Sorry, Your Pump-up Playlist Isn’t Improving Your Performance

Cam Newton
Grant Halverson / Getty Images

Bumping intense music through your headphones at the gym may have become second nature to you by now, but a new study from the Frontiers of Psychology journal suggests that that your “Pumping Iron” playlist might not actually be pumping you up as much as you’d think.

“Motivational music,” as the study authors put it, won’t do much for your individual athletic achievements—but it may increase your willingness to take risks, which could have its own payoffs in the weight room.

In the study, the research scientists set up a game based around a ball-throwing drill. Contestants were asked to make “riskier” throws or safer throws, and the researchers attributed a prize to the riskier throws. When pump-up tunes were funneled in, contestants opted for the riskier throw more often—but didn’t perform with any more success than they did with silence.

So maybe perfectly manicuring your Metallica-laden gym playlist isn’t the priority you thought it was. Obviously, bumping tunes during a workout is a perfectly normal thing to do—just don’t expect Dave Grohl to do any of the lifting for you.

That said, we’re wondering if that “risk-taking” advantage could translate to the weight room. For example: If you’re trying to hype yourself up for a challenging lift you know will push you to the limit, could a pump-up tune prepare you for that psychologically risky lift? That’s a question for another study.

In the meantime, for all you aspiring Tom Bradys out there: Instead of completely immersing yourself in the jam Spotify has queued up for you, focus your energy on idealizing your form and counting reps—that’s likely where your energy is best spent.

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