| | Music Matters

Author / John

In case you didn’t know, music matters.  It’s science.  And when it comes to choosing music at Power Athlete HQ, our rule is simple- the strongest person in the gym gets to play DJ.  This is how I’ve inadvertently become something I’m not entirely proud of, something I hide from my friends and family, something so devastating it could result in being publicly shunned.  That’s right, I’m a Nickelback fan.  I blame the strongest person in my gym- you know who you are.  Certainly I can’t fault said band for lack of arousal on a given day or credit them for PR’s on others.  Or can I?


Have you ever noticed how absurdly possessive people get when it comes to tunes?  What is it about training that causes this shift in rationality?  There are a number of factors involved, not least of which is the simple fact that the actual weight poses a threat.  As in other non-fitness related threats, we are at the grips of a situation in which we potentially lack full control.  Having the ability to choose “Cali’s Rage/Back&Bi’s Mix” gives a false sense of confidence simply because it’s just that- a choice. It’s far cry from the vulnerability we feel when unracking the bar for a 10rm.

There is another reason founded in science that presents less of a psychological reaction but proves and quantifies our emotional response to music.  The effects of music on athletic performance -as it relates to a Power Athlete- really fall into two categories: disassociation and arousal.

Disassociation:  During sub maximal training, athletes may experience a greater tolerance to fatigue or exertion.  Basically, the tunes have a way of distracting you and altering your “perceptions of effort”.  This disassociation is also closely tied to the theory that “it’s all in your head” as music has been proven to lower perceived exertion levels by 10%. Studies have also shown that although the actual activity is just as difficult to perform, the athlete appears to be at greater ease and often times enjoys the activity when music is present.  This best illustrates the role our favorite Pandora station plays while we are mid-DWOD.


Arousal: This is where we get into what types of music can evoke very specific emotional responses.  Like any worthwhile street drug you’ve got your uppers, downers, laughers, criers and everything in between. It’s no surprise that faster tempo music tends to promote a higher level of arousal and of course the opposite is true for slower music.  Rhythm aside, lyrics do play a role in the internalization and subsequent reaction to a given piece.  Our minds are attuned to speech and verbal communication so a Sara Maclachlan PETA-esque melody may present less than desirable imagery for pulling a 1RM deadlift…unless of course you hate puppies.


Next time someone tries to convince you that the affect of music is “all in your head”, agree with them.  It’s precisely what occurs in the brain that enables us perform daily feats of strength and if music has the ability to give you a mental edge, take it.  Who knows, maybe one day it will be you selecting the music at Power Athlete HQ.

Please let us know about your favorite tunes!  What do you listen to during a 1rm, 10rm, and DWOD and why?

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Doug Oberbeck on February 7, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    10rm (or 3rm/5rm) – Taylor Swift I knew you were trouble
    Dwod – mumford and sons, avicii

    • CALI on February 7, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      Doug! I knew you were waiting with anticipation for this post.

      T-Swift? Bold move, sir.

    • Luke on February 7, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      I’m not mad about Taylor swift… Not gonna lie.

  2. EDub on February 7, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Perfect timing of your post, Cali. As I was driving to PAHQ’s alter ego, CrossFit Balboa, at 5:45 this morning, I consciously changed the station from my go-to country, to electronic dance music/ke$ha/etc…anything upbeat to get me “aroused” for a 6 a.m. thruster WOD. [G-rated here folks]. And you better believe Pandora’s “pop” station was blaring at 6 a.m. for the thrusters, bench press and 1k row today. (Thanks, Coach Craig. )

    Surprisingly, country music treats me pretty well during any afternoon/evening SWOD.

  3. Mex on February 7, 2014 at 5:04 pm

    I always choose the music. I train alone in the garage.

    Top 5 Pandora stations for training currently:
    1. Rage
    2. Van Halen
    3. Rush
    4. Biggie
    5. Public Enemy

    depends on the day…

    I am cheap though, and nothing sucks more than getting an ad in the middle of a wod.

  4. Muzza on February 7, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Friends don’t let friends listen to Nickleback.

    1RM work = Amon Amarth. Good old fashioned Viking Metal (yes it’s a thing). Songs about putting axes into heads has a way of lifting the spirits and rage for max lifting.

    10RM/DWOD…more upbeat stuff. I just trawl through Spotify and raid other CrossFit Box WOD mixes to keep it fresh.

    • Luke on February 7, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      There are 2 kinds of people in this world:

      Those who like Nickleback…

      …and liars

  5. Jeff H on February 7, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I generally go through phases of either System of a Down or Rap Strength Workout on Pandora.

    • Luke on February 7, 2014 at 7:25 pm

      SOD for sure!!!

  6. Chad on February 7, 2014 at 7:40 pm

    We use Pandora at Koda. When I’m on, its;

    1. Duran Duran

    2. Beastie Boys

    3. Empire Strikes Back

  7. Ingo B on February 7, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    For PATS, and other Crossfit events for that matter, I DJ live, and leave room to change things for crowd energy management. However, the playlist is mostly preplanned (don’t tell anyone), per the reasons you cite above. Every song has a purpose and was deliberately included.

    Real interesting to read this from your perspective.

  8. George on February 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm

    Auto Rock by Mogwai. I listen to the build up as I mentally prepare to hit a PR and then get it done!

  9. Steven Platek on February 7, 2014 at 8:40 pm

    we tend to listen to dubstep-ish sort of stuff, current fave: zomboy – it’s like cross between metal and dub… and I do like the occasionally country tune. Feel like I can harness some farm strength.

  10. Josh on February 7, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I was just having this conversation at my new gym this morning. I like to listen to things like rise against and parkway drive to pump me up but the new gym is 100% gangster rap at all times. It definitely messes with your head when you change tunes.

  11. Muzza on February 7, 2014 at 10:53 pm

    …and System of a Down! That stuff is pure, double jacked triple stacked PR sauce.

  12. Derrek Pratt on February 7, 2014 at 10:56 pm

    Slayer, Rob Zombie, Rage, and Motorhead…. For any gym related activity…. Until my clients show up

  13. Rommel on February 8, 2014 at 12:15 am

    Hip hop (Tribe called quest, biggie, Kendrick Lamar) for warming up/drills. Loud Metal (Pantera, Judas Priest, Mastodon) or Techno (Justice) for 1RM. Upbeat or catchy tunes for the conditioning.

  14. Pete PAV on February 8, 2014 at 4:35 am

    Icona Pop for everything.

  15. Drew on February 8, 2014 at 6:05 am

    Spotify makes it easy for me to craft up a playlist before I head to the gym, basically whatever I’m needing for the day. Staples have always been metallica, marilyn manson, A7x, FFDP, system of a down etc. I tend to mix it up for longer gym sessions or 10 rm days, more EDM than anything. I try to reserve the heavy, make me want to punch a hole through the wall for 1 RM days. Being hyped up all the time usually makes me more exhausted for max effort. I try to keep a good playlist on and go between oldschool rap, new EDM, and I’ll never turn off “Welcome to the Jungle.” 1rm right now is A7x or FFDP. DWOD, I don’t hear music, headphones come out and auditory exclusion kicks in.
    BTW, Call On Me reference above – EPIC. you want to talk arousal…

  16. Doonkeen on February 8, 2014 at 7:23 am

    Long time reader, first time poster.

    I’m on a big Katy Perry kick right now for the classes I lead. When I’m working out, nothing but slow jams…. Pretty Ricky, Usher, R. Kelly, Kendrick Lamar.

  17. Christopher on February 8, 2014 at 8:52 am

    It needs to be so loud and heavy it scares people. However I cant listen to headphones, it needs to be on a stereo or back ground noise. The only time ill throw in headphones is when im a public gym and im trying to drown out sensless background noise. For high intensity WODs or longer runs, a good mix of electronic music has been known to keep me going. However, now and then ill test myself and get down and dirty in silence. Try rowing for 30 minutes with no tunes staring at the same spot on a wall.
    Heres what ive been getting after it lately to.
    Parkway Drive – Karma
    Misery Signals – The Shallows
    Solace – Naive
    Asking Alexandria – To the Stage
    This or the Apocalypse – Americans

  18. DJ^Ric 29/m/CT on February 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Great post, great topic. I personally use my Spotify with headphones for every workout. Feel free to follow on Spotify @djricmusic for all your edm/uptempo (DWOD music) or @djricdub for all your dubstep/trap beats (SWOD music)

    Personal playlist:

    Warmup – “Mass Appeal” BAWS
    1 RM – “Walk in a Fire” Dirtyphonics …OR… “I Will Be Heard” Hatebreed
    20 RM – “I Just Can’t Deny” Keys N Krates
    DWOD – “Sofi Needs a Ladder” deadmau5
    Bodybuilding/Secret Squirrel – “The Love Song” Marilyn Manson

    Tons of Chevelle, Deftones and Korn on classic bodybuilding days. Shoutout to the Icona Pop mention, that’s fun-ass party music, they’re really underrated.

  19. Taylor on February 8, 2014 at 1:13 pm

    We Can’t Stop – miley cyrus, on repeat

    • Tex on February 9, 2014 at 8:08 am
  20. Andrew K. on February 9, 2014 at 5:40 pm

    Tool for 1RM attempts…Phish for everything else (I’m a weirdo, I know).

  21. Andrew K. on February 9, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    It’s posts like these that make me want to come back to the CFFB programming.

  22. Gabe on February 10, 2014 at 12:06 pm

    Always Megadeth and Machinehead to throw the iron around. Skrillex (like the Zomboy, Steve) for the long suck. and a mix of BLS, Alice n’chains, and Linkin Park to warm up/ cooldown.

  23. Luke on February 10, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    I look at music when lifting in a different way. While it has been shown to produce immediate improvements in certain lifts, it also has been shown to increase the time for recovery. This of course is a no-brainer. It is just like any other ergogenic aid that causes intense levels of arousal, whether it be caffeine/ammonia/loud music. However, this can all be programmed in and all is good.

  24. Luke on February 10, 2014 at 9:40 pm

    However, when it comes to athletes getting hyped up on music during weights or practice I tend to veer from the norm. The goal for an athlete (in my opinion) is the pursuit of sports mastery, and this would entail the athlete to pursue mastering his sport to a point where he can replicate the necessary actions through unconcious competence. This would make the athlete very hindbrain dominant. Where music comes in is when it triggers the sympathetic nervous system and the athlete himself does not conciously trigger it. This has actually been shown in studies how the athletes who listened to music while lifting were unable to conciously trigger the sympathetic nervous system as powerfully when not listening to music as those who did not listen to music at all while training.

    Not saying there is any right or wrong answer. Just a different way to look at it.

  25. Ingo B on February 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Here’s something interesting along the lines of this article:


  26. Clint on February 11, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    I usually don’t even hear or notice the music. I will notice the silence and if there’s something tranquil on when trying to PR.
    Perhaps I just got immune to listening to Katy Perry or Lady Gaga etc that usually gets played at the gym.

    That being said, these is the bulk of my playlist for when I workout @home (still hardly ever notice it).
    ACDC, Nirvana, Pixies, Beastie Boys, Rage Against Machine, Ramones, Weezer, Offspring, Supergroove, Bloodhound Gang, Metallica, 5 finger DP, Pogues, Psycostick, Tool, Sublime.

    There’s also some Neil Diamond, Crowded House, Cat Stevens, David Bowie in there which sometimes comes on. And also various other cherry picked songs from the past 30 years.
    e.g. Beer by psychostick. I need to find more music like that.

    Why? Just what I like to listen too. Unexplainable.

  27. Murph99 on February 12, 2014 at 7:06 am

    A little late to the party, but right now these are my jams.

    1RM – 5RM: Break Stuff by Limp Bizkit, Thunder Kiss ’65 by White Zombie, Mouth For War by Pantera, The Beautiful People by Marilyn Manson, Fucking Hostile by Pantera

    Metcon/ DWOD – Thunderstruck by ACDC, Falling to Pieces by Faith No More, Cat Scratch Fever the cover by Pantera, 99 Red Balloons the cover by Goldfinger, Bust a Move by Young MC

  28. Mark Bennett on February 13, 2014 at 6:17 am

    Everyone should fear for their lives when I lift:

    – American Me
    – TesseracT
    – Sleeping Giant
    – Those Who Fear
    – Legend

    Play it loud and fight for that PR! Enjoy Lads!

  29. Emily C on February 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

    Currently on my gym playlist:

    These are all 1RM-10RM artists:

    LL Cool J – “Headsprung”
    Fall Out Boy – “My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark”
    Eminem – “Til I Collapse” & “Cinderella Man”
    Busta – “Hustler’s Anthem 09”
    Jay Z – “Ni**as in Paris” & “Tom Ford”
    Ozzy Osbourne – “Crazy Train”
    Biggie – “Notorious B.I.G.”
    Three Days Grace – “Riot”

    DWOD artists:
    Swizz Beatz
    Jay Z
    Tech N9ne

    Give me some rap/hip hop and I’m a happy girl.

  30. Chris Sprague on February 24, 2014 at 11:10 am

    Another great read Cali, I agree with everything you wrote. There are athletes who must disassociate during a lift or Wod, but what about those who associate? With association, athletes can monitor their pace and efforts in attempts to optimize output. From what I’ve read, some studies have been done with endurance athletes on association and disassociation. They make a choice to face the music (pun intended) and embrace the pain while in the midst of the challenge at hand. As power athletes I believe we must associate and embrace the grind. Feeling the weight on your shoulders is a must especially as a coach because I must know what it feels like for my clients. If I can only get aroused with music, I won’t be able to fully motivate my athletes because of their reliance on Metallica.
    Psychology of discomfort (to me) means you can’t always tune out to Rage Against the Machine for every 1RM. The mindset must trump all music, accessories and even the weather for us Californians.

    • CALI on February 24, 2014 at 11:43 am

      Well said, Leg. There are certainly a lot benefits to having the mental toughness with or without tunes. Music should not be treated as a crutch like other training aids.

  31. Ingo B on February 25, 2014 at 9:52 am

    PR music that folks from the 70’s blasted.


  32. Peeler on March 3, 2014 at 7:49 pm

    Rob bailey and the hustle standard get me going
    And rob zombie for a change in pace.

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