But your peppy playlist doesn't just compromise your safety; it can also interfere with the quality of your workout. "Many people exercise while listening to music because they don't want to think about how uncomfortable they feel," says Stan Beecham, Psy.D., a sport psychologist in Roswell, Georgia.
"But being distracted severs the connection between your body and mind, so you're no longer tuned in to the subtle signals your body relays, like when it's ready to speed up and when it needs to slow down."
Music stimulates the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, says Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., a sport psychologist at Brunel University in London and author of Inside Sport Psychology. So the jolt you get when a hearty beat like Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" comes on is very real. When timed right, it could give you the thrust you need to hammer up a hill or cross a finish line. But starting a run with that song could cause you to overexert yourself and then fizzle out faster than the Swiftenhaal affair. On the other hand, music that's too mellow may prevent you from pushing yourself to the next level, says Michael Sachs, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at Temple University in Philadelphia.
Muting your brain to your body's reactions can also increase your risk for injury. Suppose you tweak an ankle or knee. "You're not going to be able to pick up on pain sensations from a minor injury if you're zoned out to music," says Sachs. Instead of stopping, you might run, pedal, or skate through it until the pain becomes so severe that it intrudes on your music. "By then, the injury may be more serious than if you had stopped and addressed the initial ache immediately," he says.
Can't bear even a trial separation from your jams? With just a few simple adjustments, you can make your workouts safer and more effective while still rocking out (see "Please Don't Stop the Music," right). But if you're ready to give wireless workouts a go, check out "Your Workout: Unplugged" on page 68. You actually may start to prefer the symphony of your surroundings.
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