Have you ever watched a toddler’s spontaneous physical response to music? Music starts playing and the child can’t sit still and starts moving to the beat!
As adults, we’re no different. Music—especially fast, upbeat music—prompts an innate urge within us to move! We start tapping, drumming, nodding, swaying, or bouncing. So it may come as no surprise that music has the power to enhance our workout.
In fact, a few years ago, USA Track & Field officially recognized that music gave athletes a competitive edge. As a result, they banned athletes from using music in races where awards or money were at stake. Today, many athletes view music as “essential to peak performance” when exercising or competing in a sport. (1) “Music is like a legal drug for athletes,” claims Costas Karageorghis, PhD, a leading authority on music and exercise. (2)
And the support for all the benefits of the harmony between music and fitness are not just anecdotal. Around 100 studies have been conducted in recent years verifying that music profoundly impacts physical performance. (3) Below you’ll find some of the things you can gain by combining music with your workout.
12 Benefits of Music for Your Workout
1. Provides a more satisfying workout.
Music is one of the great pleasures of life. Mix your favorite music with your exercise routine and it’ll make for a more pleasurable experience. (4)
2. Distracts your mind from pain and discomfort.
While we may discredit the “no pain, no gain” mantra, there’s no arguing that exercise puts the body under a degree of stress (good stress) that’s necessary for achieving its benefits. Listening to music can help take your mind off any pain or discomfort you may experience while exercising. (5)
3. Reduces fatigue and increases endurance.
A study published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology bore this out. When subjects self-selected motivational music, their endurance improved by 15 percent over subjects who exercised without music. (6) Music infuses strong emotions that stimulate greater performance. (7)
Music also promotes the perception that you’re putting out less effort to accomplish more in your workout. Studies have shown, however, that this effect diminishes during high intensity training. (8)
4. Elevates mood.
Your frame of mind plays a significant role in your physical performance, whether you’re participating in competitive sports or simply exercising to stay fit. Music can lift your spirits, give you a positive mental attitude and put a spring in your step. Beat or tempo, positive lyrics, and any memories or associations you have with a particular song are all important factors in elevating your mood. (9)
5. Reduces perceived effort.
Due to the increased pleasure, the distraction from pain and increased endurance, your output increases with seemingly less effort. (10) In fact, research demonstrated that running at a moderate pace on a treadmill while listening to music resulted in a 10 percent reduction in perceived effort. (11)
6. Promotes greater metabolic efficiency.
In a study involving cyclists, researchers measured oxygen levels in their blood. They found that when cyclists pedaled in cadence to music, they required 7 percent less oxygen to perform at the same level as those who did not listen to music. (12)
7. Encourages you to keep exercising.
With greater efficiency, endurance, heightened mood and pleasure at your disposal, why stop? This is yet another benefit of combining music with your workout. (13)
8. Helps set the pace for a strong workout.
When you choose music with a tempo that you want to sync to in your workout, this helps you set and keep an even pace. Setting cadence while running, biking, or with nearly any other exercise will make you more efficient and consistent in your workout. (14)
9. Increases strength.
While this may seem like a bold claim, researchers discovered that listening to the right music significantly increases strength. They conducted a “grip” test and alternated stimulating, energetic music with sedating, relaxing music. When listening to the energetic music, subjects demonstrated significantly higher strength scores. (15)
10. Promotes post-workout recovery.
In this particular study, ten fit, male, same-age participants ran at their maximum sustainable speed on a treadmill for six minutes. As a cool-down exercise, they were instructed to walk around the gym and think about their performance. All ten were tested on three different days. On one of those days, no music was played during cool-down. On another day, music was played during cool-down and on the third day only the rhythm beats (without music) were played. Blood tests and other vitals were taken every three minutes during these 15 minute recovery periods.
Music clearly trumped the other two recovery modes. While listening to music, the men took more steps during recovery, measured lower absolute lactate levels, and recorded lower perceived exertion scores. (16)
11. Improves motor coordination.
Swiss researchers have discovered that an exercise program combined with music improves gait, balance and coordination among seniors and those rehabilitating from injuries. One of the strong elements of music in these improvements is the rhythmic beat and the connection between the brain and motor skills. (17) (18)
12. Speeds up reaction times.
Scientific studies have again demonstrated that music quickens response times, but the type of music is a key factor. One study involving 54 tennis players showed that music with a fast beat stimulated the emotional state of the athletes and promoted quicker reaction times. (19)
Tips for Putting it All Together
All the preceding benefits for combining music with your workout are truly amazing! The impact of music on the brain and its influence on our mood, stress, response, and other factors is quite profound. But as I’ve hinted above, not just any music will do.
There appear to be six primary factors that determine the effectiveness of music when combined with physical activity. Choose music that meets these criteria: (20)
- Presents a strong, invigorating beat (typically 120-160 bmp and lower for warm-ups and cool-downs)
- Features upbeat, positive lyrics (if the music has lyrics)
- Offers a rhythm that syncs well with the activity in which you’re engaged
- Renders an arousing, stimulating melody
- Provides an association with victory or overcoming hardship
- Satisfies your personal tastes and associations with a song
The bottom line: select music with a strong, fast beat (120-160 bpm) that you enjoy and find personally stimulating and invigorating. A whole new industry has built up around crafting the right mix of music for your personal tastes and the type and intensity of your workout.
Here are several sites that offer workout music mixes:
Or you can put together your own workout playlist by going to Song bpm to determine the beats per minute of your favorite songs.
Combining music with exercise adds an element of pure enjoyment and stimulation to put you in the mood to work out, while providing you with at least a dozen benefits! What’s on your playlist?