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The New York Times Weighs in on Workout Music

timv's picture

I love music maybe more than anything else, both playing it and listening to it. I always have something playing when I'm at my desk or reading or in a car, and there's an unplugged electric guitar leaning against the desk 18 inches from my right elbow right now, in case I hear something that I want to play along with. But I've never liked carrying music when I skate or run or ride a bike. I rely on my hearing to know what's going on around me so I don't like having something over or in my ears, and also a music player bouncing around and wires getting tangled up with me drive me nuts when I'm trying to finish up a long run or skate or ride. But I know that for lots of people, the right workout music is essential.

They’re Playing My Song. Time to Work Out.

The playlist fixation has a scientific basis: Studies have shown that listening to music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator (people exercise longer and more vigorously to music) and as a distraction from negatives like fatigue. But are certain songs more effective than others? [...]

Music preferences are as idiosyncratic as workout routines, of course. Allison Goldberg, a 39-year-old life coach and amateur runner who lives in Texas and who is training for the Houston Marathon on Sunday, has been running to the Green Day CD “American Idiot” because, she said, “There’s no way you can run slow to Green Day.” (Though she may not be listening on race day; a rule bars runners from using portable music players and headphones.) Haile Gebrselassie, the Olympian from Ethiopia who has won the gold medal at 10,000 meters, often requested that the techno song “Scatman,” which has a B.P.M. of around 135, be played over the sound system during his races.

It isn't hard to come up with examples of music that began as accompaniment for physical work: sailors' sea shanties, soldiers singing cadence calls while marching, the songs of coal miners and Volga boatmen, and the blues coming from slaves' field hollers. Or "Whistle While You Work," as Snow White's colleagues used to sing.

I've always thought that the business about BPM having something to do with heart rate was a little fishy though. It sounded like undergraduate psych-major hyper-Freudianism: that since you aren't consciously aware of your heart rate, there must be a subconscious connection, and therefore that must be even more important than the things you're aware of.

It seems enough to me to recognize that music tempos pretty well match the speed of human motor actions. A funeral march is about as slow as a person can walk without feeling like they're stopping between steps, and an elite sprinter's stride rate is pretty close to the tempo of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher," the fastest song I know of to ever crack the Top 40.

So who listens while skating and what do you listen to?


roadskater's picture

The Good and the Bad of Music and Exercise plus Sony WM-20

I love music too, although of late I have not been playing or listening as much as at some other times. My HD-28 guitar getting stolen really put a damper on my enthusiasm. Call it a broken heart or call it silly, but there it is. But the other day I did play a sub-$1000 Martin that got my attention.

[I still have my original Yamaha FG-100 from 1977 or so, and it has a great punchy tone, but is not as much fun to play (the neck is a bit fat like mine, the scale a bit short, maybe). Still, I've had some great times playing guitar outside the hotels at skate events, and other places too (like in the old days when Country Park had a grassy bank and people used to gather there on sunny days...before the Canadian geese invaded and ate all that grass).]

I agree that being drenched in music and sweat together is wonderful, but in the last decade I have only rarely exercised with music, because I've been skating most of that time. I don't think music is a great choice for the faster speeds and easy wheeled momentum of skating and cycling, particularly on the road with cars whose drivers may be listening to music and talking on their phone without a headset.

It's just my opinion but I feel more need to hear what's around me, so while I have had the cel earphone in my ear to skate sometimes, it's not a constant level of music blocking out all other noises. Sometimes it's not even a conversation but two people skating togther on the phone with the occasional comment.

When running, I listened to the trusty gold metal Sony Walkman cassette (the one that slid together to become the size of a cassette box when not listening, so you could put it in the cassette case with your music...genius unit, if a bit weak in the design for the long run, what with wow and flutter and all that rot). Before that, even, I also had a GE FM radio that was super tiny but with great sound (which I got by collecting orange juice frozen concentrate proofs of purchase...stupid college fun. Ha. Now you know.

[This was not the Sony, but I like the first part of this article...


I think I had the WM-20, pictured here and on this page...



Ok. Enough of that.]

I've had enough worry about my future hearing given all the loud tube amp distorted volume in my days that a few years ago that I've dialed back the volume in much of life. Though I still love the tube amps, the right tiny one sounds as good or better than a huge one at a tolerable volume level for the neighbors, and you can mic it when you need to. After I saw Pete Townshend get old before he died and paid to see it and hear only the wrong channel of the stereo live mix in Raleigh, I backed off the knob a bit, and am less likely to listen loudly on earbuds, leaving it for open air when I do, methinks.

So, yes, I digress. Music and skating would be great if there were nobody else around, but I think it helps with goodwill as well to be visibly able to hear. I know at the park when we try to warn people of our presence, about the only ones who jump in fear are the ones who didn't hear us because they were groovin' to their tunes.

eebee's picture

Workout music only good in a gym IMO

A gym filled with fitter-than-thou people might be a good place to listen to music on earplugs whilst working out - plenty crowded yet not a danger to cyclists, skaters, or cars. Anywhere other than that, even in your basement, might not be a good idea simply from a point of view of safety.

I think inline speed skaters and cyclists know only too well the dangers of joggers and walkers out in public with their headphones dulling their sense. Yes I said sense. Too bad the Reckie Rowlerblayderz have become synonymous with short shorts, ripped tops and headphones. But hey, looking cute is the only thing that counts.

Ever get a song stuck in your head? Every day, of course. If you need music to work out but you're on a road or in a park or somewhere outdoors, just turn your music off in your car in the middle of the song you want stuck in your head and it will be blaring out in your mind for the whole hour. Don't wait til the song has almost ended, because then you'll just end up with the next track on your mind, even though you didn't actually hear it. My song-stuck-in-brain of choice also happens to be by Green Day (how plain!), is 9 minutes long and called Jesus of Suburbia. It is basically energetic, defiant punk, with enough swear words to be therapeutic. Any of the faster tracks from the American Idiot album works for me unless I'm doing hill climbing, in which case I'll stick to the Killers.

Tim your post reminds me also of something I heard a long time ago but am too lazy to research right now: Restaurants playing fast music near closing time or when it's crowded, so that the diners will eat their food faster. I observed myself doing that after I heard about it, and I was falling into that trap. Now I just rebel if a restaurant plays fast music, and resolve to stay there longer.

timv's picture

This is the Walkman I had (have actually)

Despite being a fairly early model, the WM-10 was the smallest of all the cassette-playing Walkman models. Its tiny size is amazing even now, and represents a considerable achievement in the context of what was possible in the early 80’s. The WM-10 was smaller even than the cassette it played and had to be slid open to make the cassette compartment large enough to take the tape.

Mine is right here on my desk. (There's a lot of stuff right here on my desk!) Too bad it doesn't work any more but I don't have the heart to get rid of it, and maybe I'll get it going again one of the days.

Agreeing with you about keeping open ears to be a better park citizen while skating. Simply being able to return a greeting or exchange pleasant banalities goes a long way toward building good relations.

roadskater's picture

Rubber Band Culprits

As I recall my WM-20 (or 10 maybe, but I think it had blue logo paint and looked like the photos of the 20 to me...I must have followed your advice on this item) died the death of loose drive belts after much much much many many many long long long hours of great play. Sweet tech it was. Solid, sleek and gorgeous (I could have said sexy for another s). Great sound! I guess I taped with Noise Reduction on and played back without. Isn't that the way to punch the highs? I'm certain I have not tossed it out as it is too personal and meaningful to want to see it go. It was there when no human could stand me, and I heard the brains of others to let me know, no, not alone, before REM did the song. Thinking of the high end clarity I recall these snips blended inaccurately: there is no political solution for poets priests and politicians packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes caught between the scylla and charybdis. Makes me say fudge ripple. ("Huh?")

Music a must

When I work out I always have my tunes playing. I keep the volume low enough to hear what is going on around me. One reason I feel the need for music is I am skating alone. When I skate with others I tend to turn the music off. I have just recently upgraded my phone to one with an MP3 player so there is one less device I need to carry. Since it is Bluetooth, I am considering going with a wireless headset since wires can become a pain. I think you are correct I tend to use music to help set a my pace and certain songs most certainly do motivate me. Ken
roadskater's picture

Glad You're Skating

Hey Kensun...

Glad to hear you're skating. Find any new spots? Has anyone found a flat track or new trail with rights and lefts?

I'm still not listening to music while skating but I have been using a Sensa MP3 player to listen to some podcasts of music (NPR music items mostly) or talk (geeky tech stuff related to the web stuff I do). It's been a cool thing to have the techy stuff going in the background as I do other things. Of course I can't really DO tech stuff while reading tech stuff and listening to tech stuff, or if I do, at least, I miss a lot of the audio or video material in the moments focusing on typing, ha!

There have been some seasons where I taped almost all of the 162 Atlanta Braves games instead of watching them live. Once I thought or checked that the game was over (without finding out the score...a tricky prospect), I'd play the game on tape in the back while I worked into the night. I never really focused on the games that way, but caught major things that happened and kept up with the changing membership and health of the team and National League that way.

I have over 50 hours of the tech stuff, and probably as much music stuff, including some live concert podcasts from the NPR site, to wade through. I used some freeware command line software to split really long mp3 files into 5 minute segments so I can mark favorites and jump from one to another better. I was having a problem with hitting the wrong button and jumping to the next hour instead of fast forwarding, then losing my place and having to search back...a mess! Maybe I'll write about some of the tools I used...someday! Lately I've learned a lot about tools for video and audio while working on or goofing away from my main projects. Hopefully someday (again) the site will show some of that and give us ways of creating and sharing some stuff with some tools I can recommend to help out with that and with just enjoying other people's content.  OK, time to go. Wish we could make that Super Bowl party at skatey-mark's but we need to do some work while the game's on. At least we bought the party food so we can binge on that!

eebee's picture

Name those tunes!

Hey Kensun! Just curious...what are some of the tunes you like to listen to?

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