How to Use Music to Get Better Workout Results
The music we listen to has a powerful effect on the human brain. You may realize that music may make you happy, sad, soothed, or confident—but you might not realize that the right workout music may improve your fitness routine.
Music may help you get the most out of your workout from your initial warm-up to your cool down. To increase intensity or ease into a stretch, choose songs with the right BPM (beats per minute).
Here are some of the ways that music may give your gym sessions a boost:
1. It may make you pick up the pace
Has it been a while since you set a new PR? Maybe you need to spend more time curating your playlist.
A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports studied a small group of male cyclists and found that the degree of effort they exerted correlated with the speed of the music to which they listened.
Another study found that the running performance of college kids increased on 1.5-mile runs when they were allowed to listen to music. So, we recommend that if you want to run that extra mile, build a playlist that gets you moving and excited.
Want to see similar results in your next cycling workout? Try this Spotify playlist featuring songs at a pace that will encourage you to push harder.
2. Music may also help you calm down
We know that it is tough to calm down after a tough workout, so a curated playlist with your favorite slow songs may help!
Dr. Isaac Zur, Ph.D., Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC), who specializes in helping athletes build mental toughness and perform under pressure, says a personalized playlist can help you calm down after a hard workout, “since the rate of perceived exertion (RPE) has been found to be higher when listening to non-preferred music as opposed to preferred music, a personalized playlist would have a greater relaxing impact and would be more effective in reducing arousal levels at this final stage of exercise.”
Use this Spotify playlist as inspiration to curate your personalized stretching playlist that features songs in a range of calming tempos.
3. Increase endurance
Music may distract you from the task at hand. Hate running on the treadmill? Choose a song that you love to help you get through your workout routine with ease.
Listening to music during aerobic exercise is shown in this study to significantly increase the amount of time you can exercise before fatigue. Since music may boost your ability to run or cycle for longer, find a playlist that motivates you to keep going.
“Exercise is hard work. You sweat, you have shortness of breath, and it’s not an easy thing to do,” explains Dr. Christopher Capuano of Farleigh Dickinson University, who studies the impact of music on exercise performance. “If you’re not distracted, then those are the things you’re going to focus on.”
4. Your playlist may help you recover faster
Any good coach will tell you that recovery is a crucial part of the training, and music may help enhance it.
A study that looked at many different effects of music on running again confirmed that music could significantly increase performance. But just as important, it found that listening to slower, calming music after you finish running can help your body recover.
5. It may help you enjoy your workout more
“Music can enhance positive feelings such as vigor and happiness and reduce tension, depression, anger, and fatigue,” Dr. Zur explains. “Also, music increases the likelihood of achieving flow state.” (You may know this feeling as “being in the zone,” or being so absorbed in what you’re doing that you don’t notice the time passing.) “These benefits can impact adherence to exercise by making the exercise experience more pleasurable.”
Cyclists in one study not only pedaled harder while listening to upbeat music but also reported significantly higher levels of workout enjoyment.
6. Music may change how you think about working out
Music can not only influence your enjoyment of a specific workout but also change how you feel about exercising overall.
Dr. Capuano underscores that “most people associate pleasure with music,” so involving music in workouts can change your perception of it. “By listening to music when you exercise, you’re substituting pleasurable thoughts for negative ones, and [as a result], what you’re doing becomes easier,” he explains.
How to get the most out of your workouts
When you’re creating a playlist for a specific workout, choose songs with a BPM that matches your desired pace or tempo. Studies show that the need for faster tempo music increased based on the intensity of the workout.
“There are three primary influences on exercise performance: to move in time with synchronous sounds, music’s ability to increase arousal, and music’s ability to reduce discomfort an exerciser may experience during a workout,” says Jim White, RDN, ACSM EX-P, owner of Jim White Fitness Studios, owner of Jim White Medical Nutrition Therapy, founder of LIFT Fitness Foundation, owner of Jim White Workplace Wellness. “Research has shown that synchronous music drives intensity, and the effect of increased arousal of music is actually less stressful to the exerciser. Each form of exercise has a specific BPM designed for it.”
To craft your personalized playlist by pace/tempo/intensity, White suggests the following BPM:
- Cycling: 140-180+BPM
- Running (or steady-state cardio): 120–140 BPM
- Weight lifting: 130–150 BPM
- Stretching/ less strenuous yoga: 100 BPM or lower
“As an instructor of group exercise class or even a personal trainer who is building a playlist for a client, BPM is very helpful for building structure of your class and workout. You always want to start with the warm-up and then create a gradual build throughout your playlist. You don’t want to increase the intensity too soon, that would increase the risk of injury,” White explains.
And if you’re looking for even more music, try our Openfit workout playlists.
But don’t get too distracted
“Listening to music during exercise might draw your attention away from valuable feedback such as pain, discomfort, and other bodily sensations that help you gauge your effort levels,” says Dr. Zur.
With exercises like weight lifting, your form is important. Music with a fast tempo may encourage you to rush through the movements, compromising your technique, and potentially risking injury. So, take your time, focus on your alignment, and enjoy challenging your body to try new things.