We all have that playlist that provides the perfect soundtrack to a great workout. From old school classics, to the latest dance beats, our favourite sounds can take our fitness regime from humdrum… to high performance. In fact, exercise to music can actually make us workout more efficiently, and for longer.
Research shows that elements of music, from the lyrics to the beat, can affect performance by switching on our positive mindset (in the same way that your favourite songs make you feel good). Music can also distract us from discomfort. This is why many top athletes enjoy a spot of music to psych themselves up before competing.
Studies also show that athletes can associate a certain song with the optimum state of mind, helping them to power through and perform better thanks to a more motivated mindset.
Back in 2012, Brunel University London’s Costas Karageorghis likened music to a legal, performance-enhancing drug, cheating tiredness and sparking feel-good vibes.
Now researchers have used portable electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring technology to measure three types of brainwaves during exercise. This lets them compare the brain’s electrical feedback while exercising outdoors to music, a podcast, or no soundtrack at all.
They found music rearranges the brain’s electrical frequency, causing a slight reduction in focus but enhancing enjoyment 28% more than silence and 13% more than a podcast.
Dr Karageorghis said that fitness lovers fall into two camps, with either an “associative” or “dissociative” attentional style. Gym fanatics and elite athletes who frequently monitor their performance during exercise might find music too distracting. Dissociators, on the other hand, rely on music to take their mind off the pain!
So how do you make your music work for you?
- Choose music that goes hand-in-hand with the mental state you want to achieve. For example, fast, loud, hard beats are great for psyching yourself up.
- Match the speed of the music and the rhythm with the movement. If it’s a dance inspired workout, choose a dance track you can step to. If it’s a yoga session, opt for a more chilled sound.
- Skip any music that changes dramatically half way through, it can get pretty confusing if you’ve just found your rhythm.
- As a general rule, music at 130 to 140 bpm is best for very intense exercise, like rowing. 85 to 95 bpm, like hip hop or 170-190 bpm like rock, is best for running.
- Positive, affirmative lyrics, e.g. “do it”, “move it” or “push it” are proven to boost motivation.
- Try using a song with a faster pace than your usual comfort zone to help you stretch to reach new fitness targets.