started working out, I had a personal music player the size of
a dachshund for exercise motivation. I filled it with Rush and
Joe Satriani mix tapes to enhance my workouts. Technology has
come a long way since then.
use an iPod Shuffle, which is preferred among fitness folks
for its diminutive size, even if it does have a robustness
issue when it comes to a little sweat.
night I recall waking up at 3 a.m., as if from a bad dream, my
consciousness shrieking: The battery in my iPod is dead, and I
have an early bike ride planned! I had to get up and plug in
the thing in order to get back to sleep.
I am a
music junkie when it comes to working out, and Iím far from
the only one. I know many people who, if their music player is
dead, lose their motivation to exercise. Theyíre dependent.
Science explains why.
British researchers put 18 untrained men and women on
stationary bikes and told them to go for it. One group got no
music, one got motivational, get-your-butt-in-gear-type music,
and the third group was given Enya. (I mean I assume it was
Enya. The researchers called it "nonmotivational.")
in the European Journal of Sport Science, they found the music
listeners blew away the control group (which had no music),
and the tuned-in subjects traveled significantly further in
distance. Whatís interesting is "no significant
differences were observed" between the slow- and
fast-music groups. Even more interesting is that though music
listeners were working a lot harder, they did not perceive an
increased level of effort.
Annesi, who is director of wellness advancement at YMCA
Metropolitan Atlanta, has been a pioneer of research into how
distractions such as music affect athletic performance. We
discussed his 2001 study published in the Canadian Journal of
Behavioral Science that compared use of music with television
allowed people to use a wide selection of music channels
versus television channels," Annesi told me. "Almost
exclusively, people chose the TV over music." Personally,
Iíve noticed the treadmills with the TV screens on them are
always the most popular. When it comes to going outside,
however, itís hard to catch up on "Days of Our
Lives" while running or cycling. You kind of need to keep
an eye on where youíre going.
explained that music, television, chatting with a friend or
traveling through a scenic vista are all methods of
dissociation. "Itís all about removing
discomfort," he said. "Pain has been engineered out
of our culture. In agrarian times we had to exercise or die,
but now we need to find ways to manipulate conditions to get
people to exercise." Dissociation via music is about
making us not think about the pain weíre in.
did another study in 2004 of 39 women enrolled in a beginner
weightlifting program. The group told to
"associate," meaning to focus and embrace the pain,
had the highest dropout rates. Those told to dissociate, to
let their minds wander, had the highest adherence rates.
those who need the motivational kick to distract from the
pain, music or other distractions can be of great benefit and
get them to train harder. But for more elite exercisers, music
athletes are associators," Jack Raglin, a professor and
sport psychologist at Indiana University, told me. "When
theyíre just logging the miles in training, they can listen
to music, and a lot of them do, but for the really intense
efforts you have to pay close attention to your body. Music
will absolutely interfere with this."
I ran a
10K race with an iPod in 2008. Iíd planned out a specific
rockiní playlist and everything. I felt the distraction held
me back from a full effort. The next 10K race I ditched the
music and chopped four minutes off my time. Now I never listen
to music when racing.
may be other reasons to listen to music, like if your gym
plays lots of Nickelback. I also have a suspicion that there
are female weightlifters who wear headphones to deter would-be
suitors from approaching them, and when I posted this question
on Facebook I received numerous confirmations.
are less likely to come up and talk to me when Iím listening
to music," said Jessica Morse, a 32-year-old government
worker in Ottawa.
who is also a fitness competitor in the "bikini
class," explained her motivation. "We have some
creepers at my gym, and itís awkward. I use music as a
STORY CAN END HERE)
dinosaur, and you probably think I have terrible taste in
music. I donít care.
research shows even slow music can motivate as well as
fast-paced music, and I often notice little to no difference
between soft "Ooh, baby" songs and stuff at the letís-wreck-this-house
end of the spectrum.
was recently trying to psyche myself for a run in hideous
below-zero weather, and I kept skipping through songs from the
comfort of my home until I found "The Spirit of
Radio" by Rush. Then I was out the door and going hard.
FOR RUNNING AND CYCLING
listen to anything from Sarah McLachlan to Metallica. However,
if Iím coming to a big hill and feel motivation waning, I
may skip past a slow song to find something with a faster beat
to push me up that hill. Songs I like for that include:
by Rush (I once interviewed the drummer about his fitness
regimen for this column)
by Led Zeppelin
it Out" by Florence and the Machine
of May" by Arcade Fire
by Matthew Good
by Van Halen
in Vain" by The Clash
Night of the Soul" by Loreena McKennitt
Shelter" by The Rolling Stones
have a home gym with a stereo that has T-Rex-sized speakers, I
crank it loud. Usually with lots of Rush to accompany the Rush
poster on the wall. Because itís Rush.
I sometimes like to sing in between sets, so I pick songs like
these for that:
Your Own Way" by Fleetwood Mac
Nightís Alright for Fighting" by Elton John
by Eric Clapton (Derek and the Dominoes)
it Easy" by The Eagles
Just Came Back (to Say Goodbye)" by Colin James