It feels like listening to music while we exercise helps pump us up. But is there scientific backing to that claim, and how can you build the ultimate workout playlist? Giz explains…
Exercise is one of those annoying things that doesn’t really have any cheats. Except it turns out, music. Backed by actual scientific studies, the right music can increase exercise endurance by up to 15%. It’s not as simple as just cranking up some tunes though, as the right tracks are needed to get the boost.
The Sounds of Science
One of the most well known studies into music and exercise was performed at Brunel University in London by Dr Karageorghis. It’s not just a few quick experiments either, but rather the latest from a 20 year long programme of study into music in sport and exercise.
The study involved 30 participants exercising on a treadmill while listening to a range of music, including tracks from Queen, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Madonna. When attempting to keep time with the music, it was discovered that the runners could achieve up to 15% extra endurance.
It turns out that your brain plays a pretty big role in how tired you feel when working out and helping push yourself mentally and not just physically helps you exercise longer.
The study also found that the music helped improve the mood of the runners and made the exercise more enjoyable.
Dr Karageorghis’s research has been used in real world races too. The Run To The Beat half marathon in London uses scientifically selected songs played across the course to accompany the runners.
Of course some take the effects of music as a bad thing – in a Marine Corps Marathon, the USA Track and Field organisation banned runners from listening to music, for safety and to prevent runnings from having a competitive edge.
Want a little of that amped up feeling right now? Dr Karageorghis recommends the classic Eye of the Tiger to get you pumped.
Sounds of Silence
While people are pumped up by music, others find it a distraction and prefer to exercise in silence. It turns out that this also has scientific reasoning behind it.
Sports psychologists have identified two different exercise mindsets – the Associators and the Disassociators.
If you are the sort of person who likes to focus on your workout as a more zen like experience and tap into your inner motivation then you are likely an associator.
If you want a distraction from the pain, exhaustion or monotony of exercise and get your motivation from external sources, then you are a disassociator.
Some fall into both camps, but elite athletes tend to be associators.
Getting Amped Up
If you prefer to concentrate on the sound of your own breathing and heartbeat, then get out there and exercise. If you need music to help keep you motivated, there are a few principles needed to find the best tracks.
The core of the approach is to use music with a bpm that mirrors your heart rate. When pushing yourself this is around 120 – 140 bpm. Going for faster songs isn’t better — you want to be in sync with your music.
Your music speed should also reflect a warm up and cool down period. 80 to 90 beats per minute is ideal and will help transition you in and out of your workout. Having cool down tracks is also a good motivator — you know you need to keep pushing yourself until the slower tunes start to play.
If you are slipping behind your ideal pace, try cranking the volume for just one song to help boost your motivation. Be careful of listening at high volume for longer periods though, as permanent hearing damage can result.
If you exercise outdoors, open ear or bone conduction headphones are important for safety, so you can still hear what is going on around you.
Music enjoyment is a subjective experience, so the amp up track that works for others might not be for your.
It’s all about finding the right bpm, which you can do with this handy website.
Also try out Jog.fm, which can help find the perfect music for running.
If you want to track your actual heart rate, then there are a various fitness trackers which can help.
Depending on your workout, you might want to try slightly slower songs. If you are going all out with fast runs, try a faster tune.
Dr Karageorghis recommend these tracks.
109 BPM – Eye of the Tiger, Survivor
139 BPM – Beat It, Michael Jackson
130 BPM, Push It, Salt-N-Pepa
154 BPM, Don’t Stop Me Now, Queen
Do you have any favourite workout songs? Share them with us in the comments.