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.
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?
Like this? You might also like:
- How I Got Rid of My Thigh Gap
- Getting Back Together with the Gym: 5 Ways to Make it Less Painful
- 16 Reasons to Exercise (none of which have anything to do with health)