When it comes to fitness gear, some items are essential. You need supportive shoes, sweat-wicking performance attire that moves with you and a full water bottle. But what about earbuds and a playlist? Sure, some people prefer audio books, podcasts or ambient sounds, but most of us practically depend on some killer beats and lyrics to hype us up and keep us motivated when grinding at the gym. Then again, for others, it’s all about unplugging and focusing on form and letting go of our constant digital leashes. But which is better? We consulted some experts and dug into the science to get a better idea.
Music Can Help You Keep Pace
According to Scientific American, music creates a “rhythm response.” What is that? It’s a simple reaction—the human tendency to synchronize our movements to the beats surrounding us. Think of using a metronome when you're learning to play an instrument or simply tapping your foot when a song comes on. It seems that moving to a beat helps the body be more efficient with energy. There are actually apps like jog.fm to help you match tempos to your personal workout pace.
Silence Allows You to Focus on Your Breathing
When it comes to your stamina and efficiency when working out, few things are as important as your breath. Music will definitely distract you from the momentary pain of exercise, but it can also distract you from focusing on the rhythm of your breathing? Without the thumping in your ears, you can slow down and pace your breathing so that you’re getting the maximum oxygen into your body. And this attentiveness will better help you assess your body and keep it free from injury.
Music Can Boost Your Mood
A great song can instantly provide a surge of energy. You know that feeling right? “This is my song!” A study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that people listen to music to improve their mood and find self-awareness. And we all feel more motivated to put in the work when we’re in a good mood.
Silence Will Keep You Focused
If you consider solitude, meditation or prayer to be important disciplines tied with your fitness, then don’t muddy those up with blaring music. There have been several studies that link aerobic exercise and cognitive creativity. When you turn down (or turn off) those outside influences directing your thoughts, your mind is free to wander and create as it desires.
Music Might Make You Work Harder
A study in the Journal of Sports Exercise Psychology found that motivational music helped exercisers push through fatigue. “Music is like a legal drug for athletes,” says Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education and one of the world’s leading authorities on music and exercise. “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%.” That’s pretty good, right?
So, it seems, there are some serious pros and cons for either way. Personally, I don't want to workout without my music—I need that boost of endurance and power we get from blasting those beats. But I respect those who can. And it seems like if you’re looking for a way to break through a mental block or want to really focus on what you’re body is telling you, then losing the tunes is the way to go.
* The Best Tempo: Karageorghis told the New York Times that the best tempo is between 120 and 140 beats per minute. This typically matches the average heart rate during a workout and it’s where most commercial dance music falls, he says.