Ever since I started working out, music always seemed like a necessity. There have been times I would get to the gym, realize I forgot my headphones and turn right back around to leave. Really.
And it makes sense. There are lots of upsides to listening to music while you work out. You really can't beat finding a new song you love so much; you get an extra rush of energy to go that extra mile every time it comes on. On top of that, everyone needs a distraction from aching cramps and sore muscles, and concentrating on lyrics is usually an easy fix.
However, there are also some downsides to listening to music when you work out.
I know I'm not the only who's accidentally knocked my headphones out of my ears while on the treadmill and had to stop running to awkwardly search for them behind the machine next to me.
And I can't even begin to express how frustrating it can be when you're sprinting and your go-to workout song from ninth grade sneaks in your shuffle, but you're running too fast to change it. Listening to more of Bubba Sparxxx's "Ms. New Booty" than you want to could literally be a torture method.
That's why, two weeks ago, when Drake's "Hotline Bling" -- the most overplayed song of all time -- came blaring into my ears just as I was getting into my run, I dared to do the unthinkable: I pulled my headphones out of my ears and stopped listening to music altogether.
That day, I had one of the best runs I've had in a really long time, and it wasn't just because it eliminated these aforementioned annoyances (although that definitely is a plus).
It actually really helped take my running to the next level, and here's why.
It relieved more stress.
Having French Montana repeatedly order you to "pop that" isn't exactly conducive to thinking. In fact, it makes it pretty much impossible. Running is supposed to help you clear your head, but the music we typically work out to prevents us from doing that.
Once I stopped running to music, I started using that time to let my mind wander. Thinking whatever thoughts pop into my head allows me to zone out the real world for an hour and distracts me from looking at the clock.
The first time I finished running without music, I realized I ran farther than I had in weeks, and my mind felt less clouded with those stressful thoughts about work, bills, student loans and all the things I needed to do.
Running truly was a time to clear my head.
I focused on my breathing.
There's a reason your yoga instructor constantly wants you to hum "om" during your class: It helps you breathe properly, and breathing is key when you're working out.
The more intense our workouts get, the more oxygen our bodies need. However, how many of us start holding our breath to ease the pain in our abs halfway through a two-minute plank? Most of us.
When we're tired but still have part of our workouts left, a lot of us start to let go of our breathing first because it seems so minor. Doing that actually makes your body fatigue faster, though, holding you back from working out to your full potential.
When I stopped relying on Beyoncé to get me through my workouts, I started consciously applying the breathing I learned in yoga and other fitness classes to my running. By listening to my breathing, I am better able to focus on getting the technique right for my entire run.
My body doesn't run out of steam nearly as fast as it used to because the proper amount of oxygen is always going in and out. As a result, I can run for a longer period of time.
My average pace was much faster.
If you have any rhythm at all -- which, to be fair, not all of us do -- it can be really difficult not to match your pace to the beat of a song.
As someone who took ballet for most of her life, it's almost impossible for me to ignore my instinct to keep with the music. The problem is that meant when a slower song came on, I slowed down my running pace, too. As a result, I'd unintentionally hold myself back from working out as hard as I could.
But when I turned the music off, my pace was solely based on my energy level, meaning I ran at the fastest pace I could at all times without Adele having any say.
I didn't lose motivation.
If you're like I was, nothing kills your desire to run quite like not having a good playlist to listen to.
Just thinking about having to listen to the same five songs you've been working out to for the past month again because you haven't found any new, good music in a while can prevent you from packing your bag and heading to the gym. And sometimes, even if you make it to the gym, that playlist you're so sick of can really put you in a bad mood for your entire workout -- and no one wants to prolong a bad workout.
Since realizing I don't need music to run, I've already made it to the gym many more times this month, and my runs are way more satisfying.
My playlist no longer dictates whether I have a good or bad workout -- or any workout at all, for that matter.