“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
― Bob Marley
Music came up around here the other day, when one of the women I work with mentioned that during her workout warm-up, there was no music for the first time. All she could think about was how much her hands hurt lifting the bar, something she’d never noticed during a warm-up before. Can music really make that much of a difference in exercise enjoyment? Or even performance? There’s a pretty extensive body of research that has found that it can- see the bottom of this post for our references. Even a quick Google search will turn up thousands of results on how music improves our overall exercise experience, including this blog by Gretchen Reynolds on how music can boost your workout.
Music for Better Exercising
In sum, the research tells us that music can…
Make exercise feel easier
What my colleague noticed during her warm up, researchers have found as well. During lower intensity exercise, like a warm-up, or for beginners who may not be comfortable with how exercise feels just yet, music makes it seem easier. It may be because it gets a person outside their own thoughts, it may be because the music creates positive emotions that make the exercise seem more enjoyable by association, or it may be for some other reason entirely. In the gym, for most of us, the why is less important than what is, and what it is, is easier.
Help you go faster
You’ve probably experienced this one. Also, like many people, you’ve created playlists because you know that when the right song comes on, you’re going to pick it up a level. I do it now and did it back in the day when we needed to “make” mix tapes, instead of compile playlists. Research supports what you already know. Faster beats and higher energy songs are met with harder efforts or more work by exercisers. Knowing this, maybe you can put 2 or 3 high-energy favorites together on your list and work just a little harder, a little longer, for just a bit more total work in your routine. This means better results.
Keep you going longer
Music, even music that may not be your favorite, can keep you moving for up to 15% longer. Increasing your endurance bit by bit is one measure of increasing fitness. Fifteen percent longer in a 30 minute cardio session may not seem huge, but, in the words of one friend, marginal gains are gains, and I’ll take 15% over 0% every time.
Help you get ready (but maybe not so much with the competition level work)
If you have ever watched a sports competition on TV, you have seen some athlete wearing massive headphones before a race or event, using music to help get into the right mental place to compete. Athletes know it works; research offers support as well. Using music that helps you adjust your energy level, focus, and self-confidence can help you perform at the highest level you are prepared to achieve. The caution here? The music doesn’t seem to help as much for high intensity efforts over an extended period of time. People are so attuned to prioritizing the information coming from inside the body at high-level efforts that the music seems to be irrelevant.
Knowing this, a helpful tip would be to develop playlists that sync up with your fitness routine. For example, on my long run day, I have a playlist that is full of what I call happy joy music—positive emotions, light bass, a good tempo, but not crazy fast. For my Arc Trainer interval days, I put on harder music, alternative rock, rap, or even, yes, heavy metal. Strength training days are similar- my playlist is made up of songs with a lot of bass, that are still more hard hitting, but with fewer beats per minute than on days where I am doing higher intensity work. For cooling down, slow and peaceful is the name of the game- usually some slower pop songs, or even some reggae does the trick.
I will admit some days I may choose not to wear headphones outside because I find I want to be aware of my surroundings. Indoors, though, music consistently plays a role for maximizing what I’m trying to gain on any given day. That’s how I choose.
So hit your music list and put music to work for you, you can’t argue the facts and will most certainly help you.
||Susan Sotir, Ph.D., works with the Cybex Research Institute and is a frequent guest blogger on our site. She earned her Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology from Springfield College, where her research examined the physiological and psychological effects of mental skill instruction. She also holds coaching certifications from USA Triathlon, the American Swimming Coaches Association, and the National Strength and Conditioning Association.
For further reading, please see the following:
Brooks, K., & Brooks, K. (2010). Difference in wingate power output in response to music as motivation. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 13(6), 14-20.
Brooks, K., & Brooks, K. (2010). Enhancing sports performance through the use of music. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 13(2), 52-57.
Hutchinson, J. C., & Karageorghis, C. I. (2013). Moderating influence of dominant attentional style and exercise intensity on responses to asynchronous music. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 35(6), 625-643.
Hutchinson, J. C., Sherman, T., Davis, L., Cawthon, D., Reeder, N. B., & Tenenbaum, G. (2011). The influence of asynchronous motivational music on a supramaximal exercise bout. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 42(2), 135-148.
Karageorghis, C. I., & Jones, L. (2014). On the stability and relevance of the exercise heart rate–music-tempo preference relationship. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 15(3), 299-310.
Karageorghis, C. I., & Priest, D. (2012). Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part I). International Review of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 5(1), 44-66.
Karageorghis, C. I., Mouzourides, D. A., Priest, D., Sasso, T. A., Morrish, D. J., & Walley, C. L. (2009). Psychophysical and ergogenic effects of synchronous music during treadmill walking. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 31(1), 18-36.
Karageorghis, C. I., Priest, D. L., Williams, L. S., Hirani, R. M., Lannon, K. M., & Bates, B. J. (2010). Ergogenic and psychological effects of synchronous music during circuit-type exercise. Psychology of Sport & Exercise, 11(6), 551-559.
Karageorghis, C. I., Terry, P. C., Lane, A. M., Bishop, D. T., & Priest, D. (2012). The BASES Expert Statement on use of music in exercise. Journal of Sports Sciences, 30(9), 953-956.
Priest, D., & Karageorghis, C. I. (2008). A qualitative investigation into the characteristics and effects of music accompanying exercise. European Physical Education Review, 14(3), 347-366.