We're assuming that you guys generally exercise with music. It's rare, in this day and age, to come across someone who never has tunes blasting while they get their cardio on. So why are we talking about the obvious?
You guys know we love brining you the facts we find interesting about healthy living. We've talked about how yoga can combat the effects of chronic pain and how meditation can actually change some thought processes. Now we want to bring you some more fun facts about what music does to you when you work out.
We've talked a little bit about how running with a beats-per-minute playlist is a game changer - it keeps you on pace because you want to match the rhythm of the song. But there's so much more that music is doing for you.
"Harder, better, faster, stronger"
listening to music helps you run farther, swim harder, bike faster
Costas Karageorghis, one of the world's leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug." He also said “It can reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15 percent.” Seriously. Just think about how cool that is. Your favorite song can actually promote more effective exercise (and, let's be real, that leads to results!).
Why is that? Let's find out...
1. listening to music distracts you from muscle fatigue
Every person, during a workout, will hit that wall of fatigue at some point. But research is showing us that listening to music can distract you from noticing the extent of that fatigue. When you're listening to a song, the song is "competing" for attention in your brain with the physical feelings of fatigue that are also getting transmitted up there. If fatigue isn't the only thing being processed, you might not notice it to as much of an extreme.
"Given that exercise is often tiresome, boring and arduous, anything that relieves those negative feelings would be welcome," Karageorghis explains. The benefits of musical distraction are most obvious in research during low- to moderate-intensity exercise. During high-intensity exercise, music seems to lose some of its power to override physical feelings of tiredness, but it can still change the way people respond to that fatigue. No matter what the exercise, though, the right music elevates mood and persuades people to ride out those waves of exhaustion, rather than giving up or finishing early.
2. music reduces perceived effort - if you listen to music, you won't feel you're working as hard
Some studies have looked at athletes working out with and without music, and found that even when the two groups had similar physical reactions to the workout (increased heart rate, muscle fatigue, oxygen consumption), the groups listening to music rated their exertion as lower than the group without the music. This effect likely ties into the point above - you're distracted when you're listening to music, and thinking less about how tough this run is, or how heavy that weight felt.
3. music that evokes an emotional response keeps you more motivated to perform
Logically, we all know this. We all have that one song that, when it comes on, we TURN IT UP and power through whatever we're doing. But, now official studies have shown that people can get more or less motivated by certain elements of music, and it's different for everyone. One person may have a really strong emotional memory with a song, and that can motivate them positively or negatively (too strong a memory can distract you from the workout though!). Another person might want a really rhythmic, evenly paced playlist to go along with an activity, with no opinion about lyrics. Yet another person might only care about listening to the lyrics and getting motivated to push harder.
So play around with it. If you love singing that one song in the shower because it's fun, throw it on your gym playlist and see if it does anything for you!
4. your rhythm response will push you to keep pace or finish a set of reps
Most of us have what's called a rhythm response - it's that instinct to tap your foot to a beat, or walk to the rhythm of a song when you're commuting. When you exercise with music, you're using your natural rhythm response to keep you on an even pace, rather than slowing down due to fatigue or lack of motivation. Your brain has a natural instinct to "sync up" with that rhythm, so you'll be more likely to follow the pace of a song than make up your own pace. This is why we love BPM playlists - running to a certain tempo pretty much ensures you'll have an even pace without even thinking about it!
5. listening to music might promote metabolic efficiency
Synchrony may help the body use energy more efficiently. When you move rhythmically to a beat, your body may not have to make as many adjustments to coordinated movements as it would without regular external cues, like a steady drum beat. In a 2012 study, participants who cycled in time to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who did not synchronize their movements with background music. Music during a workout can be like a metronome, helping someone maintain a steady pace, reducing false steps and therefore, decrease energy expenditure and promote a more efficient workout.