The physical challenges and demands of participating in a competitive high school marching band are similar to those experienced by athletes who compete in sports like football, according to research presented at the American College of Sports Medicine's annual meeting in Seattle.

Today, marching bands no longer just march in precision formation, study presenter Gary Granata, told Reuters Health. "In the past 20 years, marching bands have gone to these highly choreographed visual shows, where performers are literally running around the field at very high velocities with heavy instruments while playing very difficult passages."

"At the top levels of marching band and drum corps, you get a level of competition and athleticism that is equal to a division I athletic program," added Granata, an exercise physiologist, registered dietitian and owner of the New Orleans-based company PerformWell.

Granata and colleagues had 172 band members of the Avon (Indiana) High School Marching Band — the Grand National Champion at the 2008 Bands of America competition — complete an anonymous questionnaire on the physical demands, challenges and injuries of participating in a marching band.

Fatigue, muscle soreness, and injuries — often associated with competitive sports and athletics — were commonly reported by band members.

More than 95 percent of surveyed band members reported muscle soreness or stiffness after practice, and nearly half said they were "frequently tired" after band practice. Nearly a quarter said they felt faint or sick to their stomach after marching band participation and more than half experienced heat-related illness.

In addition, more than 38 percent said they had suffered an injury as a direct result of participating in marching band.

The wealth of research conducted on traditional sports has led to guidelines that help ensure the safety of participants and proper methods to enhance training regimens, Granata noted. "Yet, there is essentially no researchon marching bands," he told Reuters Health, "a sport where kids participate in the heat at very high intensity levels that are incurring injuries."

Safety guidelines and effective training regimens are needed for marching band and drum corps — a "strenuous physical activity that has rates of both participation and injury similar to competitive sports"— he concluded.