Is Workout Music Worth The Distraction?

Henry Luehrman
by Henry Luehrman
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Is Workout Music Worth The Distraction?

Thinking critically and working out don’t mix well. Maybe it’s because they’re so often at odds: one action requires focus, the other relaxation. Combined, they’re a draining slog. If you don’t believe me, try listening to an audiobook while running on a treadmill.

Lately, the same conceit of overcommitting our attention has got me thinking about music and how we use it during workouts.

Do we actually listen, or do we more often just… rely on it?

A cursory Google search will turn up dozens of studies arguing that music can improve both your endurance and performance, either by numbing you to pain or distracting you from it. I don’t disagree with this notion — it’s practically undeniable that the more you mentally remove yourself from the experience at hand, the longer you’ll be able to keep it up.

But is that what we want from exercise?

If you’re on board with my latest post, you’ll agree that part of making a healthy routine repeatable is keeping your motivation intrinsic — running because it makes you feel good, not simply because you want to be healthier.

Ask yourself: How does music factor into that philosophy?

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This isn’t a plea to outlaw playlists. It’s an attempt to change how we think about them. Too often I’ve found myself only partly experiencing music during my runs and more likely instead to develop subconscious associations between certain songs and physical exhaustion.

This summer is a chance to change that. Take that music you love, that album you’ve been waiting to explore — and save it for a time you can fully devote your attention. Separate your activities and pay attention to them, rather than imagining you are somewhere else. Listen to Tame Impala’s “Currents” (if you haven’t yet, do it now) without counting strides in your head.

Here’s an experiment to set this all in motion:

  1. Make a jump-starter playlist, with the focus on establishing your rhythm during a workout. I like hook-heavy, percussive songs for this (dubstep and trap are favorites, but do you).
  2. Go for a run or workout of your choice. Anything that keeps your breathing quick and regular.
  3. Don’t leave the task at hand as you find your tempo. Stay focused on where you are and what you’re doing. Tap into that electric feeling of dopamine slowly seeping in and activating your whole body. Feel your breath begin to double up as you hit the ceiling of a sustainable, comfortable rhythm.
  4. Let the music fade to the background. If it doesn’t happen naturally, try turning the volume down. When you find yourself thinking of other things, only occasionally checking in on what song is playing, do yourself a favor.
  5. Hit the stop button. Your playlist has done its job — you’re in the zone. Now just let that feeling run its course, and enjoy the hissing of summer lawns.

About the Author

Henry Luehrman
Henry Luehrman

Henry Luehrman is an LA-based hamburger enthusiast and lover of plush armchairs. He often starts his runs with absolutely no idea where or how far he’s going. Usually, he finds his way back again.

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