Picture this: You come home from a frustrating day at work and crave an upbeat Zumba class with the music turned up so high you can’t help but get lost in it. Or maybe all you want is to calm your nerves with a chill yoga session, listening to nothing but the sounds of your own breath.
If you’re ever sought out either of these two extremes, you know that the aura and volume of a group fitness class can indeed affect how you feel during and after the workout. “I think about volume as a sensory experience from an evolutionary standpoint,” says Willow McGinty, LMHC, a therapist with Thriveworks in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who specializes in anxiety, coping skills, stress, and ADHD. She’s also a weekly group fitness class devotee and former college athlete. “Loud sounds in nature tend to come from things we must pay attention to because if not, there can be perilous consequences.” So loud workouts are great when you need motivation, a boost of energy, or to focus on something other than your own thoughts.
Not sure if your body needs that or something more chill? Below, experts share what you can expect to get out of each option.
The case for the quieter workout
1. They offer stress relief
Yoga classes and hot girl walks are full of pros, especially after a stressful day. “We can choose a quieter workout experience for a sense of peace, stress relief, and to manage reactions to hectic periods in life,” McGinty says. (Fun fact: Some yoga poses can even help your body release stress and anxiety.) In fact, according to a study in the International Journal of Yoga, yoga can reduce stress, depression, and chronic pain, and enhance your overall well-being.
2. They can stand in for meditation
Calmer options can sometimes function as a more active form of meditation. “Quiet workouts offer some people meditative benefits that allow them to calm their mind and reduce their heart rate through breathwork, calming music, etc.,” says Rishi Mandal, CEO of the fitness app Future. “Just like we block off time for ourselves to get in an energizing workout, it is just as necessary to allow ourselves the time to take things slow and relax.” Although meditation can be a hugely effective tool for managing our mental health, many people find it hard to just sit still, so an alternative that brings similar benefits through movement may feel more doable.
3. They bring greater body awareness
Quieter workouts may be preferable for people who have sensory issues, are new to working out, are trying to recover from disordered eating or body dysmorphia, or are in the luteal and menstrual phases of their cycle when anxiety is more likely to be high, McGinty continues.
That’s because quieter workouts can help us become more aware of our bodily cues and pain, both internal and external. “People who have a sense of feeling lost in life, have trouble identifying emotions, and people experiencing major life transitions may benefit most,” she says. “Quieter workouts can help us to be mindful of movements that trigger or release painful/poignant feelings.”
A quiet workout can also trigger greater focus and a gentler approach, which can help us “better attend to any injuries we may be nursing,” says McGinty.
4. They can help keep us consistent
Calmer classes also allow for flexibility when you want to move your body but aren’t up for much. In that sense, they help you maintain a regular exercise routine, if that’s a personal goal. “Remember, the best fitness regimen is the one you’ll stick to, so even just stretching and putting in the time in a ‘quiet’ mode will be hugely impactful,” Mandal says.
Best quiet workout options
McGinty recommends walking in the park and listening to natural sounds, doing traditional South Asian yoga practices, and swimming. Mandal mentions tai chi, qigong, and yoga as indoor options, as well as gardening, hiking, and fishing in the warmer months.
Soothe yourself by getting your “om” on:
The case for the louder workout
1. They can make it easier to work out harder
When you’re looking to get in a gut-busting, sweat-filled workout, it’s time to really pump up the jams. “Some individuals feel that loud music and a high-energy environment enhance their performance, causing them to lift heavier weights, run faster, or work harder when surrounded by noise and music,” Mandal notes.
But music isn’t the only source of noise—coaches and instructors are, too. “Members tell us that they get a burst of energy when they hear audio motivation and tips from their coach during a workout,” Mandal says.
2. You can get lost in the noise
Another pro of loud workouts: They’re a good distraction. “Louder workouts could make sense for people in need of some escape,” McGinty says. “Loud, high-intensity workouts are popular among my clients who are working out as a part of their effort to cease self-harm practices and, as a result, loud workouts are seen as a harm reduction technique for some.”
3. They can energize you
Further, loud workouts can energize you and help you feel more positive, according to McGinty. She prefers to do them in the morning for that reason. Which makes sense, since, as Mandal points out, they typically raise your heart rate, pump you up, and help you get “in the zone.”
But be sure to get loud safely
McGinty does warn about the safety and health risks of loud workouts. “As an example, loud music while running/walking outside can diminish our situational awareness and leave us more vulnerable to nefarious characters or other environmental hazards,” she says. “We can also damage our hearing if the decibel levels are too high for too long.”
When attending group fitness classes where the music is too loud for comfort, McGinty uses ear plugs. She also encourages people working on their assertiveness and self-advocacy skills to ask the instructor to turn the volume down if it’s painful.
Best loud workout options
McGinty’s favorite upbeat class is hosted by Orangetheory Fitness, though she notes HIIT classes, and indoor cycling classes with fun lighting are other popular, energy-infused options. Mandal points out that more experience-based ways of getting movement in are on the rise, too, such as rage rooms, ax-throwing, paintball, and laser tag.
“A best-fit workout [routine] for you may include some intense audio support and some quieter, more meditative sounds,” Mandal says. “Finding that personal mix is what it’s all about.”