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 consider:

  1. Increased motivation: Music has the power to boost your motivation and make your workout sessions more enjoyable. Upbeat and energetic tunes can energize you and push you to work harder, helping you stay motivated throughout your exercise routine. 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!
  2. Enhanced performance: Listening to music can improve your performance during workouts. Studies have shown that music can increase endurance, elevate your mood, and distract you from feelings of fatigue or discomfort. This can result in a higher level of exertion and improved overall performance.
  3. Rhythm and tempo synchronization: Music often has a beat or rhythm that you can synchronize with while exercising. This synchronization can help you maintain a steady pace and rhythm during activities such as running, cycling, or weightlifting, leading to improved coordination and efficiency.
  4. Distraction from discomfort: Engaging with music can divert your attention from physical discomfort or boredom during exercise. It can help you focus on the rhythm, lyrics, or melodies, taking your mind off the strain of the workout. This can make your exercise routine feel less strenuous and more enjoyable.
  5. Mood enhancement: Music has a powerful impact on our emotions. Listening to your favorite tunes or upbeat music while working out can elevate your mood, reduce stress levels, and increase feelings of happiness and positivity. This positive emotional state can make your workout more enjoyable and help you stay committed to your fitness goals.
  6. Time perception alteration: When you’re engaged in an enjoyable activity like listening to music, your perception of time can change. Music can make your workouts feel more engaging and entertaining, leading to a perceived shorter duration of exercise. This can be especially beneficial if you find it challenging to stay consistent with longer workouts.
  7. Personalized and customizable experience: Music is highly subjective, and everyone has their own preferences. By curating a workout playlist with your favorite songs, you can personalize your fitness experience and create a motivating and enjoyable atmosphere that aligns with your unique tastes.
  8. 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.
  9. Look for music with uplifting lyrical content that can be exercised to.
  10. Buy a fantastic pair of durable headphones for yourself.

What’s in your playlist?






By Michael Kurcina

Mike credits his early military training as the one thing that kept him disciplined through the many years. He currently provides his expertise as an adviser for an agency within the DoD. Michael Kurcina subscribes to the Spotter Up way of life. “I will either find a way or I will make one”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.