Exercising Without Noise


“Let silence take you to the core of life.” ― Rumi

Exercise has always been closely associated with my personal journey into minimalism.

For my first birthday after becoming minimalist, I asked for a membership to our local gym. It was clutter-free. It was symbolic of the change that had taken place in my life. It was practical, intentional, and beneficial for life.

When I first began working out, I listened to music with buds in my ear. Everyone else seemed to be listening to something. And thus, I assumed it must be the best way to get in a good workout. I listened to playlists… radio… books… speeches… even baseball games.

But eventually, after a long period of trial and error, I turned off noise altogether during my workouts. I immediately fell in love with the refreshing workout environment of silence. It was peaceful. It was calming. And I began taking note of the numerous benefits.

Benefits of Exercising Without Artificial Noise

1. I have learned to enjoy the gift of silence.

In a world that is constantly filled with noise and distraction, I have begun to crave precious windows of silence. Running without music/talk of any kind provides opportunity on a consistent basis to experience it.

2. I can better listen to my body.

Distraction-free, I am able to better focus on the messages coming from my body when I exercise. I can feel my legs loosen during my first mile, my breathing deepen on uphill climbs, or my arms begin to give way during a set of reps. This attentiveness helps me better assess my body and keep me from injury.

3. It provides opportunity for meditation and prayer.

I consider solitude, meditation, and prayer to be important disciplines in my spiritual journey. Joining these practices with physical exercise turns it into a spiritual exercise.

4. It stimulates creativity.

There are numerous studies that directly link aerobic exercise and cognitive creativity. With no outside influence directing my thoughts, my mind is free to wander and create as it desires. Some of my most creative thoughts came while exercising. In fact, this entire post was recently written during a 3-mile run.

5. It allows space to discern voices.

There are countless voices seeking to gain influence in our hearts and minds. Learning to discern the healthy from the harmful is an important, never-ending pursuit. I have found that extended periods of exercise provide heightened senses to evaluate these voices. As a result, I am able to more wisely determine which voices to follow.

6. I exercise with less baggage.

When I was training for my first marathon, I quickly learned the value of traveling light. Learning to run without the requirement of a music source allows me that opportunity.

7. It is safer.

I live in the suburbs. Most of my runs take place on streets alongside bicycles and automobiles. Practically speaking, I feel safer when my ears are tuned to the environment around me.

When I tell people I prefer to run/workout without music, most of them are genuinely surprised. They quickly respond with specific rationale of how music helps them stay physically fit. It helps keep them motivated, distracted, focused, or in rhythm. And I get it. I really do.

But for me, because of the reasons listed above, I’ll choose exercising without noise any day… and hopefully everyday.

Image: puuikibeach

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. says

    I always tellmy wife when she goes on her walks that she shouldnt’ use headphones for safety. If someone comes up on you to mug you, you won’t hear it until it’s too late; or you might not hear a car coming up on you, or any number of things. Be in tune with your surroudnings! (and like you said, your internal things too!)

  2. says

    I need music when I swim. Varying tempo and the feel of songs helps me mix things up and I work harder. However, stretching is something that I like to do with silence. Twice a day I set aside about a half an hour to do a set of full body stretches and I find I can breath better and concentrate on the tight areas better in silence.

    I am curious to know if you are a musician or not. I am and play the guitar. Listening to music I aspire to play when I work out gives me a chance to replay sections and think about chords, note patterns etc and it helps rather than hinders my creativity. If music is part of who you are, silence is not always a balm.

    • says

      I am a musician and a composer and love to exercise in silence. My chosen form of exercise is yoga. I exercise in silence at home but have noticed that many yoga studios have begun playing music during their classes which I have found to be a distraction, not the least because I begin analyzing the music instead of focusing on my practice. So it seems that I have the same experience of music as Alex, but a very different reaction to it. Composer R. Murray Schafer wrote a wonderful book about the need for silence titled “The Tuning of the World” and in it he talks about the necessity of silence for clarity of thought especially for composers whose creative palette is that of sound. It’s also an excelllent read for anyone interested in acoustic ecology.

      • says

        I am a yoga teacher myself and I choose to play music in our yoga classes as I find music can be used to relax the more dramatic energies of the students that come to our classes after a long day at work. It helps them zone out and focus just on their own bodies. As a teacher, a lot of times I do not even notice the music playing in the background – it is just there so that I can quieten down the critical, analytical side of my brain.

  3. says

    I also prefer silence when working out. My exercise has varied over the past year. I did some running for a while and enjoyed the silence. Just in the past couple of weeks I started commuting to work by bicycle. I really enjoy my bicycle commute in silence, and can also vouch for the safety aspect. It’s much easier to be aware of your surroundings when you can hear them.

    I often pass joggers on my cummute along a multi-use trail. Almost every one has earbuds plugged in. I always ring my bell as I approach, but most don’t hear it and get spooked as I ride by.

  4. says

    When the roads here aren’t covered in ice, I walk for miles early in the morning.
    I might walk faster with some upbeat music, but I would miss so much.
    I just study the sounds around me and learn from listening such different things I’ve never noticed before.
    I can listen to myself breathe, hear the rhythm of my steps, my brain quiets down enough to pray and I am blessed with the birdsong that fills the air. It’s truly amazing what all we can hear when we truly listen.

  5. says

    I definitely connect with the exercise stimulating my creativity. I ride my bike to and from school which is a 30 mile round trip. I undoubtedly have my most creative thoughts when I’m riding and would miss out on them if I was listening to music. That time is also a great time for prayer and solitude.

  6. Jill M says

    I hadn’t been to a gym in years, as I prefer to spend my active time outdoors. But it’s winter, and a week trial pass was mailed to me, so I decided to go for it. I hopped up on an elliptical, and immediately was overwhelmed by the noise (actual noise and visual noise). Loud music over the speakers, multiple tv’s next to each other tuned to different channels… It was so distracting and unpleasant for me!

    I know that many people enjoy the gym, and I think it’s great that people do what they enjoy. For me, it’s not the right fit. I definitely prefer the silence!

  7. Pidgen says

    I have been running to music, only because I get distracted by the trails and I’m a newbie – so I’m not exactly enjoying the run. But I was at a race last week and my mp3 player died on me just as I was crossing a snow covered bridge {yes, we were running in the snow and ice}. The sound of the water running under the frozen parts of the river was absolutely beautiful. Although I slowed my pace, I loved the sounds. So it’s been on my mind to try running w/o music. This post came at a perfect time! Thanks!

  8. says

    I personally find exercising without music more boring and more exhausting than exercising with music. I mostly go jogging, so music gives me a rhythm and a pace to follow. I don’t have to think, I don’t have to control my own rhythm, I follow the music, just let go and run.
    Also I don’t get to listen to music when I work or when I have to concentrate on something when I study, so I’m associating listening to music with free pleasure time.
    Nevertheless, I see your point and I will give jogging without music a try the next time :-)

  9. Tara says

    I work, read and exercise in silence. In fact the only time I listen to anything is in the car on the way to/from work. Otherwise I prefer to hear the natural sounds around me. For instance, lately I have noticed a lot of singing birds – such a beautiful noise.

  10. says

    I never have music when I exercise. I go to the gym early in the morning, and it’s in those dark early mornings that the best revelations come to me. That’s where I make goals and life plans. That’s where I hear what God has to say to me. That’s where I listen to my body and what it needs.

    In warmer seasons, my favorite way to exercise is hiking. There’s nothing better than hiking through a new place, with no sound but my own shoes on the gravel. I crave silence, and find it best during workouts. Great post!

  11. says

    Music covers annoying sounds like cars engines and other machines, it helps feeling peaceful rather than irritated by human made polluting engines.
    Ideally I prefer silence or natural sounds like birds, waves and wind, but for city people silence is a rare luxury, music is the natural cheap replacement for poor urbanites.

  12. says

    I am glad to read this post. I find music is a very enjoyable aspect when walking or running alone, however I also find it distracts from what is around me. I am not able to hear the sound of the wind in the tree’s, the birds chattering, or a neighbor calling hello. Most importantly I am not able to hear other sounds that keep me safe, a car behind me, or the possible approach of someone else. I prefer for these reasons to go without music and find that I am able to enjoy my surroundings much more when I am outside. I keep the music for days I must use the treadmill.

  13. says

    Music isn’t allowed on course at most mountain bike races. When I got into racing I decided to train without music, so I would be used to it. Once I developed the habit, I haven’t had any desire to have music in my workouts… Of course I usually have a song stuck in my head the entire time anyway.

  14. A&M says

    Music is an important part of life – but too many people now need music playing at all times.

    (PS Hell is other people’s music)

  15. says

    What a thoughtful post. I must admit, I am a music lover..and listening to music while exercising makes it all worthwhile. What can I say?? I will try to go bud-less a few times…but I don’t have high hopes!! Love my music…

  16. Rohit Gosalia says

    I personally – believe in listening to Nature – have never in my life put music in my ears when running/walking – or any other outdoor activities. I agree with all benefits – and strongly recommend to avoid closing your ears to the world when you are exercising outdoors.

  17. Erika says

    I have a long commute every day and have found I am much more relaxed after arriving at my destination when I can drive in silence. I have not yet allowed myself to go for a run without the crutch of music to distract me, but am convinced now this might be worthwhile experiment. Thank you for this post.

  18. Annie says

    For me it depends on where I am exercising and how. I mostly do so in a gym because it’s safer and easier, but they play horrible pop music. (I have asked them to vary it but to no avail, and I like my gym too much otherwise to switch.) Using my music at the gym while I do cardio is inspirational and motivating. I keep at my workout longer and at a better pace. It actually frees my mind since I’m not thinking about how annoying the piped-in music is. I don’t use it while weight training so I can be more aware of what I am doing and others around me. Also, I often weight train with my husband and we like to talk while we train to encourage each other.

    When I exercise outside I leave the earbuds at home. It’s safer and I’m usually walking with someone and prefer to chat or just listen to nature.

  19. Angela says

    The first time I went to the gym alone, I didn’t take any music. Everyone else had buds in & I felt weird? That very night I went to Wally World and purchased some. I feel pretty silly after reading this post. You’re so right … sometimes we need to think before we conform.

  20. says

    I use to exercise (walking) with my iPod, and I did so for three years. It was a necessity for me to get through my workouts back then. However, once I switched to cycling four months ago, I stopped using my iPod while exercising. Of course, there was the safety factor to consider. I needed to hear cars/pedestrians/other cyclists approaching me, so I never even thought about using my iPod to drown out my surroundings. But the awesome thing was the unintended benefits – the best benefit being increased awareness.

    I’m aware of every single thing going on around me. I’m more alert and in the moment as I cycle. Because of this simple change, I actually found exercising more enjoyable because I am present in my environment every single second. When I used my iPod in conjunction with exercise, I was so dialed in that I passed by lovely scenery that I never paid attention to, let alone saw.

    I found that I enjoy exercising better without the background noise in a pair of headphones or in-ear monitors. When I go for long walks, I leave my iPod behind 99% of the time now. Plus, it’s always better to move about as light as possible.

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  22. Ana says

    I got tired of spending my money in MP3, no matter, cheap or expensive, they always got ruined for the sweat and my carelesness. So, I decided to jog with no music. I do it in my lunch time and every day I look forward for this precious moment just for me.

  23. Eva says

    As a dancer, I find that music stimulates my creativity instead of hindering it. However, as much as I use music to fuel me, I know my body also needs silence. It’s all about balance :)

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