If you're like most people, having an iPod or MP3 player on when you work out is crucial. I couldn't dream of doing a stationary bike or elliptical machine without some musical backup. Music can inspire, pass the time and make grueling workouts more tolerable. Many modern gyms these days also have video screens available where you can watch CNN, The Weather Channel, or even your favorite sporting events while you work out.
There are downsides though. For instance, if you're a runner, there is no surer way to show that you're an "amateur" than by wearing headphones. Enter any road race or watch any serious track runner and I'll guarantee you won't see a single iPod or set of headphones while the person is racing. Surely, we all have images of Michael Phelps tuning into his headphones before swimming races at the Olympics this year- no doubt trying to enter a "zone" and get psyched before his race. However, most serious athletes do not listen to music while they are in a competition or an event that matters.
Once, I entered a 10K (6.2 mile) road race. A runner I met before starting noticed I was wearing headphones and then asked me why I was wearing them. I told him that it helped my performance and allowed me to run longer distances without getting bored or tired. The guy told me that once he was able to shed his headphones and let his mind wander onto anything, or nothing, while he was running, he was truly able to enter the "zone", be more in tune with his body and have, not only better runs, but a better "runners' high" afterward.
Moreover, he said that wearing headphones with loud music was dangerous if you were an outdoor runner who ran on city streets or roads- especially at night. Not only can you not hear a car horn, but you are often unable to hear car engines, bicycles, sirens, or pedestrians when headphones are on. Also, the latest headphones are even more effective at blocking outside noise, making it even more of a hazard.
The other issue I find with listening devices is that I'm constantly tiring of my set lists and I have to make new ones. While the "Theme from Rocky" may inspire on that last few tenths of a mile or those final few minutes on the bike, take it from me, it stops inspiring after the umpteenth time you've heard it. While there is no shortage of upbeat songs to inspire a workout, if you are an exercise regular, you will start running out of song lists sooner or later. Furthermore, once you know the names of the songs and the order in which you hear them, they become stale and less effective at getting you motivated. This is often the case when you've put together your own workout play lists. One suggestion I have is to have a spouse, significant other or friend come up with song lists for you. It's always better to hear a great song when you didn't expect to hear it and it keeps things fresh and interesting.
Finally, if you are going to do exercise that involves having to be mindful of traffic, pedestrians, and/or other exercise enthusiasts, try doing it without the crutch of digital music devices. You may find your workout to be more relaxing and better at clearing your mind. You may also improve your "mental toughness", which so many athletes aspire to do. If you must wear headphones, keep the volume at a lower level and stick with the old fashioned kind so that you can hear potentially important outside sounds.
Published On: September 18, 2008