Believe it or not, music and exercise didn’t first combine forces with the advent of the iPod. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to rowers during Roman times. According to Carl Foster, Ph.D., lead researcher for a recent compilation of studies titled Exploring the Effects of Music on Exercise Intensity:
The guy is sitting there beating on his drum and he drives the basic rhythm of the rowing. Part of that is coordination—you want the rowers to row together—but part of it is that people will naturally follow a tempo. It’s just something about the way our brains work.
The principle of synching yourself to the beat of music is called entrainment or synchronization. You match your steps, strides or cycles to the dominant beat in a song or soundtrack. But does this help exercisers up their intensity? According to Foster and the various studies his team reviewed, yes!
Some even go so far as to call music a legal, performance-enhancing drug. Why? In a nutshell, music is said to have three benefits:
- The aforementioned entrainment or synchronization.
- Increase in arousal – music makes you want to move.
- Distracts exerciser from discomfort or fatigue.
In addition, I believe that music makes exercise more enjoyable and fun – and helps get exercisers to the gym. One of the biggest complaints I hear is that exercise is boring. Music helps make things more interesting.
Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., of London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education, is one of the world’s leading authorities on music and exercise. According to Karageorghis’ 20+ years of research:
[Music] can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.
A 15% increase in output is HUGE. And for anyone looking to up the intensity of their workout, that’s great news. Of course, not all soundtracks are created equal; elevator music, for example, might not get your heart pumping. Researchers recommend the following bpm (beats-per-minute) guidelines for selecting playlists:
- Power walking: approx. 137–139 bpm
- Running: approx. 147–169 bpm
- Cycling: approx. 135–170 bpm
Not sure how to calculate bpm? There’s an app for that!
Do you use music to help step up your workout intensity? Let me know in the comments below!