band members are going to go for this plan, so you’ll have to drop them all at the door first. Saying, “see you later, lazy slobs” is probably not the best way to foster good band relations. Go ahead and say it anyway.
The Bathroom Sprint: Once seated in a restaurant, make sure to sit at a table rather than a booth, or take the outside seat of a booth. As soon as you give your order, instead of sauntering over to the bathroom as you normally would, stopping to sign autographs for people who have no idea who you are, run there at top speed. This will alarm some people in the restaurant, many assuming you have some serious intestinal disorder, but they’ll get over it, and you’ll have turned your restaurant experience into an essential part of your fitness plan. Make sure to run back to your seat (also unnerving to the other patrons). This makes it what the fitness experts call “interval training.”
Instrument Unloading: Volunteer to unload everybody else’s instruments and luggage at every gig.
Maybe that isn’t such a good idea.
The Instrument Press: Lie down with your palms open and facing up. Ask a band member or friend to place an instrument case across your chest on your hands and push your arms up, elevating the instrument for ten reps. Do three sets on each instrument, eventually working up to the banjo, the bass, and for the more advanced, a small fiddle player.
The Merch. Table Run: First, run to set up your merchandise (this will just look like you’re trying to beat other bands to the best spot). Once your wares are set up, instead of sitting around, staring blankly into space while you wait for customers, run in place behind your table, or do some jumping jacks. This may attract attention and even customers. Try to maintain a jogging pace even when visiting with fans and signing CDs.
The Last Minute Festival Stage Run: Even though you’ve arrived in plenty of time for your show, deliberately stand at least 100 yards away, but within earshot of the stage. Have your instrument tuned and ready to go. Then wait until you hear your band being introduced and run like crazy to the stage, shouting “I’m here! I’m here!” while you do. It will get your heart rate up, and create an atmosphere of excitement around the start of your show.
The Really Long Fiddle Tune: “Studies” show that in order to derive any fitness benefit from playing instrumentals, they need to be played for at least 12 minutes. So instead of taking a tune twice around and ending it, try playing a long fiddle tune medley. You can also just play the same tune about 20 times in a row. This is also called old time music.