Why I Don’t Listen to Music When I Exercise

this definitely qualifies as a first world problem

this definitely qualifies as a first world problem

Does a good workout need a good soundtrack? Can you really push yourself as hard without your favourite song? Do you need auditory motivation to get that final rep?

I’d have said yes to all the above until a few weeks ago.

Then I started getting my workouts in before breakfast. In the early morning quiet, it seemed counter-intuitive to start blasting loud music. All I wanted was some peace, quiet and space. The sound of my heavy breathing was enough. In fact, it was almost meditative.

And Hamilton Nolan, over at Gawker, gets it (swearing at the link, you’ve been warned). Here’s a non-sweary excerpt:

Here is your playlist: the sound of silence. Here is your playlist: the blood pounding in your throbbing head as you gasp for breath. Here is your playlist: the faintest echo of a droplet of sweat hitting the concrete floor in the empty warehouse where you have gone to escape from humanity and do burpees. Plop. Dig it.

So what, you’re probably thinking, that’s just personal preference. You and this Hamilton guy don’t like listening to music while you get your squat on. I do and I’m gonna keep doing it.

You might want to rethink that.

I look at exercising as a form of meditation (but with more squats)

I look at exercising as a form of meditation (but with more squats)

Listening to music (or other distractions) can interfere with the mind-muscle connection, and that’s important because focusing on the muscles you’re activating, while you’re activating them, can significantly boost their performance.

According to Bret Contreras (aka ‘the glute guy’), focusing on contracting the quads during a squat, results in glute activation of just 11 percent of maximum capability, but focusing on contracting the glutes, raises glute activation to 25 percent.

And he notes similar results during the Romanian deadlift, where focusing on the hamstrings activated 9 percent of maximum glute capability, but focusing on the glutes led to 32 percent activation.

Another study by Lewis and Sahrmann in the Journal of Athletic Training backed this up. In their research they found that focusing on the glutes during a prone hip extension maneuver elevated glute activation from 10 percent to 22 percent of maximum capabilities.

Weird, huh? Turns out that simply concentrating on your glutes as you use ’em, sends a signal to your butt to work harder, push more, finish strong. 

As Contreras says:

Over time, the brain learns how to better activate the glutes, and eventually it becomes automatic. Developing a mind-muscle connection in the glutes requires patience, consistency and focus of attention. One national level Figure competitor I trained couldn’t feel her glutes working at all for months on end. But she stuck with it, and after around six months, actual tears would form in her eyes at the end of a set of hip thrusts due to the massive burn she felt in her glutes. Persistence pays off!

However, I should note that Contreras says nothing about music and its impact on the mind muscle connection. I’m just making the inference based on my own experience – ever since I stopped plugging in the earphones, I’ve been able to really focus on what I’m doing and bringing that kind of concentration to the moves has made them more challenging, and more effective.

So it’s worth considering, why not try one music-free workout a week and see if you get a better burn?

Weigh in: Do you listen to music while you exercise? Had you heard of the mind muscle connection? What’s on your playlist?

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7 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Listen to Music When I Exercise

  1. For me it really depends. I don’t listen to music when I run (or swim obv). But at boxing we have music for part of the workout and I really enjoy that… Cardio is my meditation time though, so no music allowed

  2. I recently gave up my gym membership and don’t miss the stupid pop music that gets blasted. Seriously, I used to wonder where they got some of the stuff they played. There is such a thing as too much Aerosmith. I’ve turned my basement into my gym and have really been enjoying the freedom from the mental crap that always accompanies my gym experience, aka judgment. Well, I’m only judging myself now, and that’s progress! I’ve been enjoying playing my own favorite music, random mix on the phone, Pandora etc. I’m pretty eclectic, punk to opera. But I really like the suggestion of no music, and can see that it really is a distraction. I see the music as a little reward for all the hard work I’m doing, poor me. I’m excited to try thinking about what I’m doing instead of wondering how much longer do I have to do this? Thanks for reminding me of the mind/body link, it’s really not possible to separate the two.

  3. I do NOT like doing any lifting work with music because it does cause me not to concentrate on the muscles I am working, my form, my balance…etc. I don’t really like it with cardio like running – I want to be fully aware of my surroundings!! That’s just me though – I am a very focused worker! 🙂

  4. I listen to an audio book during my cardio (treadmill time) but I don’t listen to anything when I lift. I need to concentrate more on the reps and my form. Cardio can be so mindless for me. I am trying to get more mindful during parts of my cardio though.

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