Preparing for your workout generally requires you to check out your equipment once last time before you proceed.
You have on your crispy clean cotton shirt and your comfy cargo shorts. Your shoes offer the right type of support, and they fit you perfectly.
You have the open road before you for your jog, or perhaps the dumbbells and barbells for your weightlifting session. You’re all set.
But there’s just one more thing. You need your music too. For most athletes, the music is just about as important as any other piece of workout equipment.
Fortunately, having music on your runs and gym workouts isn’t hard to come by, as your smartphone can double as your MP3 player with a nice set of earphones. Just set it to your specially prepared workout playlist, and you’re good to go.
Talk to your workout buddies or go online on health and exercise forums, and you’ll find lots of chatter regarding the importance of workout music.
You’ll also hear lots of arguments as to what makes a good piece of workout music, though in general this is actually just a matter of personal preference.
But the evidence in support of using workout music to achieve your fitness goals isn’t just anecdotal. Scientific studies have actually been made to examine and confirm the fact that the right music can really help with your workout.
Of course, for many of us it’s another example of “duh science”. It’s amazing how scientists can spend so much time proving the patently obvious, but for us we can always be more productive just by exercising properly. We just need the right music.
It makes you want to exercise
When you want to exercise, everything seems better, right? You’re pumped up, you’re ready to go, and you perform well.
But sometimes, working out feels like a chore. Instead, you’d rather stay in bed getting a few more ZZZ’s, or curl up on your couch binge-watching on the latest season of your favorite online TV show.
That can change with the right music. Good workout music isn’t just for playing during the workout.
It can help convince you to want to work out in the first place. The right music gets you going, and you feel good enough to prepare your clothes and shoes for your workout. It even makes you look forward to working hard.
It’s a bit like having a good front act before the main performer gets on stage during the concert. The preparatory music can get you revved up properly, so that when the main workout session begins you’re properly amped up and ready.
It’s more fun
So now you’re out jogging or lifting weights in the gym. Without music, it feels a little gloomy, doesn’t it?
But when you have some good music blasting from speakers or you have your own music coming through your earphones, it feels a lot more fun.
It’s probably no secret that fun activities—the things you enjoy doing—are also likely the activities you’re more likely to do.
For many of us, our sense of duty and discipline can easily be eclipsed by our need for fun stuff. That’s why we expend so much time and effort on a lot of recreational stuff.
But discipline and fun don’t have to go against one another. They can go together. Just as you can enjoy the workplace more if you genuinely enjoy your job, you can have more fun with your workout when you have your music playing.
It’s like having music in a bar or in a party. The music just makes the whole vibe much more enjoyable, and you’re more apt to have a good time.
It’s not as painful
How many times have we heard people tell us about “no pain, no gain”? Sometimes we want to bash their heads in, just so we can make them feel the pain too.
The truth of the matter is that if you do feel pain, you’re better off if you stop whatever it is you’re doing. You may actually be hurt and injured, and continuing your workout can make things worse.
The problem is that often an effective workout can actually be a rather brutal session.
It’s not enough to just call it “challenging”, especially when you’re engaged in a spin class or with high intensity interval training. Somehow the music has analgesic properties, and you don’t feel the discomfort as intensely as without music.
You increase your power output
Many athletes have reported that they’re able to lift heavier weights, do more reps, or pedal more ferociously when they have their music egging them on.
This isn’t just a vague anecdotal phenomenon either. Lots of scientific studies have confirmed this effect.
The New York Times even published the results of one study that confirmed the fact that music really boosts your workout performance and power.
The study involved athletes engaged in high intensity exercises, and those who played their music while working out really produced a lot more power in their output than those who worked out without music.
The increased power doesn’t seem as difficult
Another discovery in the HIIT study published in the New York Times was that when these athletes boosted their power output, they actually didn’t realize it.
They didn’t actually feel that their increased efforts resulted in greater discomfort and difficulty for them.
This is like having your rev and horsepower boosted in your engine, except you don’t actually notice any additional noise or even any increase in your fuel consumption.
It feels like you’re doing your normal workout, while the music enables you to unknowingly perform to greater heights.
It synchronizes your rhythm
It’s easy to understand why armies in the old days had drummer boys. That’s because often these soldiers were forced to march for long distances, and the music helped them to find their proper cadence.
Today cadets and trainees still sing out cadences on their runs, and the reason for this remains the same. They can find their proper rhythm through the music.
So if you want to ramp up your heart beat, all you need is some up tempo music. Your body will just naturally synchronize with the beat so you can exercise in the tempo you need to achieve your fitness goal.
You don’t need as much oxygen
While you may think that most of the benefits of music are largely psychological and mental, that’s not entirely accurate. Listening to the right music can result in physical changes that can benefit your workout.
This was found out by a study that Scientific American once noted. The study had two groups of cyclists, and one group pedaled to the beat of music in the background while the other cycled in silence.
The group which had the music actually used up 7% less oxygen to complete the same task as the non-musical group of cyclists.
The workout seems less tedious
Humans tend to dislike doing the same things over and over again. But lots of workouts can feel that way.
That’s especially true when you jog, pedal, or row for miles on end. It may even feel a bit tedious when you’re in the gym and you’re required to do lots of reps in your workout. Having to do lots of repetitive tasks can really feel tedious.
But it doesn’t feel that way when you have your music playing in the background. Again, this is a fact that’s supported by scientific studies.
In fact, it’s been repeatedly demonstrated that music is most influential during repetitive tasks. This is also probably one reason why many marathons discourage the use of music. It’s because enduring the tedium is part of the challenge!
It can amp your mood
Seriously, by now you realize that music can really influence your mood. That’s why you have Marvin Gaye, Barry White, and Chris Isaak on your sexy time music, and why movie soundtracks boost the emotion your feeling when you watch the movie.
Play the right music, and it prepares your mind for the task ahead. When you’re working out, the music also keeps you from wimping out. It simply gets you going and going.
You can enter the zone
The zone is this mental area of peak physical performance, when you feel like you can do everything right.
What’s more, you actually succeed. Everything falls into place effortlessly. You somehow can lift heavier weights and do more reps, or run faster and for a longer period of time.
There’s really no telling when you’ll find yourself in the zone. But the right music helps, because you need to proper frame of mind to get into your groove, and music is very effective in getting you that frame of mind you need.
Soundtrack music can remind you of inspiring movie scenes
It’s not surprising that many of us find inspiration at the movies. Lots of women in the 1980s bought into the Flashdance craze. Even now, we still train with visions of Rocky in our heads.
Sometimes all you really need is to hear the opening riffs of Eye of the Tiger to get you over to the next level.
Of course, there’s also the Bill Conti song Gonna Fly Now, which is great for your StairMaster as you pretend you’re on your way to the top of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
It helps to reduce anxiety
While music can amp you up, it can also help calm you down. This is especially important when you’re engaged in a crucial athletic activity, such as a Texas high school football game or a national championship match.
The right music can reduce your anxiety so that you cans tart feeling more in control. That’s also the right kind of attitude for ordinary workouts too.
Anxiety can lead to the dreaded “choking” condition, which is the very opposite of getting into the zone.
This is a feeling when you’re too hesitant to act because you’re afraid and anxious. The right music can get this negativity right out of your head.
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It boosts your coordination
Your body doesn’t just move rhythmically to the music. It actually makes your body much more coordinated in its movement.
This was the finding of a study which studied how listening to music affects the body.
In the study, it was discovered that when a person listened to music they enjoyed, it resulted in an increase in the electrical activity in the part of the brain that is responsible for coordinating body movements.
So with the right music, you can move better and you’re much less awkward. This probably explains why people look silly dancing without music.
They look better with music, even on video when you mute the sound. You can tell the difference between those who are dancing to the music and those who aren’t.
And when you find someone who can move well without music, there’s a very good chance that they’re playing some sort of song in their head!
Music serves as a good distraction
Without music, your mind can often wander and you start thinking about various stuff. It can be about your woeful social life, your slave driver boss and the mounds of work still left undone, and the bills you need to pay.
You may look around the gym, and you can also be distracted by the outfits of your fellow gym rats, the amount of dirt and dust, and how people don’t look good when they’re sweating buckets. And what the heck is that smell?
These types of distractions can really reduce the quality of your workout, as you need to focus on your tasks to maximize your performance.
You have to concentrate on maintaining the right form, and often you may have to engage your abs for various exercises.
With music, you can forget about the distractions instead. You can focus on the music, which then somehow helps you to focus on your workout.
It can reduce the chance of injury
This is another benefit that’s surely of interest to everyone. Every year, thousands of people are treated in emergency rooms because they’ve sustained injuries in the gym.
An injury can keep you from exercising, and this can seriously delay and derail your efforts to achieve you’re fitness goals.
You’re less able to gain muscles, lose weight, and remain fit if you’re sitting on your ass for an extended period of time.
Injuries to the knees, feet, and ankles are the most common injuries, along with the lower back.
Joggers are especially susceptible to injuries because they tend to punish their knees and feet by running on hard asphalt. But with the right music, they can gain the proper cadence that can lead to lower injury rates.
You may be able to take small extra steps in your runs that can then reduce the force you generate every time your feet touch the ground. This can also help your body maintain proper alignment on impact.
Recovery can be accelerated
You need to boost your heartbeat to actually have a successful workout. That’s why a languid stroll in the park doesn’t really count as exercise, even if you do it regularly. So with the right music, you can move faster and amp up your heart rate.
It shouldn’t surprise you that with slow music, you’re then able to return to your normal resting heart rate in a shorter amount of time.
In fact, after your workout you should really play some slower jams. One study found that slow tempo music actually lowers your blood pressure as well as slow down your heart rate. It also makes your recovery time much faster, compared to when you recover in silence.
This means that with slow music after a workout, you minimize the cardiac stress and speed up your recovery, and these in turn make you ready for your next workout much sooner.
The right music can also minimize stress. That’s why we play some relaxing music when we get home after a hard day’s work.
You should play the same type of music after a stressful workout, because stress contributes to recovery delay. It also has a negative impact for your workout.
Of course, there’s always the question of what kind of music is the best for a workout.
Some experts recommend music with a particular “beats per minute” speed to maximize your efforts.
You may want music with about 160 to 180 BPM to get your heart rate going, and then you can switch to a slower tempo to wind down.
In the end, however, it’s really up to you. The ultimate workout music is the music that makes you want to exercise while you enjoy yourself.
The best music is simply the music you like—it’s really that simple.
So take some time to prepare a playlist with music you enjoy. Play some music to inspire to get ready, put in some up-tempo music that you can move to, and then add a few slower songs at the end to help you wind down.
Music helps with workouts in so many ways, and there’s really no point in suffering in silence.