For most of us, our first thought in response to this question is an immediate ‘yes’; think of Rocky running through the woods to ‘Eye of the Tiger’ – it affects the way you train – music can pump you up so much you can lift bags of rocks, sprint up mountains and do hundreds of one-handed push-ups…right?! This classic soundtrack has come to epitomise a motivational training playlist (admittedly on the cheesier end) like no other, conjuring up images of blood, sweat and tears…what more could you ask for?
However, once we’ve got over our initial Rocky nostalgia, and stopped imagining ourselves as Sylvester Stallone, whacking seven bells out of anyone we can, it may come as no surprise that the question of whether music affects the way you train is an interesting one that depends on a number of variants…
Each to their own
Many people see training as ‘me time’, so it’s no shock that everyone has their own specific preferences in the gym, on the bike, in the pool etc. It seems that generally speaking, there are two types of people when it comes to training with music: associators and dissociators. Associators need to concentrate wholeheartedly on their training. They need to focus on their breathing and their pace. For these people, music serves as an unwanted distraction that detracts from an effective workout. However, for dissociators, music is a beautiful, blissful, distraction from the pain! So, in this sense, listening to some tunes is a great way to push through their workout and indeed, many of us couldn’t imagine training without at least some musical stimulus, even if it’s not the Rocky soundtrack…
The pace of training and the tempo of the music
Two other variants to think about are the type of music and the type of training. If you’re running with the intent of maintaining a fast pace, then high tempo music that falls in line with your pace can be a brilliant motivator, and can help keep you going when the pain levels begin to creep up! On the other hand, if you’re trying to maintain a fast pace while listening to low tempo music that is simply serving as a distraction, your pace may begin to slip and you may not perform to your full potential. Clearly, it all depends on the type of training you are trying to do; high intensity versus low intensity, endurance versus sprints etc, and the choice of music to accompany it.
Similarly, with weight training, if you’re listening to high-tempo music, it can indeed serve as a great pump-up, but at the same time, can distract and detract from lifting with proper form. Therefore, it’s important not to get ‘lost’ in the music while training. Yes, it can serve as a good motivator and distraction, but don’t let it run or even ruin your training session.
Getting ‘in the zone’
There are some amongst us, many being top athletes, that can listen to music to exercise, in order to help get ‘in the zone’. For instance, Michael Phelps famously listened to heavy rap and hip-hop before his races to get in the zone; and none can really argue with his success there. And there’s a science to it; we can associate certain songs with certain memories. Then, as these songs stimulate these memories, we relate them to the emotional state in which we originally heard them. Along these lines, if you can associate a song with a particular state of mind, of absolute focus before a race for instance, you can use it in the future to get you ‘in the zone’ prior to training or competing…pretty neat hey?
Overall, it’s clear the answer to the question is not black and white, there are a lot of dependents and a lot of variables. But the bottom line is, if music works for you as a motivator without distracting and detracting from peak performance, then great! If not, well, it’s time to find a different way to get your head in the game…
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