You’ve laced up your shoes, stretched your legs out, and plugged in your headphones. Music blasts in your ears and suddenly you are running with ease. Your feet hit the ground in sync to every beat and you can feel your adrenaline soar every time the chorus plays.
Based on research from the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), listening to music before a workout has shown to “act as an effective stimulant that can optimise arousal level and psychological states.” Do you ever feel like you can’t bring yourself to start working out until you turn on some music? That’s because it injects you with motivation. It changes your mood and inevitably your mindset.
BASES research has also shown that “music improves exercise performance by either reducing perceptions of fatigue or increasing work capacity,” typically resulting “in higher-than-expected levels of endurance, power, productivity or strength.” When you listen to music while exercising, you don’t focus on how tired you are and you tend to push yourself harder.
This effect starts with the rhythm, melody, and harmony of music, but also includes the cultural impact and the associations you make with a song or artist.
If the background music doesn’t sync up with your movements, it provides “distraction and enhancement of positive feelings” and “performance-enhancing” benefits. Essentially, when you aren’t focused on the beat of a song, it blends into the background of your mind and allows you to focus. BASES research also touches upon music that does synchronize with your movements. It provides the same benefits as asynchronous music, but specifically for “repetitive endurance activities.” For example, music that is out of sync to your movements can help keep you relaxed during distance running, while in sync music helps keep you motivated during treadmill walking.
It has been considered in the past that your heart rate during exercise is what determines your preferred music tempo, but BASES research shows that the relationship between the two is “nonlinear” and is “characterised by a series of inflections.” As discussed, the preferred tempo usually depends on the type of exercise or the associated meanings with the music, not necessarily your heart beat.
Music stimulates a more intense workout especially when there is a connection to the cultural background, age group of its listeners, and if it is accompanied by motivating lyrics. Let’s take for example PARTYNEXTDOOR’s remix for “That’s What I Like” by Bruno Mars. As a mainstream song in pop culture that is often played on the radio, there is a sense of familiarity involved. To add onto that, the lyrics say “Jump in the Cadillac (girl, let’s put some miles on it). Anything you want (just to put a smile on you). You deserve it baby, you deserve it all, and I’m gonna give it to you.” These lyrics are positive, make us feel good, and infer that there is movement involved—putting “miles” on the car. So, while the beat of the song already pumps you up for your workout, the associations with the song itself help push you even further.
Crank up the jams and break a sweat. Music is a positive addition to exercising and is proven to be effective—now we know why.