Take a peek around your local gym and you’ll notice a common thread amongst people of all ages—nearly every person is wearing a pair of headphones.
But have you ever thought about why people listen to music during workouts?
Many consider music to be a gym essential for breaking up the monotony of routine exercises, but there may be more to it. New research has indicated there’s an inherent reason as to why people prefer working out with music.
It just might make your workouts more effective.
Hi, I’m Sean Torbati. If you’re like me headphones are a non-negotiable gym accessory. Most people can relate to the devastation faced when they forget their headphones at home. Like the timeless Dwayne Johnson meme implies “Just got to the gym, left my headphones,” this is a position few envy.
While most gyms have some type of generic playlist playing in the background—everyone wants their own music at hand. One newly released study has even found that music choice can play a role in overall workout quality.
Psychophysiological Effects of Music on Workouts
Listening to music during workouts is hardly a new undertaking. Since the invention of walkmans in the late 1970’s—music devices have gone hand in hand with workouts. CD and cassette decks have long since been replaced by state-of-the-art cellular phones, but the functionality remains the same.
One recent study freshly released on February 5, 2020 dove into how specific music choices can play a role in workout effectiveness. The study was performed on 19 active women with an average age of about 26.4. These individuals were assessed for both endurance exercise (walking on a treadmill at 6.5 km/h) and high intensity interval training (80% of 1RM) under one of four various conditions (1).
- No music
- Music at 90-110BPM (low)
- Music at 130-150BPM (med)
- Music at 170-190BPM (high)
Within each trial a number of metrics were used to assess the workout including heart rate and the rating of perceived exertion (RPE). The results showed substantially higher RPE’s during endurance exercises compared to high intensity training. Furthermore, the metabolic demand of walking exercise increased between those with no music and those with high BPM music selections.
The findings of the study indicate that listening to music and in particular faster paced music can drastically increase workout exertion thereby leading to more effective workouts. After further research, I discovered various reasons as to why music has this impact.
Why Does Music Make Workouts More Effective?
The effects of music can play a role in workout quality at both the psychological and physiological level. After reviewing different studies I found the behavioral effects to be undeniable.
Increases Workout Duration
Listening to the sounds and tempo of music has been an integral part of human existence since the beginning of time. In addition to its ability to regulate mood and heighten arousal—music can also allow you to workout for longer durations.
One study from 2017 looked at 25 males and 25 females who exercised with and without music. Throughout the study resting HR and max HR were recorded. The results showed that those that listened to music were able to nearly DOUBLE their workout duration (~37 minutes compared to ~22 minutes) (2). Furthermore, maximal heart rate was significantly higher in individuals listening to music.
One could imply that lack of music could lead individuals to become complacent or unfocused during workouts.
Improves Workout Performance
Music can help individuals perform at a higher level compared to control groups. A study was performed on 28 female adult participants who performed stationary bike exercises under 3 separate conditions including: high BPM music, moderate BPM music, or no music at all (3).
The results showed that participants listening to music were able to reach aerobic training zones at a faster rate compared to control groups with no music.
Music also has a distinctive ability to reduce fatigue during workouts. One study looked at 19 healthy adults who were exposed to conditions with or without music. Each person had to perform 30 exercise trials lasting 10 minutes each. The findings showed that music reallocated attention toward task-unrelated thoughts (4).
The results of the study indicated that listening to music may help produce a neurophysiological mechanism responsible for reducing exercise consciousness and eliminating fatigue-related symptoms. In other words, listening to music may provide a distraction that may help you stay more engaged during workouts.
What’s on Your Workout Playlist?
Whether you’re listening to Lizzo or that new EDM track—creating a playlist you enjoy can go a long way towards improving your workouts. Numerous studies have proven the efficacy of music allowing you to workout longer, harder, and with less fatigue.
While music choices may vary from person to person—the key is discovering what types of music really set your body in motion. If you’re ever wondering why you hit that extra rep or went just a bit longer when your favorite Drake song came on—just know there’s a physiological reason behind it.
For me personally, I create different playlists catered to specific workouts. I try to constantly mix up my playlist with fresh new tracks on a weekly basis.
Let me know what song you were listening to when you last PR’ed or if you have any recommendations I should add to my playlist.
Sean Torbati - PN Certified Nutritionist | EXOS Phase 3 Training Specialist
Co-Founder, Ambrosia Collective