Friday, February 8, 2013

Two Month Long Experiment with Ankle and Wrist Weights

For a long time I have been curious about practicing with ankle weights and wrist weights. I have seen many forum posts on different drummer sites and the answer to "should I practice with weights" is always "No, you'll hurt yourself / it won't help your speed or control". On the contrary, Gene Hoglan, an amazingly fast metal drummer, swears by warning up with heavy sticks, constantly wearing ankle weights and only removing them to play the really fast songs.

So to find out for myself, I started practicing on my home kit and rehearsing with my band while wearing wrist and ankle weights.

I wanted to avoid hurting myself so I started with very light weights and worked my way up. I could not find any that were lighter than 1 lb per hand so I made one by filling an adjustable wrist weight with pennies until it weighed enough, checking it on a food scale.

The first thing I learned was rehearsing with weights amazed the rest of the band. They said it was like I was training under some sadistic kung-fu master. It was really just a pair of baby-blue wrist weights similar to the ones that sweet old ladies wear to go mall walking

The second thing was I rehearsed a lot harder than I practiced. The 1 lb per hand / 5 lb per foot setup that worked great during practice killed me in rehearsal. I switched to a 0.5 lb per hand / 4 lb per foot setup for rehearsals.

The third thing I learned was that once you get used to playing with the weights, it feels very strange to immediately play after you remove them. When you play with weights on, your forearms and thighs move less as they are heavier, forcing you to work your ankles and wrists more. When the extra weight is gone, you want to continue using your wrists and ankles which unexpectedly "kicks back" your forearms and thighs. It's like "the tail is wagging the dog". You feel like you have "light limbs", like you just took a lot of cough medicine. It butchers your ability to play quick light ghost note.  It's horrible.

So if this is so disorienting, how can Gene Hoglan remove weights in the middle of a gig and play smoothly? Gene Hoglan is an amazing drummer and also a really big guy. i believe that the ratio of the weight of his ankle weights to the weight of his legs is so low that he doesn't get the "light limbs" feeling.

Lastly, the wrist weight did seem to help strengthen the muscles you use to do rolls around the kit. After the “light limbs” feeling wore off. I noticed easier movement on hi-hat 16th notes to snare transitions and multiple tom rolls.

I believe that it is important to practice out of your comfort zone, so you can nail a performance even when it is hot on stage, when the monitor mix is bad, when your drums are sliding around and the lighting is bad. I think that adding and removing weights may be another way to practice outside of your comfort zone. I am going to try to practicing while adding and removing the weights every 10 minutes.

So in summary, wrist and ankle weights are not a magic ticket to strength or speed. If you try them, make sure to playing without them for a few days before a gig to get your balance and finesse back.

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