Do you have a 2015 New Year’s resolution? If you do and you want to work out more often, you’re not alone. While it may be easy to start a new exercise routine, the challenge is often sticking to it, so if you feel like you could use a little extra motivation to achieve your fitness goals, you may want to consider listening to music while you work out. In previous blog posts, we’ve shared some of the benefits of using music to exercise, as well as considerations for choosing helpful music. In the past year, researchers have continued to examine the role music plays during exercise, and today I’m going to highlight five new studies and their findings.
Music may improve performance during interval workouts.[i] In a study featured in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, researchers investigated whether listening to music made high-intensity cycling interval workouts easier or more enjoyable for 20 young adults. Researchers created individualized playlists based on subjects’ musical preferences, and subjects completed one workout with these playlists and one workout without music. After each condition, subjects rated how they felt about each workout on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the most unpleasant. On average, subjects rated each workout as an eight; however, during the musical interval, they performed better and pedaled harder. Music may have prevented them from fully feeling the effects of ramping up the exercise intensity.
Music and videos may make high-intensity exercises more enjoyable.[ii] This study, published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, involved 34 adults who again participated in cycling exercises. They performed one set of workouts at an intensity below ventilatory threshold (VT), or the point during a workout when a person’s breathing rate begins to rise exponentially, and one set of workouts at an intensity above VT. The subjects exercised while listening to music, while watching videos, while listening to music and watching videos, and without listening to music or watching videos. At both intensities, when subjects listened to music only or exercised to both music and videos, they experienced significantly more positive emotions and enjoyment. Therefore, music could especially be useful during high-intensity workouts that tend to cause more discomfort.
Music may be most beneficial when exercise intensity is around VT.[iii] Our third study, from Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, investigated how music affected the exercise experience for 42 participants during a maximal-graded exercise test (maximal GXT) on a treadmill. Subjects worked out at progressively higher intensities, and each minute, they rated the helpfulness of the music. Researchers found that music gradually became more helpful as participants approached VT. Then its usefulness leveled off for males, while females thought the benefits of listening to music increased until the conclusion of the exercise. Music became less important as subjects cooled down. In addition, researchers noted that the subjects who exercised recreationally listened to their music more loudly than those who were college athletes.
Music may improve 5K performance.[iv] In this Brazilian study shared in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, researchers asked 15 runners to run five 5Ks: one with inspiring pre-run music at speeds of 110-150 BPM, two with music during the run (at tempi between 80-100 BPM for one 5K and 140-160 BPM for the other 5K), one with relaxing post-run music ranging in tempo from 95-110 BPM, and one with no music. In the pre-run music condition, the music lessened vagal tone, or parasympathetic nervous system activity, and it increased vagal tone when played afterward. According to researchers, this suggests that the music amped up the runners beforehand and helped them recover more quickly afterward. During the 5Ks, runners’ first two laps were faster when listening to music, which led to quicker overall times. On average, runners ran the 5K in slightly under 27:20 with no music, 26:45 with music before the run, slightly over 26:00 with music between 140-160 BPM, and 26:00 with music between 80-100 BPM. Although not statistically significant, these results could have practical significance for runners looking to gain small improvements in their 5K times.
Music between 123-131 BPM may be best for running.[v] The researchers in this study, featured in Psychology of Sport and Exercise, asked 22 subjects to work out on a treadmill at six levels of difficulty that kept their heart rates between 40-90% of maximum. During the course of the study, each subject ran without music and while listening to music at four different tempi. Although previous studies have suggested that cyclists perform best when listening to music with tempi between 125-140 BPM, the runners in this study favored tempi between 123 and 131 BPM. Therefore, if you like to run, you may want to try music that falls within this range.
Since all of the studies shared here employed small samples of volunteers, the results, though promising, are not conclusive and may not be generalizable to larger populations. You can use the information to gain ideas about how you could maximize your workout performance through music, but take the findings with a grain of salt and remember that individual preference also plays a role in determining what music (if any) will most help you through a workout. Listen to your instincts, and if you’d like to find some new classical exercise music, check out some of our featured playlists.
Good luck with your resolutions!
[i] Reynolds, Gretchen. “How Music Can Boost a High-Intensity Workout.” Well Blog. The New York Times Company, 22 Oct. 2014. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
[ii] Jones, Leighton, Costas I. Karageorghis, and Panteleimon Ekkekakis. “Can High-Intensity Exercise Be More Pleasant? Attentional Dissociation Using Music and Video.” Journal of Sport & Exercise Pscyhology. 36 (2014) : 528-541. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
[iii] Hutchinson, Jasmin C., and Todd Sherman. “The relationship between exercise intensity and preferred music intensity.” Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology. 3.3 (2014) : 131-202. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
[iv] Douglas, Scott. “The Effects of Music Before, During and After Running.” Runner’s World. Rodale Inc., 18 Jul. 2014. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
[v] Karageorghis, Costas I., and Leighton Jones. “On the stability and relevance of the exercise heart rate—music-tempo preference relationship.” Psychology of Sport and Exercise. 15.3 (2014) : 299-310. Web. 7 Jan. 2015.
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