December 2, 2021

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In Depth Tactical Solutions

Why You Should Listen to Music While Working Out

5 min read

Ulltrarunner Jordan McDougal’s song selection for his song video might not fit your musical tastes but it clearly motivates him and that’s why he selected it. Whether we share similar tastes in music or not, the fact is, listening to music can improve our workouts.

I know someone with a very basic home gym in his garage. When he goes in there to lift, even during the cold Chicago winters,  the family knows it’s time to leave him alone because he’s going into the zone. What’s the one theme song he plays before he begins any exercise routine?


That’s right. He stands in the middle of his garage and let’s the sound of the trumpets invigorate him.  And then the rock music begins: Def Leppard, Guns & Roses, Sammy Hagar, Journey. He interspersed movie quotes throughout his musical mix in order to further get invigorated during tough physical training sessions. Here’s one the speeches from the Rocky movie that is on his playlist.

Ben Hur Pic from TVGuide
Ben Hur Pic from TVGuide

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place, and I don’t care how tough you are, it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that! I’m always gonna love you, no matter what. No matter what happens. You’re my son and you’re my blood. You’re the best thing in my life. But until you start believing in yourself, you ain’t gonna have a life.”

Music can be a powerful force. Think about the Roman rowers on the galleys. The Romans wanted coordinated rowing to get power: speed and strength for smashing into enemy ships or evading or catching up with the enemy. The drummer set the basic rhythm of the rowing and the rowers followed the tempo. How about military cadence? Cadence serves a lot of purposes such as keeping you in step, but it can also be used for motivating you while running, help you get a better breath while running or keeping your mind off the task at hand. Being occupied with an auditory distraction has benefits.

Music can do a lot of things for us before, during and after out workouts. One study purported to show that music can boost our athletic performance. The faster the music the better for us too. Upbeat tunes can get us to work harder because we get in the zone. Our sympathetic nervous system gets engaged and our body readies itself for action. The zone is the place where we get a boost of power. Our airways open, our heart races and we are ready for action. Writer Mark Fenske, has a great article here on this matter.

One day I was doing O lifting at a training center with a buddy named Big John. John stands over 6,6″ and does strong man competitions. Big Dez comes over and asks us if he can play his own music selection. Big Dez is much larger and stronger than John, and works as a doorman at a club. Dez is the scariest-looking character because he’s huge, has no front teeth, and his beard makes him look like a mountain man.

One of his favorite gags is to get nightclub patrons into a huge bearhug, as his massive arms squeeze, and he puts his mouth over their nose and mouth until they can’t breathe. No fun at all let me tell you for the person on the receiving end. But I digress.

Without looking at Dez, John continues doing our workout and says, “Sure”.  Dez pulls out from his pocket, I kid you not, a 1970’s cassette tape and puts it into the stereo system. {This you’ve got to see} And with that Elvis Presley’s slowest song ever, Only Fools Rush In begins to play. John looked at me and said, “What the….?” My mouth was wide open.

3rd Marine Regiment honors 116 fallen heroes with memorial run.
3rd Marine Regiment honors 116 fallen heroes with memorial run.

Big Dez shouts to us from his heavily loaded squat bar, “Is this okay, you don’t mind, do you?” I think I was too terrified of him to say no. And with that Dez began his heavy lifts.

Music doesn’t have to be fast and loud, but it should engage your mind in some way, to allow your body to be productive. Big Dez found what worked for him. I half expected AC/DC or something like Drowning Pool’s rousing and popular “Bodies” to scream out of the speakers. Big Dez liked slow songs or cheap, pop-fluff like Britney Spears and Brit Pop. Find the music that works for you. I found that Big Dez’s slow songs brought him back to a mental place where he felt really good.

A few thinks to look for:

1. Make sure you have control over what you listen to. Those who chose their own music versus those who had no control over the music selection reported feeling like they accomplished something. They felt like the physical activity wasn’t as exhausting.

2. Look for music with high groove qualities because the brain induces your brain to make you move.

3. Find music that channels good memories in your mind. Music can distract us from the discomfort we feel when we work out.

Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education, one of the world’s leading authorities on music and exercise, stated “Music is like is a legal drug for athletes,” He states “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.” Sure, we already know that music is good for us, so what are you waiting for!

4. Try someone else’s playlist. Either have a friend make you a hit list or switch iPods with them. You’ll probably find a lot of good workout music you didn’t know existed.

5. Look for music with uplifting lyrical content that can be exercised to.

6. Buy a fantastic pair of durable headphones for yourself.

What’s in your playlist?






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