The Power of Music


Look into any gym space, and you’ll see ears studded with ear phones connected to iPod’s, iPhone’s, and various mp3 players.  It’s not really a secret that music helps make the time in the gym pass by faster, and keeps your mind off things.  However, a study published recently took a look at the correlation between fast-paced music and athletic performance. 

Researchers gave the volunteers popular music to listen to while riding a stationary bike.  On the first ride, the music was played at its normal pace.  In following rides, the researchers slowed the pace of the music by 10% for some, and increased the pace by 10% for others.  The volunteers were not told anything about the pace of the music.  Interestingly, their performance on the stationary bike changed. 

When the pace of the music was decreased, the peddling and resulting affects changed as well.  Physical exertion dropped, heart rates dropped, and mileage dropped.  Many volunteers reported they didn’t care for the music.  The other group of volunteers, which listened to music with only a 10% increase in pace, peddled faster, covered more miles, sustained a higher heart rate, and reported to enjoy the music they were listening to.

While the fast pace group didn’t claim that the workout seemed any easier, it does seem that the faster pace allowed them to push through the workout and exert more physical effort.  A case can be made that the volunteers with the fast pace music accepted, and even preferred to exert a greater degree of physical effort. 

Clearly, the goal of cardiovascular exercise is to raise and sustain a heart rate in the targeted zone.  Whether you want to train aerobically or anaerobically, raising the heart rate and keeping it in that particular zone is key.  This study demonstrates the power that music possess in helping you reach that goal.  Use it to your advantage!

With all that said, you want fast-paced music on your playlist.  A subsequent study by Dr. Costas Karageorghis, an associate professor of sports psychology found that the most effective workout music contains a tempo of 120-140 beats-per-minute, or B.P.M.  With that knowledge in hand, you want to find songs that fall into this range of BPM.  How do you determine beats-per-minute you may be asking.  First off, you can do it the old-fashioned way; count them in your head.

If that’s too much work for you, you can take the easy way out. Check out BPM calculator or BPM Assistant (for you Mac users).  These simple downloads will calculate the BPM of a given song.  From there, you can store the BPM in the ID3 tag of the music file.  iTunes will allow you to then sort your music by BPM, allowing you to pick songs that fall between 120-140 BPM.

The way in which you order the songs in your playlist has a crucial part in all of this as well.  First off, it really depends on the type of workout you are doing.  If you are going on a distance run, you may want to consider slowly building the BPM in each song.  This way, when you are nearing the end of the run, and are running on gas fumes, your mind will receive that extra boost of motivation from very high BPM songs.  If you are going for a serious lift session, you may want to include only songs that fall into the upper range of the 120-140 BPM scale.  This will give you explosive, sustained motivation throughout your heavy lifts. 

When you are exercising to reach a goal, i.e. lose 30 pounds, prepare for that triathlon, etc. every little edge you can give yourself matters.  If something as easy as increasing the tempo of the music helps you raise your physical exertion just 10%, the differences in gains made will be dramatic.  Think about it for a second; what if you could burn 10% more calories each time you worked out?  Burning an extra 60 calories, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, translates into an additional loss of 6.25 pounds of body fat over the course of a year.  Think about that.  Simply bumping up the tempo of your music will cause your body to work that much harder than it typically would.  A “free” loss of 6 pounds of body fat is nothing to sneeze at.  The tempo of your music will subconsciously dictate the tempo of your intensity.  Use this phenomenon to your advantage and make the best gains you possibly can.

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