Get in Shape for Marching Band!?

person jogging

While we utilize many different styles within our shows, the Wildcat Marching Band is considered a "corps-style" marching band. Some features of this style include the use of a roll-step or glide-step, keeping the performers' upper bodies pointed at the audience most of the time, and the use of backward marching and "shifts" or "slides" in addition to forward marching. Your band may have been a "big-ten" or "show style" marching band, or perhaps you marched only in parades (or not at all!). Whatever your background, you have nothing to worry about. We start with basic marching technique on day one for everyone. This allows our veterans to brush up on their technique and for new members to learn our style, terminology, and commands. It may seem overwhelming right now, but we will guide you through every step of the way. If you have trouble with anything we're doing, our veteran band members won't hesitate to help you out. We understand that our new members come from a variety of marching backgrounds, from those who have never marched a step to people who have marched in highly-competitive marching bands and drum corps.

Whatever your background, there are some things you can do before the season starts to help make things easier. Marching band is an aerobic activity, and we start off right away with the most physically-demanding part of the season: band camp! During band camp, we'll spend all day each day marching and playing/spinning. It shouldn't be more than you can handle, but you'll probably get tired during the day. The nice thing is, once you make it through band camp, the rest of the season is much less physically demanding! To help ease the transition into the season, here are some training suggestions. You don't need to belong to a gym or have any fitness equipment to do any of these exercises (sometimes hand weights are suggested to increase difficulty, but they aren't necessary).


  • Stretching
    • Whatever exercises you do, make sure you stretch out before and after. This will help avoid soreness and increase flexibility. Don't skip this step, and make sure to stretch all the muscles you worked.
    • Muscles stretch better when warm, so you might want to start with a brisk walk or light jog for 5-10 minutes before you stretch. Again, remember to stretch when you're done, too.
    • If you need stretching tips, there are plenty online.
  • Jogging
    • Being able to jog a mile without stopping should get you to the point where you can make it through an entire show performance without much difficulty.
    • If you don't currently run, work up to it using intervals. Start by alternating jogging and walking for a minute or two at a time a few times a week. Each week, increase the amount of time you jog and decrease the amount of time you walk until you're running a full mile without stopping.
    • If you'd like to work on running a longer distance, check out the Couch to 5K program or the 5K101 program. Even if you don't make it all the way through either program, it will get you moving and build up your aerobic endurance, and that's the whole point!
  • Calf raises
    • Backward marching can make those calf muscles burn, especially during band camp. The most simple way to build those muscles is to stand with your feet together and repeatedly lift up onto your toes and back down slowly.
    • For an added challenge, stand with the balls of your feet on a step or curb with your heels hanging off the edge. Make sure you have something to hold onto to stabilize yourself. Do the same lifts as above, but let your heels drop lower than the balls of your feet so you're raising your body a larger distance.
    • Hand weights can also be added for more resistance.
  • Core/Lower back exercises
    • This will help with posture for everyone and will also help with holding up your equipment with less effort.
    • Planks
      • Start by lying on the floor. Lift your body into a standard push-up position, but with your forearms flat on the floor. Make sure your entire body is straight. Hold this position for 30 seconds or as long as you can and then relax. Repeat 3-5 times. Gradually increase the time spent holding the position each week.
    • Lower back
      • Lie face-down on the floor with your arms extended above your head ("Superman"). Slowly raise any combination of your legs and arms up toward the ceiling and lower back to the floor. Start with lifting each limb alone one at a time, then try different combinations (both legs, both arms, left leg/right arm, both legs AND both arms). Do 12-15 reps each, rest, and then repeat two more times.
      • Get into a crawling position (kneeling with hands on the floor in front of you). Slowly raise one arm or leg until it is extended straight (parallel to the floor). Try doing one leg and the opposite arm at the same time as well. Do 12-15 reps each, rest, and then repeat.
    • Sit-ups/crunches
      • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place your hands loosely behind your head or touch your fingers to your temples (do NOT lift your head with your arms).
      • For sit-ups, use your abdominal muscles to lift your upper body all the way up so you almost touch your face to your knees.
      • For crunches, lift your torso directly upward toward the ceiling. Feel like you're pressing your back into the floor and pulling your abs downward. Or, feel like you're compressing your ribcage down toward your hips. The important part is to let your abs do the work AND make sure you continue to feel that resistance as you lower your body down. If you're able to do dozens of crunches at a time, you're probably not using correct technique. You will still "feel the burn," but you'll have to do far more of them than you would if you use correct technique. Move slowly and focus on your abdominal muscles.
      • Do about 15 reps (if you don't "feel it" after 15, refocus on your technique), rest, and repeat two more times.
  • Push-ups
    • Everyone in the band will be using their arms in some way in addition to marching. Arm strength will make this easier and make you a better performer. It's probably easiest to get into a push-ups routine. Try to do them right before you go to bed or shortly after you get up in the morning. They don't take long.
    • When you first start, do as many as you can, keeping your entire body straight. Avoid the tendency to stick your butt up in the air or to sag in the middle.
    • "Real" push-ups are best, but you can start with your knees if you struggle with doing any. Try to move to push-ups on your toes as soon as possible, though.
    • Work up to 10 push-ups with good technique. Rest for 30 seconds to one minute and then repeat.
    • Each week, try to do 5 more reps each time (or as many as you can).

Winds (especially baritones, mellophones, and trumpets)

  • Our marching style requires brass players to hold their bells 10 degrees above parallel. Many high school bands (especially the non-competitive ones) in the area don't use this style, so it may be new to you. This very well may be the biggest challenge for you if you haven't had to do this before.
  • All winds will probably get tired arms after a while, so any arm exercises will be helpful.
  • The best way to build up the muscles you'll need is to actually hold your instrument in playing position for as long as you can, rest, and then do it again. Gradually, you'll be able to do this for longer periods of time.
  • If you don't have an instrument handy (especially if you play baritone or mellophone, as people usually own only the concert versions of these instruments), you can replicate it using household items.
    • If you have hand weights, hold one up in front of your face, a few inches away from it. You can do this with one hand at a time or both.
    • If you don't have hand weights, use anything else that you can hold in your hand: water bottles, books, paperweights, anything!
  • These instruments don't weigh a lot, the issue is more with holding it out in front of you. We don't usually use our arms that way, so they get tired quickly.
  • Resist the urge to bring your elbows in or to "cheat" in other ways. The point of this is to make doing it correctly easier, so make sure you're practicing correctly. Brass: if you interlock your fingers in front of you, your forearms should make a 90 degree angle and your hands should be at eye level. Keep this in mind when you're holding up any sort of weight.
  • Whatever you play, practice holding your instrument, hand weight, or substitute in the position it will be in while marching and gradually increase the time. Your arms might start to shake, but keep breathing and push through as long as you can. That's the only way it will get easier!

Percussion and Sousaphones

  • Simply due to the weight of your instruments, core- and back-strengthening exercises will be even more important for you.
  • Squats
    • Stand with your feet wider than shoulder-width apart.
    • Hold any sort of weight with your hands at shoulder level (touching your shoulders is okay)
    • Keeping your back straight and your head up, bend at the knees and hips to lower your upper body straight down (you should keep your weight centered over your feet, but take a sort of "sitting" position), and then slowly bring yourself straight up again.
    • Do 12-15 reps, rest, and then repeat two more times.
  • Sousaphones: you will carry a lot of weight on your left shoulder, so start getting used to this. Try carrying a backpack on your left shoulder and lifting up at the shoulder. During the season, make sure you occasionally move your sousaphone to your right shoulder during rest or break times, so that you even out the demands.
  • Cymbals: see the post above for winds, as you will often hold the cymbals in front of your body much like a wind player does. ANY arm exercises you can do will make the season easier for you. We have a very active cymbal line, and you will need to build up muscle strength to be successful. Strength training in advance will also help avoid injury or strain during the season. Take any sort of weights or substitutes and hold them in various extended positions for as long as you can.


  • Our colorguard has a workout routine used during the season to help build strength and flexibility. Colorguard is very athletic, using dance, flags, rifles, sabres, and the occasional other auxiliary pieces of equipment. The colorguard also tends to run often in the show, whether a jazz run as part of the drill, or a quick sprint to take care of an equipment change.
  • Running, arm exercises, and core exercises are extremely important. Work to do as many push-ups and crunches as you can, and try to work your way through one of the 5K programs listed above as far as you can. If you make it all the way through the program, work to increase your distance and/or speed.
  • In addition to the distance running, practice doing some short sprints as well. Try alternating between jogging for one minute and sprinting for 30 seconds for a total of 10-15 minutes or longer.

Additional Information and Tools

None of this is necessary to be a member of the band. Even if you don't do any of it, you'll be fine, so don't let this scare you off. This is only meant to make band camp easier and to make you a better performer, helping the band reach its highest potential. Besides, it's good to get exercise like this anyway, so why not get in shape AND get ready to march?!

See also: Maintaining Your Health in Marching Band