Can music improve your fitness?

Music has the power to move us – and to get us moving better. Here’s how your playlist can help you recharge your workout.

Written by Mike Lee

They say music has the power to move us. Our favourite songs can elicit fond memories, taking us back to our favourite place, people, or moment in our lives.

So it’s not surprising that the right music can also take us around an extra lap of our favourite track, or fire you up enough to smash your Personal Best. To that end, there are numerous benefits of working out to music.

Music as a pace setter

We’ve all tapped our feet to a beat. It’s natural then, that walking or running to a beat feels good. In fact, regulating your stride to music may help you run more efficiently. Choose a track that will help you keep your rhythm. By gradually upping the tempo of your music playlist, you can increase the intensity of your cardio workout.

Music as a motivator

Motivation is where music can contribute most to the quality of a workout. A 2006 study of 30 volunteers at the University of Plymouth found that tempo and music volume contributed to an increase in performance; the louder and faster the music, the faster the test subjects ran.

The benefits of music are also evident in weight training. Researchers at Brunel University in London found that music with faster tempo and intensity before a workout improved reaction times. And a study at California State University found that self-selected music can impact your mood during strength training, and increase ‘explosive’ exercise performance.

But it’s not all just tempo and loudness. In 2009, The Sport Psychologist journal published a finding that showed tennis players recorded faster reaction times when they listened to songs with emotionally-charged lyrics, as opposed to music with just fast tempo and no lyrics.

Music as a distraction

Let’s face it, running with 20 minutes to go seems less appealing than running to the last five tracks of your favourite album. Be it a never-ending road or a tough climb, music can help distract you from fatigue or the monotony of your workout.

If there’s any doubt as to the effectiveness of music when exercising, consider this: 11 years ago, America’s governing body for distance racing, USA Track & Field, banned the use of personal music players to “prevent runners from having a competitive edge.” Gives new meaning to the term dope beats.

What should you listen to when working out?

Different music elicits different responses in people. Though we all have our individual preferences as to what gets us moving, music with a steady tempo and clearly-defined beats are generally the way to go for a good workout.

  • For warming up: Choose songs with a tempo around 100-120 BPM, but be mindful not to choose tracks that are going to put you to sleep!

  • For weight training: A slightly up, yet steady tempo of around 130-140 BPM is ideal. Too fast and you may be fighting your inner metronome and risk losing form during your lifts.

  • For cardio activities: Depending on the length and intensity of your workout, 145-160 BPM is a good starting point. Personal preference and running rhythm will also play a role in what music works best for you.

  • For cooling down: Now’s the time to reduce your heart rate and bring down the intensity. Relaxing tunes around 100-120 BPM will allow you to catch your breath and get you in the right frame of mind for that well-earned stretch.

Apps are your best friend

You won’t have to look hard online to find plenty of music apps that can automatically play tracks based on your running tempo, or that let you set the tempo, or type of music you want during your session.

Listen safely

And finally, before you go out there and smash your PBs to Thunderstruck, be sure to play your workout tunes at moderate levels to prevent any potential hearing damage. And being ‘in the zone’ is great, so long as you’re fully aware of surrounding obstacles, pedestrians and traffic!

Written by Mike Lee

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