Pretty much all of us listen to some kind of music or other whilst we are training (I personally like a bit of Pearl Jam or Shellac if I am hitting the tarmac), but can the type of music, beats per minute (bpm) and general feel of the tune really have that much of an impact on the effectiveness of your workout?
According to those scientific types it can.
So, as they can sometimes talk in strange languages and often use super long words (like paraphernalia) to describe the simplest of things, I looked into the science of it all for you to find out if you are playing the right kind of workout music, during the correct exercise routines and at the right time.
What I discovered is pretty cool, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Music & Training – What Do They Know?
For years now scientists have been searching for ways (legally and illegally) in which athletes can improve their sporting performance. From negative ion producing materials like Trion:Z bands, to the dark arts of Lance Armstrong, EPO and anabolic steroids, there is surely no end to the research that can be done in the quest to achieve the optimum in human sporting endeavour and achievement.
The last 25 years or so have seen rapid improvements in athletic performance and endurance and, according to some of the most recent studies, one of the simplest ways in which these improvements can be achieved is by listening to the correct musical influences whilst you train.
Back in 2008, Brunel University’s School Of Sport and Education revealed that carefully selecting the music you train to can significantly increase physical endurance by up to 15% and will even make the experience of your cardio exercises far more positive.
They recently went as far as to team up with the all-seeing, all-knowing music streaming gods at Spotify to build the ultimate workout playlist. Featuring tracks from a wide range of some of the worlds most popular (with some of us) artists, they analysed 6.7 million playlists by both their popularity and their ability (scientifically proven I might add) to make you work harder because of their style, lyrical content and bpm.
What they found is that men like to pump the proverbial iron during lunchtimes, or in the evening, with the sound of Survivor’s Rocky III soundtrack ‘Eye of the Tiger’ ringing in their ears (no surprise there really), whereas the ladies in the study tended to workout before breakfast to dance beats or rhythmic pop tunes like Lady Gaga or Katy Perry.
As well as discovering the most popular tunes amongst the participants, the research, conducted by Dr Costas Karageorghis, found that only particular genres of music will aid your workout, whilst some music is totally useless and inappropriate. As well as the type of music being of importance, it is equally significant that you are listening to the right ‘speed’ of music too. Ideally anything between 115 and 140 bpm will virtually guarantee the very best results, depending on the exercise.
The theories and findings of Dr Karageorghis will again be put to the test at the ‘Run to the Beat’ half marathon in London in September this year. The event (regularly attended by 12,500 runners), first started in 2008 and features a number of music stations that are positioned along the route, with tracks being blasted out that have been scientifically selected to help runners achieve their true and maximum potential throughout the race.
This all sounds pretty clever but what about different music for different exercises? Surely it makes sense to assume that what works for a great cardio workout isn’t necessarily going to produce the same results when you are lifting weights.
Well, you’d be right to think that. Here’s why.
What Music? – Which Exercise?
It seems obvious, but there really are a number of different types of music that you should be listening to in order to achieve the very best results from your workout. What you are looking for in the best workout music is the optimum motivation throughout your session, regardless of the type of training you are doing and irrespective of your level of fitness; you want to achieve the best at all times.
- Strength Training
For the best results during strength training exercises (like weight lifting), it is best to work to a tune with a repetitive rhythm that bangs along at anywhere between 115 – 135bpm. Songs from artists such as The Chemical Brothers and Black Eyed Peas are perfect for strength training as each of their songs tends to have a repetitive beat and melody, making it easier to focus and stay motivated. You could also try pretty much anything from Katy Perry or (if you’re ‘old-skool’ like me) give Bon Jovi a try; ‘Living on a Prayer’ clocks in at 123bpm (don’t you judge me – it’s called a guilty pleasure).
- Endurance Training
As endurance training involves a lot of high intensity exercises it is best to try and work to songs that have a bpm rate of 135 or more. The best kind of music genres to find this kind of speed are techno, upbeat (cheesy) pop music or even hard rock. Some songs, that seem pretty slow when you listen to them whilst you’re relaxing, will surprise you with just how quick they actually are. The likes of ‘Roxanne’ by The Police and Fleetwood Mac‘s ‘Go Your Own Way‘ are both timed at 135 and 137 bpm respectively.
- Cardio Training
Not unlike strength training exercises, cardio exercises are also made much more effective if you listen to quick, powerful and repetitive beats. Some of the best workout music to use for cardio is pop or heavy metal. Try ‘I am the sword’ by Motorhead for a feisty blast of metal, or if pop is your thing ‘Domino’ by Jessie J is just as gutsy and will get the juices flowing. Other great choices for cardio include electronic dance remixes, so pretty much any tune by David Guetta or, a personal favourite of mine is‘Alive’ by Daft Punk – whose relentless barrage of beats will just keep you going and going until you fall into a steaming pool of blood, sweat and tears (ahh those were the days).
As you would expect, balancing and other lower impact exercises require a different musical approach to the more high intensity exercises. Stretching and other yogic type exercises require more soothing and calming music, preferably with very little vocals at all. Ideally you are looking for music with a bpm rate of between 90 and 115 so genres like alternative, indie or soft rock come highly recommended for stretching and some good old fashioned R & B can help with balancing exercises. Songs like ‘It’s Time’ by Imagine Dragons and The Beatles ‘Come Together’ are perfectly suited to the chilled and laid-back atmosphere you need to perform these exercises well.
It’s clear that music is capable of having a distinctive and powerful effect upon our mood, so its hardly surprising that different tunes work for different workouts, helping to increase and maintain motivation and boost endurance during each exercise. The research conducted by Dr Karageorghis has confirmed what I expect many of us long suspected – music is an important and ever more popular training aid.
The news that this has been confirmed by science should prove to be a real confidence boost for professional and amateur athletes alike, who can now push themselves even further, simply by playing the right kind of music at the right time. Not only this, but it would seem (to this old skool grunge head at least), that music actually raises the level of enjoyment we can have when we exercise, making it more of a pleasure than a chore, which when you think about it, is all that any of us really want when we are working out anyway. I know I do. So here is to happy tunes and even happier training. Enjoy!