Young woman jogging while listening to music

Why science says you should workout to music

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Can listening to your favourite tunes make a difference to your workout? Discover the benefits of exercising to music and how to fine tune your playlist.

Pairing exercise and music

It seems logical that the more that you enjoy exercise, the more likely it is that you’ll do it. In terms of motivation, there are few better strategies than listening to music to add some energy and enjoyment to your run or workout. Just imagine how dull a conditioning class would be without any rhythm and beat to move along to.

Why listen to music when you exercise?

  • Music's a mood booster – Music can elevate your mood, and it fosters a positive outlook towards exertion. It can also diminish negative aspects of mood, such as tension and fatigue
  • You can set your pace – if you’re running or doing any exercise with tempo, you can use music to control pace and intensity because your body naturally wants to follow the beat. If the music is fast, uplifting, invigorating and catchy, you might be motivated to exercise harder, and longer
  • It's a pleasant distraction - Music is a pleasant distraction from the physical effort of working out.  By focusing on something you like, you’ll be less likely to experience the discomfort that can hold you back from smashing it out
Listening to music can be especially important when the exercise you are performing is intense. Shorter, more intense workouts have become increasingly popular to suit to the demands of busy lifestyles (think HIIT).

Despite numerous studies showing the significant benefits on offer from interval exercise (intense bursts followed by rests), one major negative is that people can find it to be unpleasant. This may well discourage people from participating again in the future and research has focused on the effect of listening to music during interval exercise, and its capacity to improve enjoyment and enhance exercise performance. 

Motivational music enhances high intensity workouts

A study published in the journal Psychology of Sport & Exercise compared the psychological and and physiological responses to sprint interval training under three conditions: listening to motivational music, listening to a podcast, and audio silence.  
 
The researchers found that music derived a more positive response and higher levels of enjoyment, and that this affect has the potential to reduce the chances of people giving up on exercise.

Listening to music was also found to increase physical exertion during interval training compared to the other variables, reflected by higher heart rate levels and greater peak power.  
 
The researchers concluded that listening to motivational music during interval training has the potential to enhance feelings of pleasure, improve enjoyment, and elevate performance, and may ultimately encourage continued participation. 

4 ways to fine tune your workout playlist

  • Go up-tempo – To obtain the benefits highlighted above, subjects listened to music that was described as up-beat and stimulating, that tends to have a fast tempo and a strong rhythm. There are endless choices of music available, including playlists where the music has a fast beat. Runners may especially enjoy songs where the beat matches their foot strike. However, the key is to find something that motivates you.
  • Consider sound safety - When listening to music outdoors, make sure the volume is at a level where you can still hear other sounds around you, such as an approaching car or barking dog. Lowering the volume level will also prevent any potential damage to your hearing. If you are training in a busy area, consider wearing a single ear bud, leaving your other ear to keep you safe and alert
  • Change it up regularly – Keep things interesting by changing your playlist constantly. Experiment with different tunes, and ask your friends what they listen to. You can even find tracks that have fast music for 20 seconds, and slow music for 10 seconds, so you can practice the tabata interval protocol
  • Use slow tunes to cool down – Just as fast music can boost your intensity, slower music is ideal for cooling down, or stretching at the end of your run. When compared to listening to no music, classical music has been shown to reduce heart rate and blood pressure in runners. This allows the body to relax and release muscular tension, helping to improve muscle recovery