Hey Angels, it’s Ally!
Let me ask you something – do you bring your headphones to the gym?
Have you ever felt a grumpy sensation when you realized you forgot them at home?
For some people, that’s enough of a reason to run back home and get them. Exercising without music might seem unfathomable for some of you, regardless of whether you listen to heavy metal or the latest pop hits.
Now, I’ve been a personal trainer for years, and while working with so many people, I’ve noticed something intriguing that relates to the way they treat their gym playlist. Even though they have mixed feelings about the scientific benefits of music during an intense workout, playing their favorite playlist certainly makes them grind harder!
But what about the actual science behind it – have you ever wondered about how different types of music impact your physiology?
Well, science has some things to say about it.
For some athletes (and for many people who run, jog, and light weights) listening to music is not superfluous – it’s an essential part of reaching peak performance and having a gratifying workout. Some people prefer audio books and podcasts, but many others depend on bumping beats and thoughtful lyrics to keep themselves pumped under the bar!
In the last ten years, research on workout music has produced a lot of interesting studies. Psychologists have refined their ideas about why exercise and music are such a great pair.
Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, improves your mood and endurance, and reduces the perceived effort. Some studies have even shown music to promote metabolic efficiency.
Today, I want to summarize all the benefits of the great playlist during the gym session – the benefits that have valid scientific backing!
I’ve gathered these benefits and separated them into four elements…
Let’s dive in!
Take a moment to reflect – what mood are you in right now?
For years now, scientists have been talking about the countless benefits of music on the brain. It reduces stress levels, eases anxiety, and releases dopamine in the brain – just like exercising.
But that’s not all it can do for your mood.
One of the most beneficial effects that music has on your body is that it makes it easier for you to focus on yourself and get cheerful.
Let’s face it – a lot of people listen to music to get into a great mood during workouts, while getting ready to get out, in clubs etc.
A study done in 2013 concluded that people who often listen to music use it as a way to alter their mood and become more self-aware. Study participants said that music centered their focus on themselves and gave them an escape from the present.
Social scientists have shown that music helps people reflect on who they are, who they want to be, and the line in between. Even if you’re not feeling like it, music can get you in the cheerful focused mood you need to power through a workout.
Sometimes, it can be hard to find the focus necessary to give your 110%.
Putting on your headphones can help you zone-out, reduce the chatter, and focus on the task at hand. (more on the positive distraction later)
So even though it won’t make you lift heavier, music will certainly allow you to lift more, in a sense.
Imagine you’re sitting perfectly still, listening to enjoyable music. Even in this case, you’re going to see a lot of electrical activity in brain regions important for focus and coordination, including the cerebellum, ventral premotor cortex, and the motor area.
Some studies conclude that this neural communication is what makes people want to move in the rhythm of the music.
Speaking of which…
Music is all about tempo and speed.
Psychologists discovered that some songs make you want to move more than others do, and called it a song’s “call rhythm response”.
We all have the instinct to sync our movements to whatever music is playing – tapping our toes, nodding our heads, snapping our fingers. Even if we often repress that instinct, it does occur in a lot of situations.
Researchers say that a lot of songs just possess “high-groove” qualities and the brain gets excited and induces movement.
That’s because music and dance go hand-in-hand. Put on one of your favorite tracks, and you’ll instantly invoke such a response.
The rhythm of your playlist stimulates the motor area of the brain and tells it when to move, making self-paced exercises easier. All you have to do is “tune in” these time signals.
How amazing is that? Your playlist has the ability to make you move any time!
If you’re running on the treadmill at the gym, sometimes all it takes is a lapse of your concentration, random chatter, or even someone on the treadmill next to you to throw you off your pace.
With music, you can keep a steady pace since you always have a target you can use to go to default. Even if you don’t feel like you need to run or move in the exact pace with your workout music, synchronizing may help your body use energy more productively.
A lot of misconceptions occur on the topic of music when working out – one of which is that music can help you lift heavier.
This is not the case.
The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research did an analysis in which they addressed this misconception. They tested two groups of people – one didn’t listen to music, and the other picked their playlist. Both groups reported no change in the amount of weight they can lift, but a dramatic increase in explosive power and speed under the bar.
Remember – music is all about tempo and speed.
Moving on, even though the word “’motivation” can be defined as the sum of the first two factors – pace and mood – I believe it’s vital that we talk about it separately.
What’s the number one song on your playlist right now?
Is it one that pumps you up and gets you excited, or one that’s more mellow and relax your physiology?
A 2010 study by the National Institute of Health concluded that cyclists that listen to fast-paced bumping music worked out harder, with around 130 beats per minute being the optimal range for workout songs.
When listening to faster music as compared to music at a slower tempo, they not only worked harder, but enjoyed doing so, and reported enjoying the music more when it was played at a faster tempo.
Songs in the 120-140 beats per minute range had the maximum effect on moderate exercise.
But what about you? What music inspires you to work harder?
A prime example of a motivational song would be the Rocky theme. That song became so widely accepted as inspirational that it became a household term and anyone who hears the song nowadays relates it to that specific moment in the movie when Rocky is training, instantly reinforcing a boost of motivation in their bodies.
The chances that some songs impact you more than they do other people is dramatically high – people establish neural pathways in the brain that in a sense tell them how to respond to certain stimuli.
What’s annoying to you might be motivational for someone else, and vice-versa.
If you’re choosing to work out to music that has lyrics, those lyrics will speak to you throughout your training and impact your physiology.
Listening to your favorite pump-up playlist is guaranteed to release mood-enhancing hormones (like the above-stated dopamine and opioids) that will fill your body will motivation, help you want to work out harder, and raise your pain threshold.
Scientists have proven countless times that high tempo music like EDM, techno, and metal proactively stimulate the motor function in your brain.
This is the same part of the brain that makes your body want to move – the perfect addition to a workout.
Upbeat music has more information for your brain to process – this takes your mind off the other distractions.
Speaking of distractions, the final (and in my opinion most powerful) benefit of music…
Here’s where it all comes together!
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a firm believer in making every second count, but to be completely honest, running on a treadmill for an hour isn’t the most exciting task in the world.
Just think back to that feeling you get when you’re 3 minutes away from being done with cardio…
Nobody ever goes “aww, I wish I could run for another hour”.
However, I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like listening to music makes time pass faster than it usually does – especially on the treadmill. When we do things that we don’t particularly enjoy doing, it’s like our brain is looking for distractions to take us off that task.
Sometimes, when the music that’s playing through the gym speakers isn’t a genre that you like, it feels like every song takes 10 minutes to finish!
Not to mention the endless sounds of people chatting, machines grinding and bars hitting the floor. Without your pair of headphones, sometimes it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed, get distracted, and lose focus on what you’re doing.
Imagine you’re working, at home or the office. Minimal distractions are always going to be one of the keys to a job well done, and it’s the same in the gym.
That’s why it never hurts to turn off the world inside the gym once in a while, creating your personal training bubble that helps you optimize your workout and take your mind off the physical strain of working out and your perception of pain.
We know, some people simply love working out and don’t need all of that, and that’s okay.
But if you’re trying to get in serious shape, lose a lot of weight, or grind toward a competition, sometimes that personal bubble is a necessity.
By always having your favorite playlist ready to go, you can quickly turn a workout from unenjoyable to enjoyable, and an enjoyable workout into an unforgettable one.
A quick study before I go:
WebMD says the faster the music, the fewer distractions you’ll get. The Guardian Magazine concluded that working out with music not only made the participants in their study be more focused, but it allowed them to be less aware of their exertion, benefitting athletic performance by up to 15%.
So where does that leave us…
Do you remember the first workout you had after putting together a kick-ass playlist?
You feel like you’re on cloud nine before you’ve even stepped in the gym.
Some people squirm at the thought of working out without pumped songs blasting in their ear, and with over 1,000 studies on music conducted since 1911, we can see why that’s the case.
In this blog post, I wanted to outline to you what science has agreed on to be the real benefits of music on physical performance.
In short, gathering a playlist of your favorite workout songs will without a doubt improve your performance – pumping you up, improving your mood, reducing fatigue, all while taking your mind off distractions and the strain of physical workout!
And even if a hype song won’t increase your one rep max, it’s certainly going to help you get there faster.
So don’t forget that sweet pair of headphones next time!