I usually like listening to music when I train. Most athletes I’ve known do. Typically the reason given if they’re asked why is that it keeps them motivated and energetic, and if memory serves, research has backed up the benefits of music in this regard (although who cares what the research says on this—you know if it has this effect on you or not).
But music is a luxury. If you consider it anything else, it’s a problem.
You’re not in the gym for a concert; you’re there to train, and if training isn’t your first priority by an overwhelming margin, you’re already losing. Noticing what music is playing, and even recognizing whether or not it’s something you like, is fine, and arguably it would be impossible not to do this.
There will be plenty of days in your life in which you struggle to get motivated for your workout or a particular exercise—you might be tired, hurting, or distracted by life outside of weightlifting—and on these days, the right music can change your mood pretty effectively.
In such cases, I don’t have an issue with you blasting that music to get yourself through a tough day. But I do believe that you have to have the ability to do it without music—whether that means complete silence, or someone else’s horrible, over-produced, auto-tuned nonsense that sounds like it was made on a drug store keyboard in his mom’s basement but somehow is earning him millions of dollars…
Here are a few of my rules regarding music and training.
Motivation As I said above, use music if it helps you stay motivated on days you’re more inclined to go cry on the couch and watch Lifetime movies than put your lifting shoes on [Note: lifters are people who lift; lifting shoes are the things they wear on their feet to do so.]
Focus Weightlifting requires a lot of focus. If you’re not training it every session, you’re falling behind. If you have a million things bouncing around your head while you’re trying to train, you’re going to have a bad day. In these cases, listening to music I believe can reduce those thoughts and distractions considerably—instead of a million things, you may whittle it down to as few as two: your training and the music. Obviously, this is a huge improvement. However, never allow it to be the primary focus. If you’re paying more attention to the song playing than your current or next set, get yourself sorted out.
Leave it Alone If you’re going to listen to music while you train, just listen to it. If you’re on your phone or whatever other futuristic device you’re playing music through after every song looking for the next song you want to hear, you’re violating the previous rule. Pick better musicians who can make more than one decent song per album and let it play through. Or use that technology and make playlists that you’ll listen to from start to finish.
Social Media & Your Goddamned Phone I would rather, by orders of magnitude, have my lifters paying attention to the music playing than getting on their phones and looking at social media between sets. If listening to music while you train helps reduce your compulsion to scroll through millions of posts you’ve never needed to see, then please do it.
Shut Up About It If you train in a gym with other lifters, don’t argue or complain about the music if it’s not your preferred artist, genre, whatever. Get over it. Be a damn athlete and do what you’re supposed to do. As a coach, I’ve made it extremely clear that the moment anyone starts arguing or whining about the music, it’s getting shut off and they can all sit around and listen to themselves breathing.
Unplug Your Ears If you train with a coach or even just teammates, take those ear buds out. From a coach’s perspective, having an athlete wear ear buds in training is a sign of disrespect—it says I’m not interested in what you have to tell me during this workout. Maybe you believe that’s not true, but if your coach does, that’s what matters. That aside, your coach needs to be able to communicate with you quickly and easily. He/she shouldn’t have to go to great lengths to get your attention to get you to pull your headphones out so he/she can help you be less shitty at weightlifting. Act like you actually care. If you don’t want to hear what your coach has to say, quit working with him/her. If you train in a gym with a lot of distractions and you don’t have a coach there working with you in person, by all means, plug those ears up and look as unfriendly as possible so everyone leaves you alone and doesn’t disrupt your training to ask you if you learned how to snatch using the scoop method or tell you that all the best Chinese lifters internally rotate their arms overhead.
The bottom line to all of this is pretty simple if you haven’t already picked up on the theme: Use music strictly as a tool to improve your training, not as another obstacle to progressing in a sport that’s already tough enough on its own.