Why music improves your workouts

Can you imagine heading to the gym without your iPod? Or a Zumba class without music? Music is essential for most of us. Listening to the right kind of music makes a huge difference too. You probably wouldn’t listen to Mozart while lifting iron but it may help organize your thoughts while writing a report. John Mayer’s, “Heartbreak Warfare” may be great for cooling things down and stretching but Flo Rida’s, ”Good Feeling” could help you log another mile on the treadmill. Why does music have such an impact and how can we use it to make our workouts more productive?

Doped up

Before you email our publisher, hold on. I’m talking about dopamine! Dopamine is the “feel good” hormone in our body. This is no wishy washy chemical. Brain scans show that when you’re listening to a tune you really like, the effect is similar to the scans of those with cocaine in their system.

If the song doesn’t suit your fancy, the chemical dopamine isn’t released. Music can be a very powerful tool while exercising as well in other areas of our life. Music can help some manage chronic pain, improve memory recall, relaxation and even aid in the treatment of Autisim.

Music, like aroma, has an immediate neuropathway than can bypass your thinking brain and directly affect your emotional state. For instance, have you ever strolled in your neighborhood cafe and the aroma from freshly brewed coffee just makes you feel a little happier? Or maybe its a pizzeria. The whiff of a freshly baked pizza brings anticipation of a yummy meal. Let’s look at how music can help your workouts be more fun and productive.

Beat it

The BPM (beats per minute) of a song can make or break your workout. Generally, 100-130 or even faster is best. Songs with a hard driving beat make it easy to follow plus easier for your body to anticipate the beat. This process will activate your brain and synchronize the movement of your muscles to the rhythms. You may already realize which songs hit the mark for you but if not, here’s some general guidelines:

BPM BEST ACTIVITY                      

  • Under 100   Slow workouts, warm-ups, cool downs
  • 115-120 Light walking
  • 130-140+ Power walking, cycling, general cardio
  • 135-160 Jogging
  • 150-175 Running
  • 175+ Running and sprinting

If you’re doing a mixed routine of strength training and cardio intervals simply mix and match to your routine so the BPM’s match your output. If you’re not sure what the BPM content of your song is, simply Google the name of your song followed by “BPM.”

Enhanced performance

Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University School of Sports and Education has conducted studies spanning the last 20 years that have identified three primary things that music influences. One is moving in time with synchronous sounds (like tapping a foot to the beat). The right beat can really help with your running stride, learning a step aerobics routine or dance steps in Zumba. Second, music has a tendency to increase arousal and I’m not talking about Marvin Gaye’s, “Let’s Get It On”  but an actual desire to get up and get off the couch. Third, music can be distracting. Just as you may play calming music to relieve stress, music can distract you from the discomfort related to exercise.

In addition, research showed the increased arousal related to the tempo of the music, therefore making intense exercise seem less stressful.

No dumb jocks here

When you pair music and exercise together it can help you improve cognitive performance. A study by Charles Emery, Professor of Psychology and Medicine at Ohio State University found that when middle-aged and older cardiac patients walked on a treadmill with upbeat music their brain power increased. Apparently, upbeat music organizes mental resources as it fires up the front lobe of the brain.

I wouldn’t limit the increased brain power to just middle-aged. Other studies have shown that exercising increases mental activity for 4-10 hours after workout ends. Have you ever hit the punching bag or taken a walk to relieve stress but in that time you actually came up with solutions to the problems that brought you to a walk or heavy bag?

Physical activity can be some of the best therapy you can get!

 What’s On Your Playlist?

Comment below and let us know!


Lisa Marie Conklin is a certified personal trainer and freelance writer. 


Leave a Reply