Rock On or Click Off: Is your music helping or distracting during your workout?
Numerous studies have been done on this subject; Does music help performance? Well, that is a more complex question than we think. There are two kinds of performance: perceived and actual. Perceived performance is how you think you performed or how easy it was to perform the task at hand. Actual performance is, you guessed it, how much work, speed, distance or volume was measurably achieved.
While in many cases, test subjects increased their cadence in cycling when the tempo of the music increased, other cases showed that there was no improvement in actual performance. But the subjects thought they had improved performance.
So what it the answer?
When to tune in:
It is no secret that we lift, sprint and pound harder when our favorite song comes on. Lifting weight at the gym and getting the music to match your mood can keep you going and pushing for way longer than without. Music is almost like emotional memory triggered by certain smells; your favorite ex’s perfume, the rubber of new sneakers or even the smell of the subway station closest to your childhood home.
Music has that same emotional trigger. With the press of a play button you can channel all that rage you have for your boss, co-worker or lover into something positive and process it. With the press of a button you can turn into a machine, your own superhero, you can drive than ambition and tension straight into your workout, know you will reap rewards later. With the press of one tiny button, you can escape a grey, rainy day and relive the emotional memory of the greatest summer moment of your life. With music, it is easier to find the motivation to start and to finish at your best effort.
When to tune out:
There is something to be said about listening to your body. Often time, continuous aerobic physical activities like running, rowing and cycling are best left to the rhythm of your own body – and most runners swear by it. Physical activity without music lets you focus on solely the task at hand, without any externally produced emotional situations. For some, this is truly motivational. It is easy to reach ‘The Zone’ when you don’t have any distractions.
If you find yourself in the gym or on a run constantly changing songs, you probably need to ditch the tunes. This is a sure sign of stimulation overload. When you are on the receiving end of constant external sounds – meetings, movies, talking coworkers, speaking with clients, loud, ambient music – it is no wonder why your brain can’t decide on a playlist. Your nervous system is tucked out. So give those ears a break and listen to the inner peace of zoning out and meditating on your workout.
Don’t be scared to turn your music off and just have the earbuds in. I love doing this because it make my trip to the gym extra silent – something I love after a long day of coaching, listening and motivating others to dig deep. You may be surprised of how hard you work and concentrate when you don’t have a tiny box of games, notifications and decisions strapped to your arm.
In conclusion, bring your music with you but pay attention to the signs your body is giving you. Music can make it much easier to get started on your workout. If you seem distracted and restless after a couple of minutes in, turn your music off and finish it up in and more mentally quiet setting. And if the birds are chirping on a fine spring day, you might want o give that a listen too.