Seven fitness lessons from rock gods and divas

Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Adele all use serious exercise programmes to prepare for their demanding shows
Madonna, Bruce Springsteen and Adele all use serious exercise programmes to prepare for their demanding shows

​​There was a time when a famous rock star’s fitness routine consisted of lifting a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, stumbling out of a club and running away from the paparazzi. However, today’s music elite make the biggest portion of their revenue from lavish and often epic tours that require a more considered exercise programme. Gigs can last over three hours, tickets often cost well over £100, and many of the big names are in their 60s and 70s. All this means that rock gods need to prepare for their gigs like athletes. Here’s what we can learn from them.

Mick Jagger: Embrace dance sessions

Mick Jagger covers an estimated 12 miles at an average gig
Mick Jagger covers an estimated 12 miles at an average gig - Getty

Jagger, at 80, is a performer who defies all expectations, covering an estimated 12 miles at an average gig. He is known for his energetic, hip-snaking moves and will be preparing for this year’s Rolling Stones tour across the United States and Canada with dance training sessions.

Stephen Gray, the owner of the Training Gyms chain, says these have a double benefit for older people wanting to see fitness gains. “Added to a workout programme, dance is a good aerobic addition to your week. I would recommend a seven out of 10 rate of perceived exertion (how hard you feel you are working). The extra benefit of a dance class is the social engagement alongside the cognitive work involved in learning steps.”

A study carried out by the University of Leeds found that physical activity increased even among the 85-plus group when they were introduced to dancing. The researchers suggested: “This could be explained by the fact that dancing may be less threatening to many older adults than other exercise modes.”

Adele: Do multiple sessions in a single day

Adele singing on stage
Adele reportedly trains two or three times per day to stay fit for her shows - Getty

The 35-year-old singer is known to train two or three times across the day. She’s touring Europe this year with multiple dates in Munich and UK gigs under discussion. She has talked about needing to be mobile around the stage and estimates she covers four miles every night.

Gray says this approach means being able to get more work done in a shorter time frame. “Multiple sessions a day is quite common with high-level athletes. The order is crucial. The most demanding should come first – so weights first, hard aerobic work, followed by a less demanding aerobic session.” He suggests an hour of weight training in the morning, high-intensity intervals at lunchtime and a gentle run/long walk in the evening.

Adele has just pulled out of her Vegas residency gigs, pausing five shows in March due to illness. Could the multiple training sessions be taking their toll on her health?  The lesson here: don’t push yourself too hard, too quickly.

Beyonce: Try some bodyweight HIIT

Beyonce on stage during her Renaissance World Tour
Beyonce on stage during her Renaissance World Tour - Kevin Mazur/Getty

A concert in the latest Beyonce Renaissance World Tour lasted between two-and-a-half to three hours. Queen Bey, 42, doesn’t deliver a static performance – the costume changes alone are exhausting. She has posted a video of her workout which looked appropriately hardcore, with jumps, boxing moves and side-bends.

High intensity interval training is tough and time-efficient, says Gray, better known as HIIT, it consists of short bursts of intense work that typically last between 15 seconds to four minutes followed by a recovery period. “HIIT is quite demanding, especially if you’re jumping. I would recommend alternating between lower and upper body for 20 minutes – allowing for a 10-minute warm up and warm down at the start and end.” The Renaissance Tour has ended but there has been talk of a 2024 concert at the Sphere immersive venue in Las Vegas.

Bruce Springsteen: Start lifting weights

Bruce Springsteen on stage with a guitar
Bruce Springsteen has said he lifts weights to get his toned arms - Getty

At 74, Springsteen rivals Mick Jagger for age-defying vigour. He is touring this year and his legendary value-for-money three-hour concerts continue to be sweat-soaked and energetic. He has said he lifts weights and his trademark rolled shirt sleeves reveal athletic muscular arms.

Gray says: “When you’re older resistance training is more important than ever because you are trying to maintain your strength and minimise muscle loss. The muscle you retain is one of the biggest predictors of longevity.” It’s still important to lift weights heavy enough to challenge you, even in your 70s, he says.

Gray recommends slowing down each lift so your muscle is engaged for 60-75 seconds for around 10-15 repetitions. Slowing the movement minimises the risk of injury but still allows you to work the muscle.

Taylor Swift: Use focused treadmill running

Taylor Swift performing on stage
Work out like Taylor Swift and get on the treadmill (singing optional) - Getty

Taylor Swift, 34, is currently sweeping through Australia and saw an electrical storm cause her Sydney venue to be temporarily evacuated before the gig. Swift delivers an epic show sometimes topping three-and-a-half hours. She prepares for these elaborate productions by running on a treadmill and singing her set as she does so.

Gray says this is exactly like a sportsperson’s prep. “This is the equivalent of sports specific training. She needs to be able to sing with a very elevated heart rate. I imagine for Taylor the treadmill is a little easier than running outside but for the rest of us, the advantage of a treadmill is you can change the incline and speed.”

He says psychologically it can be easier to achieve the desired speeds if the machine is forcing you to do so. He suggests interval work – 90 seconds of fast running and 30 seconds of slow repeated multiple times for 30 minutes for Swift-esque resilience. Singing is optional.

Chris Martin: Eat one meal a day

Chris Martin of Coldplay performing on stage
Coldplay frontman Chris Martin is a fan of intermittent fasting and stops eating food at 4pm every day - Jim Dyson/Getty

The Coldplay frontman has spoken of intermittent fasting, restricting himself to one meal a day. The band has embarked on a world tour this year and is playing a relatively tight two-hour average set. Martin, 46 is keen to stay in rock star shape – he spoke on a US chat show about stopping food at 4pm every day. This is a controversial approach and many feel it may be unsustainably restrictive.

Gray says he wouldn’t use this himself but can see potential short-term advantages, “It’s a way of minimising calories. It’s no different to any other calorie-controlled diet, it suits people who need that clarity.” Gray says the one meal you do have needs to be finely tuned to satisfy your nutritional needs. “It’s simple to adhere to. There’s no decision fatigue but long term, over years it’s uncommon for people to adhere to this approach.”

It’s worth noting that a 2005 study found that men and women respond differently to fasting and women’s ability to regulate blood sugar was worse after a programme of food restriction.

Madonna: Lift very light weights

Madonna on stage exposing her toned arms
Madonna's toned arms are a global obsession - Getty

The singer, who has been in our lives since the 1980s, is now 65. She’s touring the US this year and her shows continue to be the dance extravaganzas we’ve come to expect. Madonna’s arms have been something of a global obsession as the singer has displayed impressive tight, lean arms for years, often looking more like an athlete than an entertainer. What we know of her approach is that she has used very light weights and big sets with 20-30 repetitions of each move. Using dumbbells weighing around 2kg she performs whole-body moves along with arm-focussed workouts.

Gray says, “She is performing aerobic conditioning with weights. You will still get stronger but not build muscle in the same way with lighter weights – so she may not want to build significant amounts of muscle.” Using lighter weights means less injury risk and makes each workout easier to recover from allowing very frequent sessions. Madonna is said to work out almost every day.

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