…when I workout.
Let me preface this by saying that I love music. You can definitely catch me singing my heart out in my car at a stoplight. It might be bad singing, but the intent is there. Another thing I want to say before I get into this post is that this strategy is what works for me. You might not even have the option to not listen to music because of the gym you workout at. Sometimes gyms just have music playing for everyone to hear. As a former college athlete, myself, I know that tingly feeling you get when you walk into that weight room and hear Metallica blasting through the loudspeakers. It’s awesome. It makes you want to not only lift heavy weights, but to also slam them down afterwards. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found that lifting weights with music blaring isn’t always the most sensible choice. With this blog, I want to challenge you with 3 reasons why you should try exercising in silence.
So why do athletes lift with a “pump-up” playlist anyway? You can go to any music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music and search for a workout mix and they will already have a playlist created that is meant to get you in the mood to workout. The songs are usually filled with fast-paced bangers with a solid, bassy beat going in the background. Some of the songs might even be written by the artist with the intent to be listened to while training like “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor and “Stronger” by Kanye West. Personally, I believe that music in a workout setting causes a reaction inside of ourselves that gets us excited to exercise. It might even be used as a sort of alarm clock to wake up the athletes that are working out if it is early in the morning. Could you imagine walking into a gym at 6 a.m. and hear classical music?
Some athletes refer to their sport as a war, a battle, a grind; I think that is an unfair comparison. But the act of listening to music before an actual battle has been around for centuries. You can even look in the history books and you will find instances of horns being blown before certain battles. Drums and horns were used to keep time and formations during marches. So, the use of music before a big event is not a new concept. The only thing that has changed is the type of music being listened to and the number of choices that people have nowadays.
I spoke with some current college athletes about why they choose to listen to music when they are working out. The common answer that I heard were as follows: it’s fun, it makes the workout go by faster, and it helps distract from some discomfort caused by the exercise. These are all valid reasons to want to listen to music while lifting or running. Some people even said that they make a specific playlist to be played as a sort of timing mechanism if they want to run a certain distance in particular amount of time. If they aren’t to a certain checkpoint in their run by the time a certain song comes on, then they know that they need to pick up the pace. There are valid reasons to supplement your workouts with music, but I challenge you, the next time you run or workout, to not listen to anything. I understand that public gyms have a lot going on, but don’t use headphones. Try exercising in complete silence. Let it be just you and your thoughts.
Here are three reasons why I think that working out in total silence could positively impact your future athletic performances:
1. It is much harder.
When you lift without music, you no longer have that extra motivation or pep in your step. In the 2017 documentary, “Born Strong”, Zydrunas Savickas, one of the strongest men to ever walk the earth said that he lifts alone simply because it is harder. He chooses to train in difficult environments, i.e. colder, darker, quieter, because during strongmen competitions, he is surrounded by thousands of people that give him energy that makes the weights feel lighter. Basically, he is making the training more difficult than the actual competition. I use this example because people use music as a sort of motivation-fire-starter. That type of motivation is fleeting. It’s fake. What are you going to do whenever you take the headphones off? What are you going to do when there is no music? It will be just you and your own thoughts; nothing else.
2. You can fill this silence with your own positive inner voice
Assuming you are doing some sort of training that is causing some sort of discomfort, you will have a choice of what you focus on. You can either focus on the pain you are feeling, or you can focus on your “why” and your goals. If you are able to do a plank wherever you are reading this blog, do it. Do a 30-second plank. During this time, I want you to focus on how uncomfortable you are feeling. Put all your attention on the struggle you are experiencing. Be aware of the pain you feel. You can do this for more than 30 seconds, but for the sake of this post, this will be our benchmark time. After the initial 30 seconds, take a break; not a long break, maybe 20 seconds. Get in the plank position again. But this time I want you to focus on your goals. Say them aloud. Be confident in your goals. Say them with conviction. Encourage yourself. Say things like, “I can do this,” “I am strong,” just say that over and over if you want “strong, strong, strong.” Do this and you’ll be surprised how much of a difference you notice. I’d bet that the second plank was not easier from a physical standpoint, but from a mindset point of view you will feel better.
3. The music won’t be there during competition or practice
Sure, some sports allow music to be played during the action, but you won’t be able to choose the playlist. Some venues do not even have loudspeakers. Of course, you can be singing or humming a song in your head, but in the end, it will just be you and your thoughts; nothing else. That song that got you through that tough workout won’t be pumping through your veins whenever you get popped in the mouth by an opponent. The playlist “Club Hits of Today” won’t be there for you whenever you walk the bases loaded with nobody out in the 7th inning of a conference game. It will be just you and your mindset. David Goggins, former Navy Seal, ultramarathoner, and author of one of my favorite books Can’t Hurt Me describes listening to music while exercising as cheating. “What the f*** do you do when the headphones come off? It’s just you and your own mind,” says Goggins.
In closing, I did not always practice this strategy. It took me a long time to be able to feel comfortable enough with silence. I was alone with my own thoughts. Nothing and no one else was motivating me to work out, to push myself, to do one more rep but me. But once I made the choice to change my mindset about working out, my confidence went up, my positive self-talk improved, and I got stronger both mentally and physically. I have adopted the mindset of “I can do anything because I did it myself.”
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