Training Log

Starting Strength in the Real World

Music During Your Workout

by Andrew Lewis, SSC | August 31, 2021

music during training

There is an odd obsession with having the precisely correct song to listen to during a heavy lift. The timing has to be right, the volume has to be right, and the song itself has to be meticulously selected to maximize force production.

No, it doesn't.

Music has a only a few modest functions during training. It makes the rest between sets more enjoyable. Training should be exciting and entertaining and a good playlist or CD can enhance the whole training experience. Music also drowns out the surrounding noise of other gym-goers in a commercial gym. When I'm trying to finish the last rep of a heavy set of squats, I don't want to hear the frat bros next to me bragging about how many brews they pounded last night. This is why I always wear ear plugs when I train in commercial gyms – I highly recommend it if listening to music with headphones or earbuds while training isn't desirable.

What music is not for is focus in the middle of the set.

First, actively focusing on music mid-set indicates a lack of attention to the requirements of the lift. The lifter isn't thinking about the video of the squats he just watched and how to correct any issues in the current set – not thinking about the details of the execution of the lift: "get under the bar, stand up, take a step back, big breath," and then "knees out and bend over," "drive hips up hard." The difference between linear progression lasting three months and four months could be a lack of hip drive out of the bottom of the squat that doesn't get corrected. The difference between failing and finishing a heavy set of five could be a momentary loss of focus on keeping the breath held.

Second, you can't hear the music anyway at heavy weights, so there's no point trying to. This is for two reasons. First, focusing on the lift diverts some attention from surrounding stimuli, and if the weight is heavy enough you'd better be focused on your execution. Second, blood vessels in the outer and middle ear can become engorged from increased blood pressure and briefly muffle any sound entering the ear canal. Anyone who has lifted a 5-rep max knows that, during the last rep, the only thing they can usually hear is their inner monologue. This is part of the reason why a coach has to be loud in terms of actual volume. The coach has to break into that focus and distorted perception to get the lifter to make the correction needed.

If you're getting ready to lift a heavy weight, and music helps block out distractions and focus on the technique you're going to execute, then music will be a good addition to your training. If you're at a meet, and music helps you relax and reduce your adrenaline throughout the six hour event, that's important.

So, enjoy your music. Make playlists. Blast it in your garage gym if you want, but don't waste five minutes picking the perfect song for a personal record, because that's not where your attention should be.

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