cycling · fitness · motivation · Zwift

What are you listening to while working out these days?

I blogged recently about combatting pandemic sadness by working out to the happiest songs of all time. And my other post about great group rides included links to Zwift playlists curated by the HERD, the Pride Ride, and others.

So I’m not short on playlists, and yet, I’m wanting to branch out.

I’ve been amused by the range of things people listen to while riding bikes. When we’re using Discord on my bike team, occasionally sound breaks through. The Beach Boys? Really? Really. I get teased about disco. Other teammates get teased for Gilbert and Sullivan. It’s clear there’s a lot of variety in our tastes in workout music.

I recall years ago at the velodrome that we had some serious arguments about music. I was on record for not liking music with swearing and language that insulted women. I think I was parenting young children at the time! The young men, teenagers, who rode there used to swap to easy listening when I arrived and tease me about it.

Why do we listen to music at all when we’re exercising?

Obviously enjoyment is a motive. But so too is performance. Many people listen to music that they think will make them go faster, whether on foot or on the bike.

Exercise psychologists have been studying this for a while.

See What songs make you workout harder? in which it’s noted that when listening to music people tend to underestimate their exertion by 10%.

Here’s an excerpt from that piece: “Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University London has pioneered much of the research in this field. In his book Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, he identified many ways in which music can improve physical performance.

The most immediately obvious benefit is the intense emotional connection with certain songs. Listening to the Rocky movie soundtracks, for example, “can conjure positive imagery, a feeling that one can overcome adversity”. He compares it to Ivan Pavlov’s famous conditioning experiments – in which the mere sound of a bell, usually accompanying a meal, would have dogs salivating. Gonna fly now? The opening bars of Rocky’s theme song might just prime you to push yourself harder.

Then there’s “dissociation” – music helps to direct your attention outwards rather than inwards, and drowns out the feelings of fatigue in our bodies. This can have a particularly powerful effect with more moderate workouts. When listening to music, people tend to underestimate their exertion by about 10%, meaning the whole workout ends up feeling much less arduous than it would have without the music. This should increase your overall endurance, helping you to run faster for longer.

For the most intense workouts, music-induced dissociation may not be possible – the feelings of exertion are just too strong to ignore, no matter how great the music. But during those periods, the body may still benefit from “entrainment”, a process in which the body’s natural rhythms begin to mimic those of the music.”

The article goes on to discuss studies which take participants and have some workout with music, others in silence, and others listening to podcasts. No surprise those who listen to music do better.

So I’ll go faster, and I’ll be happier. I just need more tunes.

What are your recommendations for workout music?

Photo by Norbert Buduczki on Unsplash

One thought on “What are you listening to while working out these days?

  1. I’ve been on a kick for a while where I only listen to YouTube videos or podcasts. I feel like I’m double dipping on accomplishments – learning something while moving my body! However, I’m pretty sure that I push myself harder when I’m jamming out to good music! I listen to such a variety of music, but my top playlist genre picks for working out are Latin pop hits, alternative rock, and rap haha.

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