If you do your high-intensity workout to the accompaniment of upbeat music or your yoga session to soothing music, you’re not alone. Gyms often play “feel-good” music to keep participants motivated, in a positive mood, and focused on moving. For the same reason, the iPod (and before that, the Walkman) has become many a runner’s best friend.
It’s no secret that listening to the right workout music can affect your performance. The next time you’re plodding through your workout in silence, think about popping in an upbeat tune. Some good workout music may be all you need to give you the emotional and physical boost to exercise not just effectively, but enjoyably.
A plethora of information on music’s magic comes from sport psychologist Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in England. He’s studied music’s effects for more than 20 years and has devised soundtracks specifically meant to improve athletes’ performance, with powerful results.
How can the right workout music positively affect your performance?
Picking the right piece of music can reduce your stress even before you start to exercise. How? Because music has the effect of generally lowering your stress level. When you are less stressed, you’re also less tense, and this “loosening up” can make you more effective in your workout. As Karageorghis says, “Music is a great way to regulate mood both before and during physical activity…. They can use it as a stimulant or as a sedative. Generally speaking, loud upbeat music has a stimulating effect and slow music reduces arousal.”
Therefore, loud upbeat music works well for high intensity exercise like spinning or running, while slow workout music induces the meditative, still, and focused state necessary for yoga or tai chi.
Keep Up Your Pace
Workout music with a good beat can help you both achieve and keep your stride almost unconsciously when working out on the treadmill or lifting weights. You’ll naturally match the pace of the beat and listen to the music instead of focusing on the exercise at hand, thus making exercise much more effortless. Turning on some music with a good beat can naturally alter breathing and increase heart rate slightly so that you’re primed for your workout even before you start. A song with a beat of 120 to 140 beats per minute will roughly match your heart rate range during your workout routine. This matching rate may be one of the reasons it’s easy to keep pace with the music.
Even better, the right workout music can actually change your perception of how hard you’re working – it can reduce your feeling of effort (without reducing the effort itself) by as much as 12%, according to Karageorghis. This makes you less fatigued during the workout, encourages a stream of positive thoughts, and even induces “feel good” endorphins’ release, making you feel up to the task and energized. A 2003 study by scientists at the University of Wisconsin-La Cross similarly found that cyclists who listened to fast paced music increased their workout level by a good 15% just by listening to music with a fast tempo.
When you listen to the right workout music, you naturally regulate your movements; this improves technique and form, which reduces the amount of oxygen you need while you’re working out. The rhythms in music naturally make your pace “regular,” which in turn facilitates proper technique. This efficiency translates to a better workout. Nina Krause is a neurobiology professor at Northwestern University in Illinois, and she has extensively studied the nervous system and the effects music can have on it. We humans “automatically feel the beat” of songs, she says, and “are made to be moved by music – and move to it.”
Choose Your Tunes!
Choose music that will roughly match your heart rate. That’s about 120 to 140 minutes for the average “3 times a week” casual exerciser. Most commercial dance music falls within that range and is a good selection for your iPod. So go on: pop in some dance music and see how your performance improves! Or, if you’re not sure what music will suit your work out best, try using Songza. Songza has tons of curated playlists and they are sure to have upbeat tunes for your run and some relaxing music for your cool-down routine.
Photo by Tulane Public Relations