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How to Use Music to Enhance Your Crossfit Performances

Research has shown again and again the benefits of music on performance. These benefits are not limited to sticking on hard rock during your hero WODs, but also for the calming tones that work so well when stretching and working on mobility. It is always important to select a good playlist that suits the WOD at hand and will help, rather than hinder, the performances of the athletes involved. So how does music affect your training, and how can you turn this to your advantage?


Music can directly influence your heart rate. Hearing a lively, up tempo track as you enter your local box can elevate your heart rate. Similarly, listening to a slow and serene song will help you unwind and help promote muscle relaxation. The autonomic nervous system mobilises the body for action and regulates breathing, speed of heart and lung action.

crossfit girl rope pull to musicSource: Stevie D Photography
Music can help you build a rhythm into your workout and keep going!


Rhythm response refers to the innate tendency to synchronise movement with the rhythm of the music. You often see this with athletes tapping their feet or nodding their head when resting between sets. This pace making can help the communication from the afferent nervous system (muscles to brain) and the efferent nervous system (brain to muscles) which can increase performance of certain skills.


Music playing in the background can act as attentional dissociation. It encourages an external shift in focus towards the sound and away from fatigue-related sensations.

The afferent nervous system has a capacity (like internet bandwidth). Playing loud music can occupy much of this bandwidth of perception, so less becomes available for focusing on aching muscles or heavy breathing. Music can become a distraction from the sounds and feelings of the fatigue that we experience during a tough WOD.

handstand push ups crossfit workoutSource: Stevie D Photography
A solid soundtrack can help you to block out your own fatigue

That being said, as the intensity of any exercise or workout increases, you will generally tend to concentrate less on any external music or noises. Physiological feedback will become even more intense, as well as cues and noises related to the exercise that help you to perform it properly (think of the tap tap of double unders or the flat, satisfying sound of your lifters slapping against the hard ground during a Snatch).

Find out how to improve your double unders.

What does this mean for your training?

For strength testing day, music will have less effect on performance as the nervous system is used to the max. With a 10k row, or other long endurance WOD, music would become more of an ergogenic aid. So although picking a particular song can make you feel great and get you psyched up, it will not have a huge impact of a 1RM. On the other hand, it could significantly increase your performance during a longer oxidative WOD.

It is worthwhile noting that if a WOD includes a gross motor skill such as a snatch or clean and jerk, and you are a novice athlete that could improve these lifts through paying more attention to the sounds of the exercise, then pumping the music up for the MetCon could disrupt the learning process and sensory feedback of the movement.


Music triggers the amygdala and the reticular activating system. These are parts of the brain associated with memory, anger, fear and enjoyment. Eliciting memory can trigger desired states appropriate for workouts.

Emotional Contagion is the notion that one catches the emotion of the music, which in turn can aid arousal regulation, enjoyment, imagery, and self-talk.

A class full of athletes born in the early 80s will always ‘get’ the Rocky Soundtrack. Everyone will have a particular song that gets them going for one reason or another. For me, The Pirates of the Caribbean Soundtrack makes me run through walls. Interestingly, a number of world record attempts and world cups have been won whilst listening to Lose Yourself by Eminem. You can assume the age of these athletes.

crossfit athlete chalking barbellSource: Stevie D Photography
Use music to help not hinder your performances

The point is to find what works for you. A death metal playlist featuring In Flames, At the Gates and Amon Amarth may not be the best choice for the CrossFit Kids class, but could be perfect for a long running workout through the forest tracks and mountains in the rain. At the same time, Brian Eno probably isn’t going to help you smash out a new Fran time!


Well to be precise..a lot! To reap the full psychological and physiological benefits, try the following guidelines:

  • Sync it to the desired pace of the workout
  • Have the noise level appropriate to the intensity requirement of the nervous system
  • Match the genre and date of the music to the athletes you train to ensure they actually like the music.

It is also important to recognise that music is an aid, and not to become too reliant upon it. You wouldn’t always train with a belt or lifting straps, so you must be prepared to do the same with music. The ability to train through music that doesn’t suit your needs is an underrated psychological ability.

Finally, make sure that what you are listening to is not negatively affecting your performance. If you are attempting a new snatch PR, then focus ALL your attention on the lift at hand, listen to every sound and cue and zone out everything else around you.

The dull thud of a heavy barbell thumping back down onto the floor after a triumphant new PR is a much sweeter sound than any song could ever be.

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