In gyms everywhere, you will either see most people with their own personal music devices, or hear music coming from the speakers.  While out exercising, the number of people with headphones in often outnumbers the number that go without.  Why is this?  Why are we, as a fitness community, so addicted to having our music with us whenever we exercise?

I used to be addicted to music while exercising and especially running.  I never really knew why, but I would actually abandon a workout if I had no source of music on me, or go home and get it before heading back to my workout destination.  Now, I limit my music to strength and treadmill workouts.  If I am outside, I utilise the situation to embrace mindfulness.  Focusing on the sounds around me, the sounds of my own feet on the ground, my breathing – I find it all very meditative.  However, like most people who regularly work out, I do benefit from having music with me during my indoor workouts.

From fast beats, to emotional lyrics, to audiobooks and podcasts, to apps that simulate a zombie apocalypse, most people who regularly work out find it beneficial to listen to something whilst doing so.  Costas Karageorghis, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as a “type of performance-enhancing drug”, and here are four reasons why.

4 Reasons to Listen to Music while you Work Out

  1. Distracts from pain and fatigue
    After a period of time, your body starts to have physiological responses to exercise, and your brain notices this physical exertion.  Physiological feedback to exercise includes sweating, an increase in lactate levels and a heavy beating heart.  Music can help compete against the brain for attention, and therefore can distract you from the feelings of pain and fatigue, and also the boring, arduous feeling that many experience while exercising.
  2. Elevates mood
    Listening to enjoyable music releases endorphins, picking up our mood when we are down.  Exercise, when completed, has the same effect, making it one of the better natural anti-depressants out there.  When combined, enjoyable music and exercise can leave us feeling absolutely wonderful both during and after a workout.
  3. Increases efficiency and endurance
    When listening to music, the human body experiences the ‘rhythm response’, an instinct for us to synchronise our movement with music.  As we breathe with the music, and move in time with the music during a workout, our movements are less sporadic, and therefore our bodies work more efficiently, allowing us to go that extra kilometre or lift that extra rep.
  4. Reduces perceived effort
    In a similar way that music distracts the body from pain and fatigue, it also distracts us from the effort we have put in to the workout.  Without music, we are very aware that there may be 500m to go in a run.  With music, we may want to run until the end of the song, or we get carried away with the chorus, and somehow manage to run an extra 500m without feeling the extra effort as all.  We might even run it at a faster pace if the chosen music is motivating enough!

Now that you know the benefits to listening to music while exercising, here are some tips to help you choose the right music for your workout:

  • Consider the emotion, memories and associations you may have with different songs by paying attention to the singer’s emotional state and viewpoint.
  • Consider the tempo – when tapping fingers or walking, most people prefer a rhythm of around 120bpm.  While running, this elevates to 160bpm.  However, the ‘rhythm response’, which is an instinct for us to synchronise our movements with music, has a ceiling effect on effort of 145bpm.  This means that any music over 145bpm will not likely result in extra motivation.
  • Research apps that select songs from your playlist based on your desired heart rate.
  • If you need extra motivation, consider fun role-play apps such as Zombie Run!
  • Always remember that your ears are much more sensitive to noise while exercising.  Therefore, keep the volume of your headphones low enough that you could hear a person talking next to you.
  • If you are out and about in heavy traffic conditions or around a lot of people, it might be safer to ditch the music altogether and tough it out with your mind.


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