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The Science Behind Your Workout Playlist

Active girl using smartphone in fitness gym.

I’m not one for wearing headphones when running outside. I like to hear the rhythm of my own pace – feet pounding, lungs breathing, eyes focused on the road ahead. But inside the gym, a good playlist is a must, especially in classes like HIIT or spin, where the intensity is focused and increases throughout the course of a workout.

When my spin instructor plays Eminem’s “ ‘Till I Collapse” a collective groan is issued by my fellow spinners, but it also gets us mentally prepared for what’s about to come. When this song comes on, we know two things: we’re making a hill and we’re going to power through. Not only is the tempo conducive to that effort, but so too are the lyrics, which naturally increase our effort. The right music can make or break a workout, so whether it’s Beyoncé or Billy Joel, Metallica or the Spice Girls, choose the genre, artist, or style that helps you to stay motivated.

There’s an inherent connection between music, the brain, and body movement. In the most extreme example, elite athletes are not allowed to listen to music during competition because it’s believed that music increases adrenaline, which would give an athlete a jolt of performance enhancement, enough to give them an edge over other competitors. We mere mortals benefit from the natural rhythms that are connected not only to the music but to the memory and emotion that is often associated with a particular song. So, have no fear: you can keep your headphones and your playlist during your 5k race.

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3 Ways Music Enhances A Workout

Music on our playlists is often associated with a memory or a feeling. We can channel that memory or feeling into our workout. When I hear particular songs, I’m reminded of my younger, faster self, going toe-to-toe on the fields of athletic competition. The right song can still trigger a little spark of memory, adrenaline kicks in and suddenly the treadmill is transformed, briefly, into the memories of past competitive moments. Silly, I know, but it makes the tedious treadmill bearable.

Music helps maintain tempo/pace. Think of your playlist as a metronome to your workout. Research suggests that music between 120-140 beats per minute is the optimal “pace” for your playlist. But there’s also this idea that we create our own music, our own rhythm and when we’re able to find that music, we are intrinsically more focused and motivated.

Music increases effort, both real and perceived. Do this with caution, though, in order to avoid injury. But the right song, with the right beat, can help manage reps, increase adrenaline, and further the euphoric release of those powerful endorphins that make us feel good during and after a workout.

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The Takeaway

Various research studies have been conducted on the scientific connection between music and working out. All research came to the conclusion that music does have an impact on our effort (perceived and real), one that hits the brain and body in ways that are measurable, from the most effective BPM (beats per minute) to the emotional and chemical reactions that are triggered in our brain.

A playlist is a collection of songs to keep us focused during those tedious, strenuous, sweat-filled gym workouts. Whether it’s show tunes, classic 80s, hip-hop, or classical, the right playlist helps to alleviate some of that dread or inspires a little extra effort, which keeps us motivated and makes the workout seem easier. The mind-body-music connection is very real, so grab your headphone, press Play, and enjoy your workout.

Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any diet and exercise program.

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