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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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NMSU faculty conduct research on stretching for percussionists

Because of a shoulder injury, New Mexico State University assistant percussion professor Fred Bugbee began doing exercises using the Backsystem3, a piece of specialized exercise equipment.

"I started using the system and knew it was helping me," he said. "I wanted to scientifically study the impact of stretching on percussionists."

So Bugbee and Cheryl Coker, an associate professor of physical education, recreation and dance (PERD), worked with Austin Huber, a former student in PERD, and Mark Cook, a local massage therapist, to conduct an exploratory research study on the effects of stretching exercises on the performance of percussionists. The study was done in the university's Motor Behavior and Human Performance Lab.

Bugbee said flexibility is not stressed for musicians as it is for athletes.

"A number of percussionists end up with injuries because of the nature of their discipline," Coker said.

Posture is an important element in percussive performance. Although everyone makes constant postural adjustments to maintain the body's position, known as postural sway, the movements required to play percussion generate additional postural changes. These increase sway and require additional muscular efforts to maintain postural control. Without sufficient flexibility and strength, percussionists may be predisposed to musculoskeletal overuse injuries.

"We wanted to see if participants' sway changed over time with the exercises," Coker said.

The research participants were 14 NMSU percussion majors. The students were placed in two groups; one group used the Backsystem3 to perform a system of stretching exercises while the other did not.

Members of the stretching group completed exercises three times a week. They were taught basic stretches that worked the back, hips, groin, hamstrings, shoulder and neck complex and other muscle groups.

The exercises were meant to strengthen the trunk, or core, which stabilizes the body. If core muscles are not flexible, some muscles can become shorter and tear, but by making those muscles stronger, a person's sway could be altered.

Postural sway was measured by using an AMTI OR6 force platform, which measures the force exerted by any objects placed on it. The participants were pre-tested and post-tested to examine the postural sway of members of both groups before and after completing the exercise program. Because of the low number of participants in the study, there was not enough data to statistically prove that there were any differences between the two groups.

However, those who participated in the stretching exercises said they had become more aware of their posture, muscle tension, aches and pains. Several participants also said habitual pain they had experienced before had stopped during the course of the study.

Using their findings, the group published an article titled "Postural Sway of Percussionists" in the March 2004 edition of Medical Problems of Performing Artists, the scientific medical journal published by the Performing Arts Medicine Association.

Coker said she hoped to show the need for stretching in the field of percussion by publishing an article on the results of the research.

A second article related to the research should be published next year in Percussive Notes, the journal of the Percussive Arts Society. The second article will promote the need for stretching among percussionists and the practical applications of the Backsystem3 for percussionists.

Because of the benefits of the stretching program, Bugbee said he now encourages students in his percussion studio to use the program three times a week, noting great improvement in his own and his students' postures and overall fluidity of motion.

"I feel that it has had an enormous impact on both my performance and teaching abilities," Bugbee said.