When I hit the gym, I always make sure that I’m ready for the workout to come. That means that I have the right shoes and gear, I know what part of my program I’ll be doing, and I have my headphones—along with an audiobook cued up on my phone for maximum enjoyment.
Yes, I know that’s not necessarily normal. Most people opt for their most pulse-pounding, inspiring playlist for an exercise soundtrack, and that’s not just to drown out the sounds of iron clanking or traffic. Music has been proven to affect athletic performance, after all, and the feeling of synching up your reps or your stride to the beat is tough to top.
But I’ve found that the narrative structure of audiobooks—specifically fantasy novels—help me to push through my workouts. Instead of feeling like I’m stuck in the same mindset as I progress through reps, moves, or miles, I’m constantly moving forward along with the book’s plot in a different world. I also feel more of a sense of accomplishment when I get to the end of a story—I actually finished something, instead of just exiting out of my music app.
I’m not the only person who doesn’t pump up the jams every time they pump iron, either. Data from podcast tech platform Megaphone suggests that more people are tuning in to podcasts for their workouts, as they found program downloads to Apple Watches peak in the morning from 7 to 8 a.m. and in the evening from 7 to 8 p.m. These are the most likely times people, exercise given US Bureau of Labor Statistics data, so the Megaphone team connected the dots and hypothesized that the download spike is from exercisers.
That’s not the firmest dataset to point at to prove that people are switching over to podcasts en masse—the data only accounts for people who listen to podcasts on Apple Watches, and it’s only speculation that everyone downloading the shows at the spike times are taking them to the gym—but I think they’re on to something.
Music, Podcasts, Books, or Nothing?
An informal survey of my Men’s Health coworkers found that several others listen to podcasts or audiobooks for workouts. Deputy editor Jordyn Taylor said her favorite podcast makes cardio a breeze, and even MH January cover guy Jon Bernthal told us his go-to workout anthems are podcasts and Howard Stern, because he “like[s] listening to a good story.”
Others weren’t convinced. Deputy editor Spencer Dukoff feels like he even needs music. “If there isn’t a BPM that’s somewhat specific, I suck at working out,” he said. “I envy podcast/audiobook listeners.” Meanwhile, health director Marty Munson prefers to take on runs without any backing tracks, with the zen-like perspective that “nature is the best podcast.”
We decided to take the question to Twitter to get a better idea of how everyone feels.
The audience there has (so far) resoundingly agreed that music is the top choice for audio during sweat sessions—but podcasts and nothing have respectable representation, too.
As for my beloved audiobooks, the response has been… not so strong. I guess I’m an even bigger nerd than I thought.