Should You Listen To Music When Performing Solo Drills?

Some people like to have background music playing when they do a variety of tasks. Does this help pass the time or does it hinder improvement?

16 December 2023 / 3-Min Read / Translate

Using headphones or earphones in public spaces has become almost as common as having a smartphone. Go into any gym around the world and you'll find a good proportion of the gym users wearing them. Isolating oneself and avoiding unwanted contact with other users are some reasons people use them, but perhaps the most common usage is to enhance the enjoyment of the time spent exercising.

Unless you really need to concentrate or focus on a particular task, I am fully in favour of using music to make those workouts more enjoyable.

It clearly follows that if you enjoy doing something, you are more likely to keep doing it and when you start to see the benefits of exercise, it's even easier to a workout. So for repetitive exercise that doesn't require much concentration, I highly recommend using music.

However, what if you are learning a new skill? Well, then it becomes less clear.

A man using dumbbells in a gym with headphones on listening to music, but will it help his squash?

My question would be to you is "do you listen to music when playing?" And the answer to that is almost certainly no. People often quote studies to me that show many surgeons use music when operating as if that automatically means sports performers should.

The literature seems to be clear that music can certainly help calm nerves and allow surgeons to perform operation better. But I am sure you will agree that firstly, there's a huge difference between sports performers playing split-second reaction rallies and most surgical operations. Secondly, the question is whether music actually helps them LEARN better.

Another point people often use as evidence of using music during solo squash drills, is that many people listen to background music while studying, and it actually seems for a large proportion of students, music really does help.

It helps lower stress and also avoids distraction. But as with surgeons, studying is not the same as skill acquisition.

One more point people like to make is that solo drilling is not necessarily the same as skill acquisition. But are we sure? We perform solo drills to learn new techniques, refine existing ones and train our minds and bodies so that those shots become second nature to us, or as a lot of people like to say: become Muscle Memory. The mind has to be a central part of that process - at least in the beginning to learn those skills.

It's important to note that my opinion to not use music when performing solo drills comes more from a position of taking the activity seriously and being completely mindful during it. I fully recognise that music plays an important part in many people's lives and helps in many ways.

By using music during solo drills, I feel that you are making the activity simply a physical repetition activity and it's not. It's much more than that.

A man walking along the street using his headphones, but will it help his squash?

A lot depends on your reasons for wanting to solo drill. I've written about how Solo Drilling Is My Meditation and you could easily argue that using music when you just want to hit some balls to relax is a good thing. But how many people use solo drills as meditation? Not as many that use it to get better.

I no longer play squash, in fact, I only get on court to record videos, and that's less than 10 times per year. If I were to solo drill purely for the fun of it, I still wouldn't use music, but I also recognise that I no longer use background music of any sort: working on the computer, doing house work, exercising etc etc.

Final Thoughts

If you are an amateur and want to maximise your improvement, I don't recommend using background music when solo drilling. Plan your routines and have clear goals in mind to keep your mind focused. Concentrate on different aspects of your technique to allow yourself to become more aware of your swing and timing. However, if you just want to have a relaxing solo session, by all means use music.

Post Publication Update

After I posted this article, I realised I should have mentioned that using music during your Heat Up is a wonderful thing to do. It allows you to begin the motivation process and for many, make the process of heating their body up more enjoyable.

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