Enhancing the Training Experience with Music

Almost everyone who is acquainted with me knows that I have a passion for music. Although I am not a gifted musician, I am a student of melody, and I appreciate the impact music can have on human behavior. As a powerful agent of emotion, music can affect our moods, our perspectives, and how we process our surroundings. It can even influence athletic performance. Accordingly, I would like to share how I use music to enhance my training experiences.

My genre preferences range across the spectrum, from jazz and blues-based rock music, to Celtic folk, to symphonic performances and elaborate film scores. That affords me an expansive library from which to choose. Exercise and session objectives are my primary guidelines. When I am going through my warmups, I prefer music that is softer—more rhythmic. Because a warmup should emphasize mechanical awareness and coordination, above all else, I avoid songs that are “in-your-face,” even when I am trying to elevate my heart rate. My go-to songs include “Boom, Like That” by Mark Knopfler, “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot, “Catfish Blues” by Jimi Hendrix, anything from the Led Zeppelin III album, and all staple James Taylor tunes. Blues ballads with steady acoustic guitar riffs and fills create the perfect white noise for focus, without putting me to sleep. As a logistical matter, I keep the volume relatively moderate, as well, and I do not manipulate the song queue, thereby minimizing unnecessary distractions.

I approach the technical portions of my training sessions a little differently by getting more “grungy” with my choices, transitioning into 90s rock hits from bands like Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Blind Melon. The added distortion of the guitar and angst in the vocals raises my level of alertness and begins to fire me up, ever so slightly. These songs are still built upon blues foundations and scaling theories, so the bass beats and instrumental combinations are very regular and familiar, creating the perfect accompaniment for training exercises that require high energy, but maximum control and precision.

Strength training can be a separate matter, entirely, but my music selections still reflect my unique objectives. More specifically, I use the assigned sets, reps, and weights to find the right tonal quality. When movement volume is high, and loading light (or moderate), I turn up the sound voltage a notch or two. Bands like AC/DC come to mind, and Black Sabbath/ Heaven & Hell. But as the loading on the barbell starts to get heavy, I shift into the deeper, darker worlds of Metallica, Disturbed, Godsmack, Airbourne, etc. I also become extremely liberal, at this stage, with skipping tracks, stopping only when I find songs that have profound, progressive, and amplified introductions, such as “Enter Sandman” by Metallica and “Wild Side” by Motley Crue. The reason is simple: I want to stimulate certain chemical and metabolic responses in my body, and songs that pack a mean, thick punch seem to work best.

For extended cardio sessions—like long running/rowing/biking intervals—I prefer listening to “epic” rock songs, or albums that tell stories. Representative of this music class are the following anthems: “Echoes” from Pink Floyd’s Live at Pompeii excursion; “Telegraph Road” by Dire Straits/ Mark Knopfler; “Achilles Last Stand” by Led Zeppelin; “Cortez the Killer” by Crazy Horse/ Neil Young, or the Dave Matthews Band live adaptation of the same song; “Trail of Tears” by Eric Johnson, performing live at the Austin City Limits music festival; “Stranglehold” by Ted Nugent; and Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower,” as covered live by Dead & Company at several venues. Albums that fit this mold include Black Sabbath (Black Sabbath), Led Zeppelin (Led Zeppelin), The Wall (Pink Floyd), Sticky Fingers and Let it Bleed (The Rolling Stones), Déjà Vu (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), The Captain and Me (The Doobie Brothers), Rumors (Fleetwood Mac), either studio album by Greta Van Fleet, and On An Island (David Gilmour). Concerts captured in album format serve the same function, such as the 2005 Cream reunion performance at the Royal Albert Hall, London.

My philosophy changes again, though, when picking music for metabolic conditioning workouts. To some degree, the duration of the workout affects my decision. For short, sprint-type WODs, I want 2-3 minutes of fast-paced, angry, or punky sound. I frequently resort to “I’m Shipping Up To Boston” by the Dropkick Murphys and anything from The Real McKenzies. Something about the marriage of bagpipe and electric guitar turns me loose, which is exactly what I need under these circumstances. Honorable mention should also go out to Korn’s rendition of “Word Up!,” “Mother” by Danzig, “Murder Incorporated” by Bruce Springsteen, “Cryin’ Like a Bitch” by Godsmack, and “Doctor Alibi” by Slash, in collaboration with Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead.

When attacking any METCON over 10 minutes in duration, however, I simply turn to my favorite music, regardless of genre/style. We get the best fitness results when, despite fatigue, we remain in a positive state of mind, with respect to the training task at hand, or when we get lost in what we are doing. To facilitate this, I simply play the same music that puts me in this headspace outside of the gym, which means a lot of Guns ‘N’ Roses, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Van Halen, Tool, Pearl Jam, Ted Nugent, Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and a host of folk artists from the British Isles I will not even bother listing.

Many of you have music preferences that differ quite a bit from mine. But if you find yourself in a small training slump, or want to try something new, consider how the music suggestions outlined above may enhance your training experience.
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