I’m a big fan of productivity and efficiency. And that should appeal to all of us. If we can get a similar result with less effort or a better result with the same effort, than we should do this.
In the business world we’ve learned, in some cases the hard way, that multi-tasking doesn’t work. We can’t carry on a conversation with someone while replying to emails. We may miss part of what is being said to us or we make a typo or grammatical error in our reply.
When someone matters we should eliminate distractions and focus on what we’re doing.
For example, I can remember back in school and studying for exams. Some people would listen to music. This approach never worked for me as part of the brain is paying attention to the lyrics and melody. And I didn’t want to give up this fraction of my attention to anything other than preparing for the exam.
When what we’re doing doesn’t really matter we may be able to get away with doing two or more things at once. This might be something like folding laundry and watching a show. You can probably do both at the same time without too much difficulty.
So what about training?
Where do we draw the line in terms of multitasking or including a distraction in the training process?
With moderate intensity exercise listening to music has been known to lessen perceived exertion (1). The music serves as a distraction and helps the exercise feel less hard than it would normally.
Usually the type of exercise done in these studies is steady state aerobic exercise like riding a stationary bike. There’s not much to think about and you can even your close your eyes and go for it.
The same wouldn’t apply to high performance training. Imagine a highly technical sport performed at high speed. Pole vaulting comes to mind. When you think of how precise you need to be able to clear the bar successfully all of your focus needs to be on the task at hand.
Recently Liz Gleadle posted something similar on her IG. Liz is a two-time Olympian from Vancouver who competes in javelin. We connected at a winter camp in Santa Barbara a number of years ago.
Liz’s post was about how listening to music while training can become a distraction. See below for what she has to do say regarding music, focus and multi-tasking.
I’ve noticed something similar with my own training recently. I’m not suggesting my training is high performance but more that listening to music wasn’t helping as much on the hard training sets.
During of our sessions together I asked Canadian Marathon record holder Malindi Elmore if she listens to music when she trains. She didn’t have to think about the answer. She didn’t have to qualify it with ‘it depends’. The answer was a simple and straightforward ‘no’.
Going forward with your own training consider why it is you train? Is it for health? Is it to rehab an injury? Or is it to compete in a sport?
If your goal is sports performance than you should consider setting the music aside for the more intense and technical aspect of training. If you want to warm up with your music, as part of your cool down or on an active recovery day that’s probably alright. But when it comes times to perform, which you practice during training, than you should look to replicate the conditions and have no distractions.
- Potteiger, J. A., Schroeder, J. M., & Goff, K. L. (2000). Influence of music on ratings of perceived exertion during 20 minutes of moderate intensity exercise. Perceptual and motor skills, 91(3), 848-854.