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Is Your Fitness Class Music Messing with Your Hearing?

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The bass is pounding and the music propels you forward as you cycle to the beat, pushing yourself over that final hill. But after class, the music that helped you work harder in your spin session may leave your ears ringing. As science uncovers more about the ways in which music can motivate us and fuel our workouts (check out Your Brain On: Music), it has also become increasingly important to both fitness instructors and class goers. But can top-volume tunes actually be detrimental to your hearing?

If the sound level feels uncomfortably loud, it's probably damaging your ears, says Nitin Bhatia, MD, of ENT and Allergy Associates in White Plains, NY. "One of the early signs of damage to the ear from loud noise exposure is ringing or buzzing in the ears, also called tinnitus," he explains. "Tinnitus can be temporary or at times permanent. That's why it's important to protect your ears from loud noise exposure."

Still, if music energizes your workout session and you look forward to the playlists your instructor DJs for class, turning down the volume can be a drag. And actually, research shows it's not all bad. Cyclists not only worked harder with faster music, they enjoyed the music more when it was played at a faster tempo, according to a study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports.

It's not just in spin class, either. Dance studios like 305 Fitness and running gyms like Mile High Run Club also depend on tunes to pump up class-goers. “In my eyes, music is the rhythm and the heartbeat behind every workout I put together. There is nothing more motivating than going full throttle to your favorite tune pumping through your veins," says Amber Rees, Master Trainer at Barry's Bootcamp. But Rees also recognizes that some of her clients may not love the loud music. "One of my secrets to amping up a group class without blowing their eardrums is to fluctuate my sound volumes throughout the session. I turn it down when I need the attention of the class or I’m explaining a move or sequence, and I really crank up the music for those final 30-second sprints when I can tell they need nothing but those beats to motivate them to finish strong," she explains.

Steph Dietz, an instructor at spin studio Cyc in NYC, says that music also helps riders mentally escape. "Riders often find themselves full of different emotions during a workout, and the music selection is a key component to that. Pairing the lyrics of songs with inspiration from our instructors elicits great emotional responses." To keep the high-energy music from getting too high-volume, Cyc studios also set their sound systems to levels that have been deemed safe to ride in. Not all studios monitor their noise levels, though, so it's important to be your own auditory advocate.

If you love loud workout classes, you definitely don't have to give them up. The next best option to avoiding a noisy environment is to use ear plugs, explains Bhatia. "Earplugs will dampen the noise—you will still be able to hear, but it will protect your ears from noise damage." Studios like Flywheel offer ear plugs to riders; if a studio doesn't make them available, you should keep a pair in your gym bag. "Also, identify where the speakers are and try to position yourself as far away as possible in the room to decrease the intensity of sound exposure to your ears," he recommends. You'll get all the benefits of the motivating music with none of the harm to your ears! (Need a new playlist? Try these 10 Upbeat Songs to Finish Your Workouts Strong.)


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