Gym Music: Stimulant? Or Irritant?

With me, it depends on the volume. I love music — many kinds. A catchy musical background — and I emphasize the word background — can enhance a gym workout. Excessive volume, on the other hand, can push me over the edge — especially during an exercise like squats or 21’s. Then it’s not music to me anymore. It’s noise.

My ideal volume is just loud enough to show off a quality sound system and let the words of the song carry throughout the room — but still moderate enough to let me hear myself think. And it’s crucial for me to be able to communicate with a training partner or instructor without shouting over the music or asking the other guy to repeat things. When you’re working with heavy weights, not being able to hear what the other guy is saying can be dangerous — and potentially fatal.

My first weight-training outside of school was in a basic 6-week course in the basement of the local YMCA. The loud music — not to mention the high reverb from the cement floors, heavy brick walls, and plaster ceilings — didn’t bother my trainer; he had already had three inner-ear operations, which had reduced his hearing by about one-third. And a lot of the guys seemed to get an extra adrenaline rush from the high volume — and a good pump.

I never could understand this, since high decibel levels have always had the opposite effect on me. Complaining got short-term results; but — you guessed it — by the start of my next session, the music would once again be blasting away — and fraying my nerves!

So I figured: “Well, if these guys want to assault their own eardrums this way, I won’t spoil their fun. I’ll pack a pair of earplugs for the workouts. Then, while they enjoy the music at their volume, I can enjoy it, too — right here in the same room — at my volume!”

Lately, it seems that gym owners are more sensitive to this issue, more willing to set reasonable caps on loudness. Still, I’m always prepared to be the gadfly, if need be — the persistent nag who isn’t afraid to speak up and bug the gym management to tone down the volume. In case all my efforts fail, I pack a pair of foam earplugs every time I head to the gym.

What about you? Do the high decibel levels irk you, too? Do you use ear protection? Or does loud music pump you up and drive you to get a better workout?

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