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Does Music Really Affect Your Workout?

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“The real weights that need to be lifted are the ones that hold your mind down” - Kendrick J.Farris.

You’ve been there before, walking into the gym all fired up to attack your latest training session.

You feel as good as you have in many weeks and are sure that nothing’s going to stop you, until one big mistake blows all that out of the water!.

You look into your bag… no headphones.

The initial dismay at forgetting such a vital piece of equipment is soon replaced with the lie “the gym will have some good music on, don't worry about it”.

You walk into the weights area and you pause for a moment. It’s not that there is no music, it’s that the music is so quiet and not to your liking, that you can hear the voice in your head saying “this is going to be a bad workout” or even worse, the eagerness and motivation leaches from your body.

We have all been there. When I used to train in the big chain gyms, if I had left my headphones at home (a more common occurrence than you would think), I distinctly remember at times the uninspiring, quiet music would sometimes destroy my motivation and subsequent training.

Music is everywhere, and depending on what you listen to, it can motivate and inspire you to action or it can chill you out after a tough day at work. For me, the most memorable combination of training and music was this:

I would watch these films all the time as a kid and bounce around the living room having cushion boxing matches (couch cushions as boxing gloves) with my little brother. I guess this is my earliest memory of music and training working as one to inspire, I mean Rocky, not me bouncing around my living room trying to mimic Mike Tyson!

What began interesting me as I got older was whether music had any mental and/or physical impact on someone during training. Would listening to tracks like “Hearts on Fire” give me the insane determination and work ethic that Rocky had or was it just all in my head.

Last year I organised a study which analysed the effects that different types of music had on bar velocity during a sub-maximal bench press.

Each participant took part in two experimental visits to a lab at the University of Salford and performed two sets of 75% of their one rep max bench press to either a playlist chosen by them and a playlist chosen by myself. They also performed two sets of bench press to no music at all, totalling four sets for each individual.

The songs featured on the playlist compiled by myself were all above 130 beats per minute (bpm) to test the findings by music psychologist, Costas Karageorghis, that young adults prefer listening to music between 120-140 bpm for exercise.

Whilst the playlist compiled by each individual subject was purely through their personal favourite songs to train to.

After a few months of slaving away collecting and analysing the results and data the results were very interesting!

Subject selected music significantly increased average bar velocity

After thinking that any old music I found and made people listen to whilst training would bring positive results, it turns out that only a persons favourite music can help them press the bar faster!

Despite hundreds of “the best workout songs” and “100 training songs to make you feel massive” lurking around on Soundcloud, Spotify and Youtube, this result shows that when it comes to resistance training, you’re better off sticking to the songs you like and have a personal affinity too.

I was a firm believer that only loud, fast music would help me train better. Then, I started working in a gym. Hearing this type of music all day, all the time, quickly got me fed up, so I went about putting together a slower, chilled out playlist to get me focussed and ready to lift.

On the playlist also featured some songs from my favourite films which aren't you typical training songs, but remind me of certain powerful scenes that fill my body with a range of emotions that, when utilised in the right way result in my best training sessions.

For example, one song is by The National called “About Today” from the final scene of the film “Warrior” featuring Tom Hardy.

Now I am not even going to try and describe why it makes me feel the way it does because honestly, I don't know why! But whenever I hear it, something just clicks inside me and I’m ready to go to another level.

Heres the clip for the people who haven't seen the film before or just want reminding of a awesome final scene of a film!

Embrace the music that makes you feel good and fills you with a fire to hit the gym with purpose and intensity, no matter what type of music is.

Not everybody is going to like listening to slow music.

Not everybody is going to want to listen to heavy music.

Find what works for you and use it to your advantage, create a playlist of your preferred songs (so you don’t spend half your time in the gym finding what you want to listen too) and invest in a good quality pair of headphones to fully maximise the potential that music can bring to your training.

Thanks for reading

Jake Hartley (BSc) (Barbell Hart)

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