Have you ever been ready to do your workout and then discovered that you forgot your iPod at home? Has your music player ever stopped working in the middle of your run? For some people, these events are catastrophes!
Music has a magical effect. It can lift your mood, help you relax, get you moving faster or slow you down. The science examining how music influences our brain and psychological state is growing. According to Dr. Daniel Levitin of McGill University music has an “ancient, evolutionary origin” (1) and believes that music is hardwired in our brain. Using MRIs in his research, he has observed that when we listen to music, it sets off a whole bunch of areas in our brain, including in the limbic system which is the most fundamental, primitive part of the brain structure. The limbic system is connected to our emotions, behaviors, and motivations.
Music and Exercise Research (2)
Now, here’s a job Lia would love! Dr. Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in the UK has dedicated his research to the role of music in sports and exercise. He has studied its influence on our psychological state as well as how it enhances physical performance, stamina and recovery.
Basically, Dr. Karageorghis and his colleagues have shown that music has a motivational quality that stimulates and inspires physical activity by either reducing our perception of fatigue or increasing our capacity to work harder. Music distracts us during tough workouts, may trigger a specific emotion or evoke a memory that can get us in a specific mood, or can encourage us to move to the rhythm of the music.
The rhythm, melody and harmony of the music are the key factors responsible for our response to music but we’re also influenced by our gender, how culturally pervasive the music is, or the associations we’ve attached to the music. Research has found that men tend to enjoy more of the bass frequency in music than women. As far as cultural impact, when the song “Sexy and I Know It” by LMFAO became popular a few years ago, kids all over the country were dancing provocatively to the song. When played at school dances, it was an instant cue for everyone to get up and dance!
Research has also identified that music tempo affects our responses, along with synchronizing music to activities, and playing the appropriate music for the intensity of the activity. All of these factors can help us feel less tired and motivate us to workout longer.
Putting it into Practice
Music makes a difference! To use it to your advantage, think about the kind of workout you plan to do and compile a playlist that will help you achieve your workout goals.
- To begin, think about the tempo of the music and try to match it to the workout. For higher intensity workouts, you want to have music with higher tempo, measured as beats per minute (BPM). Workout Music.com has a chart with recommended tempo ranges for various activities and intensities. They also have playlists and mixes that you can purchase if you don’t want to put together your own playlists. Several other websites and APPs are available (free and at cost) for identifying BPM of music such as Running Playlist and Cadence (for iPhone and desktop). Generally, BPM should be in the 125-140 range for repetitive aerobic-type workouts.
- Choose music rhythm to flow with motor pattern of your activity. Songs like “Hey, Soul Sister” by Train is Lia’s favorite song for doing long runs. It seems to match the rhythm of each footfall in the run and encourages her to run at a steady pace. For weight training workouts, choose music that match the repetitive nature of the actions. For example, “Misery” by Maroon 5 is a good one.
- Listen to what you like. Listening to your favorite music connects you to your soul. Whether they are happy or sad songs, they put you in a zone that may distract you from the arduous workout or motivate you to work harder.
Top 10 Workout Songs
Want to know what the top 10 workout songs are right now? Run Hundred is a website where people submit and vote on their favorite workout songs. A monthly list is compiled by Chris Lawhorn, who founded and manages the site. If you find this site difficult to navigate, visit The Huffington Post, where Chris Lawhorn publishes his monthly list. To see May’s list, visit The Top 10 Workout Songs for May 2014.
What’s your favorite workout song? Please share it in the comments section.
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