Music has been a large part of my life since my early teens. Once I started expanding my musical horizons and building playlists around my favorite tracks, these became a soundtrack to my college years and early adulthood.
Having worked from home for years, I found listening to podcasts a bit like having a conversation in my head, which helped ward off loneliness. I'm not very good with silence, so I always have a set of the best workout earbuds to listen to music while I train.
I justify my habit because music can be a great motivator. The results of a study published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology found there are "benefits of [listening to] music under stress conditions as well as during endurance and high-intensity training."
But I also meditate every day, and over time, I've tried to be more accepting of the present moment. When the pandemic hit and the world ground to a stop, I found that I really appreciated the relative quiet.
Some habits are worth breaking, so I wanted to see what would happen if I left the earbuds in their case and exercised without music or podcasts for a week. I was uncomfortable at first, but I started to see some positive changes. Here's what I learned.
1. My technique improved
As much as I love music and learn a lot from podcasts, they are distractions. When I press play on the best workout songs, I'm not truly focused on my training. My mind starts drifting into the music, so I go through the motions of a workout but don't properly think about it.
Although plenty of studies show music can motivate you, I found that exercising without it actually helped me become more aware of my body, which led to better form during each move.
I have a tendency to arch my back while doing upper body workouts with the best adjustable dumbbells. With my mind totally focused on the training, it was easier to spot when this was happening, straighten my back, and engage my core instead.
2. My workouts were quicker
The first day I tried exercising without music, I found that the session was shorter than usual. This seemed weird, but I didn't overthink it. But the pattern repeated every day of the challenge, and that's when I realized what was happening.
While I spend a lot of time organizing my music into themed playlists (one for weights and a running playlist), I'm not always in the mood for the same tracks each time I exercise. So, I unlock my phone and fiddle around with the running order.
I'd never noticed how much time I wasted amending playlists and selecting tracks, but 10 or 20 seconds every few minutes begin to add up. Without the distraction, I got a more focused, more effective workout.
3. I felt less stressed
Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and improve your wellbeing. According to an analysis published in the Association of Medicine and Psychiatry journal, "exercise is a behavioral intervention that has shown great promise in alleviating symptoms of depression."
As you work out, it causes physical changes in your body that can help protect your mind and body. But I've also been learning how to meditate, which has helped me focus on the present moment and appreciate the world around me.
Although I was thinking about how I performed each move, I noticed the sounds of birds outside, could hear people chatting as they walked by the house, and developed an awareness of my breath which improved my workout performance.
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James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.
In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.
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