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For a full-body workout, drumming is the novelty to beat

By Dorene Internicola

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Drumsticks, pounded on gym floors, clinked overhead and bounced on exercise balls, are among the latest workout tools to tap into the group fitness scene, according to fitness experts.

Drumming classes do more than conjure dreams of rock glory. They provide effective workouts for all sorts of different drummers, from grandmothers to fitness fanatics.

Marc Santa Maria of Crunch, the national chain of fitness centers, admits to living out his own rock fantasy as he instructs a drumming Crunch fitness class called Pound.

The sticks, he said, are the means to an end.

"You're using the sticks as a mechanism to keep moving, and there's constant movement," said Santa Maria, who is Crunch's New York regional director. "Your core has to be used for all the basic movements."

Pound is the brainchild of Kirsten Potenza and Cristina Peerenboom, California-based former drummers who set out to fuse conditioning moves and cardio interval training with the distracting fun of drumming.

"You'd never think two drummers will come up with a workout," said Santa Maria. "They're also inspired by Pilates."

The Pound workout is featured on Potenza and Peerenboom's website www.poundfit.com. There is a network of instructors and classes in the United States and they plan to have an at-home version of Pound available on DVD next year.

"After the warmup, around the third track, there are three-minute intervals when you're doing intensive cardio. Then there's ab work," said Santa Maria, referring to the abdominal muscles.

People in the 45-minute class spend about 40 percent of the time standing, 40 percent seated, and 10 percent on their backs, he added.

'ALL THE EXTREMITIES AT ONCE'

Dr. J. Timothy Lightfoot, who has played music semi-professionally for a decade, said it's about time someone tapped into the fitness potential of drumming.

"I'm pleasantly surprised to see this is happening," said Lightfoot, a base player who is fascinated by the movement of drummers. "It's always been my observation that drummers are incredibly fit, even though they don't work at it."

Lightfoot, who is director of the Sydney and JL Huffines Institute for Sports Medicine and Human Performance at Texas A&M University, said it makes perfect sense to the physiologist to use drumming as conditioning.

"It's very physiologically taxing," he said. "Runners are primarily using their legs, swimmers are using their upper body most, but drummers are one of the few ‘athletes,' and I'll call them that, to have all extremities going at once."

Lightfoot guesses that a drumming workout class with aerobic and dance elements could burn about 400 calories.

Dancer and rhythm aerobics instructor Carrie Ekins originated Drums Alive, a workout which marries aerobic dance and drumming, while recuperating from a hip injury.

She found that drumming on boxes helped her mentally as well as aerobically. Drums Alive workouts, which are done in the United States as well as Canada, Europe, Asia, Israel and the Middle East, are popular in senior centers, not just gyms.

"The program started when I was sitting in a wheelchair." said Ekins, who is based in Augsburg, Germany. "Drums Alive aims to reach multiple markets whether one is healthy, ill, young or old."

Drums Alive has a sitting program for people who can't train while standing, as well as one specifically designed for kindergartens and schools.

She said the choice of music, as well as drumsticks, varies depending on the teacher and the students in the class. Among the benefits of the drumming workout is its accessibility age groups and fitness levels, according to Santa Maria.

"There's a learning curve, but in a few months you can get stronger and more flexible," he said. "Messing up is not a big deal. Anyone can hold a stick and hit the floor."

Unlike other classes that require a certain level of fitness or experience, anyone can pound drumsticks.

"We many times see performers and we don't think about their physical exertion," he said. "Maybe we should think about that."

(Reporting by Dorene Internicola; editing by Patricia Reaney and Prudence Crowther)

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