Listening to Music Can Make Your Workouts Seem Easier

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • When I was a member of a gym, I often attended a weight-lifting class. The 60-minute class consisted of a series of moves led by an instructor that exercised the major muscles. The different exercise sequences (such as squats or abs) were set to various songs.  We’d stop after each song, readjust our weight for the upcoming exercises for a specific muscle group, grab a quick drink of water, and get back to lifting (or pulling or whatever physical exertion the routine called for).


    But one time when I attended one of these sessions, the power went off in the whole building. Fortunately, the classroom where we were lifting weights was really light since there was a bank of windows on one side so the teacher decided to keep the class going. Her decision felt like a ton of bricks, literally, because those weights that were so easy to lift to a bouncy musical number by Beyonce suddenly felt like dead weight. I never had attended a class that seemed to last longer (and it only went on the regulation amount of time).

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    It turns out that I’m not alone in experiencing the power of music when  exercising. Nicole Harmon and Dr. Len Kravitz reviewed the research about music’s impact on an exercise program for the September 2007 issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. “A review of the research confirms—and adds to—many of the experiences fitness professionals have had when using music in exercise and movement therapy programs,” the pair wrote. They found that exercise reduced the person’s feeling of fatigue while increasing their level of psychological arousal. Music also can trigger a physiological relaxation response and can help improve motor coordination.  “Although the research is somewhat conflicting when it comes to measuring the extent to which music can enhance maximal and near-maximal exercise performance, it does seem clear that stimulative, self-chosen music can provide an acute incentive to male and female exercisers of all ages and abilities,” Harmon and Kravitz wrote. “In addition, as more understanding evolves, the future looks very hopeful for individuals with some motor behavior and/or neuromuscular disturbances to improve their motor skill ability through the use of auditory rhythmic stimuli.”

    So how should you pick your exercise music? In a story for, Dr. C.I. Karageorghis, an accredited sport and exercise psychologist for Brunel University, recommended that the music you exercise to should have strong rhythmic qualities that match your activity and a tempo that matches the predicted heart rate. You should also pick music in which the melody and harmony energizes the listener and increases the vigor of the exercise. The lyrics of the exercise or the association of the exercise can make a big difference in motivating you to keep going. (One of my favorites, admitted an oldie, is “I’m Excited” by the Pointer Sisters if I need a good cardio workout.) He also suggests that you exercise to a variety of music to maintain your interest in your fitness effort. The music’s volume should be loud enough not to be masked by the exercise environment. Finally, if you’re synchronizing your music with your exercise, pick a tempo that marches your preferred rate of exercise.


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    One downside to listening to music while exercise can be the risk to your hearing, thanks to MP3 players.  You need to really be careful when using these music players since listening to music at a high volume through the earbuds can damage your hearing. “Chainsaws and motorcycle engines create about 100 decibels of sound. That much sound can start to damage a person's ears after less than half an hour,” warns. “An MP3 player at 70% of its top volume is about 85 decibels. Turning the volume up and listening for long periods of time can put you in real danger of permanent hearing loss.”

Published On: January 17, 2012