Why We Move to Grooves

I have seen the future, and it moves fast
I have seen the future, and it moves fast

Throughout history (and probably before that) human beings have created types of music that are intended to focus awareness and, somewhat paradoxically, induce trancelike states, and they rarely take the form of three-minute pop songs. It’s not about melody, which I think is antithetical to such states, and which is the primary reference for most popular music. It’s about groove. Rhythm. We’re pattern-recognition creatures; it’s in our hard-wiring. When you remove, or at least de-emphasize, the melodic component of music, boil it down to its essence and concentrate on rhythmic pattern — on groove — you open up a primal, tribal, tacitly shared experience. To me there’s nothing more primal in the human experience than being part of a big room full of people who are peaking to music. It defies easy description because it’s older than language. I’d venture that language itself is a precursor to the advent of melody in music.

As the majority of exercise involves moving in rhythm, it seems only natural that the movement involve music, and by extension that the musical rhythm and movement be complementary. (This sounds suspiciously like what scientists refer to as “dancing.”) Matching movement to rhythm is the fundamental reason music is a great workout partner.

Go a step further and make the music nonstop, fixed-BPM, hour-long mixes of groove-oriented music (which is pretty much what my Podrunner podcast offers), and you add a psychological — or possibly neurological — component by basically inducing a trancelike state. There’s nothing mystical about this; if your attention is involved in relatively repetitious music, you aren’t as concerned with fatigue or resource depletion. Naturally you don’t want to ignore these things, but neither do you want awareness of them to be at the forefront of your experience.

Yoga does something similar by making you focus on breathing. If you’re thinking about only that, you aren’t thinking how much this damned pose hurts or how much better it would be to sit down to a terrific dinner right now. You’re working with your breathing so that it’s as much a part of the workout as the movements themselves. Groove-oriented music plays a similar role: the steady tempo and pattern-heavygroove give your mind a focus point and give your body something to work with (no pun intended). These aren’t a distraction, they’re incorporated into the workout.

A lot of people look for distractions when they work out – reading or tv on the treadmill, audiobooks or news when they’re running, etc. But I think these things distract you from your body. They keep you from paying attention to the energy you need to expend (or not expend!), and from being aware of areas your body wants to emphasize right now. Here’s your body pushing itself, and you aren’t involved in the process. The point with these running mixes of mine is to give you a partner, an asset for your workout, that helps you literally pace yourself. Podrunner functions as a mediator between mind and body — something you run with, not from. The whole point is to “be here now.” Or, to get all slogan-y:  Be. Hear. Now.

There’s a strong case to be made for fixed-tempo, groove-centric music as a training tool even if you’re a hardcore competitive runner who wouldn’t dream of competing while listening to music, simply because it conditions your body to work at a consistent, even pace, which is vital to a winning strategy for any distance runner. A steady pace is even more important from a fitness standpoint. You don’t want to burn out too quickly, and you don’t want to slow up without realizing it because you’re tiring. So the music serves as a metronome for your body. (Note that I am not talking about listening to music during competitions, which is a separate issue involving safety.)

The overwhelming majority of my listener email consists of people telling me they’ve worked out longer, gone farther, reduced run time, lost weight, achieved personal bests, with no change in their routine other than adding Podrunner to the mix. Some of it is that trance-state thing, and some of it is just that they’ve got a metronome for their stride, which makes their workout more efficient.

And besides, da mewzik’s wikked kewl.

2 Replies to “Why We Move to Grooves”

  1. I just found your podcasts, and I absolutely LOVE them! I totally agree with your point that listening to the music, with a steady BPM helps put you in touch with your body and have a more successful workout.

    Thanks for making these! (the 132 BPM Easy going is my FAV!)

  2. Well I think there is a component of Steve’s beats akin to meditation and yes breathing – focusing on the pace and music takes you away from all life’s stresses – recess for the brain while getting a great workout. Runs are like sailing and mowing the lawn – you can give yourself a break from the world. My doctor figured out a never seen before problem after my bone marrow transplant for leukemia. Hundreds of doctors had given up on the problem – I wasnt making red blood cells – and 6 months later he came up with the answer while mowing his lawn. He finally gave his brain a break, the repetetive back and forth of mowing, and it came up with some new thoughts – broke through a paradigm and saved my life, and now some other patients with the same problem.

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