Let’s set the picture, it’s a Monday evening, around five ‘o clock, you walk into the gym and breathe the nice stench of sweat, motivation and hard work. However, besides all the intangible things you see at the gym, you’re almost bound to see or run into someone listening to headphones. I can personally say from my own experience that I do not feel complete without them.
They are a staple to my workout just like me shoes, my straps and my lifting chalk. Not to mention, there is a certain determination when you’re wearing headphones. A certain aura that you emanate that says that you’re at the gym to run, lift, stretch or whatever the case maybe. It’s safe to say that without the perfect pair of running headphones or lifting headphones your running session or lifting session just is not the same.
“Being at the gym without headphones is the worst”
“Where are my headphones? A gym sesh without headphones is just… No, I don’t even wanna talk about it”
It’s clear to see that our love for listening to our favorite tunes while running or lifting is not something that we take lightly. However, even though listening to our headphones and jamming out that last mile or that last rep seems somewhat asinine, what if there was more to it? What if there was some sort of psychological aspect to the music we listen to? There has been a large expanding pool of research that tries to point to a common theme to as to why we love to listen to music when we exercise, run or do any type of physical activity.
Researchers have discovered music to be a sort of “distraction” when we are doing any type of physical activity. This same sort of distraction can be provided with watching television while running or reading your favorite book while taking a leisurely walk on the treadmill.
Two researchers from the University of New Mexico, Nicole Harmon and Len Kravitz, explained how music affects the brain while exercising and it is truly fascinating. First, they said that music lead to a lessening in the sensation of being fatigued. Meaning that you could be on the last leg of a 5K and comparatively speaking, you would feel less tired and achy than someone who was not wired and listening to music. Secondly, levels of mental awareness were increased. You could think of this sort of like coffee.
The more you are mentally aroused the more awake you are, you will most likely be able to tackle that next mile or that last repetition. Next, there is an improvement in motor coordination. This I feel is key in their research because it proves that listening to music improves cognition. The improved motor skills are indicative of some underlying mechanism that is at work helping the body simply move better.
Finally, almost paradoxically, there was a heightened sense of relaxation. This could help in two ways, particularly, that if you are more relaxed you feel more in tune with your body, helping you feel better. The other way it can help is that being more relaxed decreases your heart rate which would overall lower your energy expenditure. Allowing you to keep a high pace for a longer period of time. Science has finally backed the thousands if not millions of people who use headphones every day to power through their excruciating workouts and runs.
With all this talk about listening to your music while running or exercising… how do you go about picking the right songs for your workout!? The answer is quite simple, think about what makes you move… seriously. We all have different music that works for us, some may be rap and for others it may be electronic dance music. The selection is quite varied when it comes to selecting the right lifting or running play list.
Let’s move back to the science for a second to see what it has to say about selecting the perfect workout music. A phenomenon called rhythm response is responsible for the criterion in deciding whether or not something is deemed workout-suitable. In other words researchers were able to associates songs with a faster beat and strong tempo with the likeliness of the songs being in a workout playlist.
In my experience there are no better songs than those which move fast and thump hard. Is there something special about those songs in particular? Absolutely not. I know people who listen to classical, reggae and even slow-paced instrumental beats when they’re working out. At the end of the day, the main determinant of what you listen to must be whatever drives you. That song that puts you in the mood to run that marathon or conquer that set has to be the type of music that drives you to complete your workout.
So maybe we’re not all wrong after all. Those little earphones do serve a purpose, and a very important one at that. They allow us to go faster, further and harder than we would without them. That is another reason that we have to choose them very carefully. Not to mention we are always listening to them. On our way to work, in our cars, in our homes and more importantly at the gym.
If it were not for a perfect pair of headphones there is no way I would be able to engage in the caliber of workouts that I do. You owe it to yourself to do yourself a little good and step into the gym, put on your favorite headphones, head on over to your favorite spot in the gym and blast away your favorite song while you complete your walk or run. Your body will thank you for it.