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The Psychology of Effective Workout Music


For many people who run, jog, cycle, lift weights and otherwise exercise, music is essential to peak performance and a satisfying workout.

Research has also shown that music can help enhance athletic performance (Dorney & Goh, 1992; Karageorghis & Terry, 1997; Krumhansl, 2002).

Moreover, research has shown that music allows athletes to disassociate from feelings of fatigue and perceived exertion rates (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).

While listening to music, a performer's attention is narrowed which can divert attention away from the sensations of fatigue during a physical activity.


In addition, previous research has shown that the tempo of music can have an affect on movement. The type of music we listen to causes us to synchronize our movements at times (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997). Consequently, if athletes listen to a fast tempo song they may be more likely to increase movements to a faster pace, which could possibly enhance performance (i.e. conditioning time, running, cycling). Likewise, for an athlete who needs slower or more graceful movements (i.e. figure skating), slower tempo music could assist in reaching optimal performance. This research supports Smoll and Schultz's (1982) view that rhythm is an important component in motor skill and performance. Athletes apply the force of rhythm and tempo to many aspects of their athletic experiences.


Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, people run farther, bike longer and swim faster than usual—often without realizing it.


Selecting the most effective workout music is not as simple as queuing up a series of fast, high-energy songs. One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. For some people, the extent to which they identify with the singer's emotional state and viewpoint determines how motivated they feel. And, in some cases, the rhythms of the underlying melody may not be as important as the cadence of the lyrics. In recent years some researchers and companies have experimented with new ways to motivate exercisers through their ears, such as a smartphone app that guides the listener's escape from zombies in a postapocalyptic world and a device that selects songs based on a runner's heart rate.

Let your body move to the music
Research on the interplay of music and exercise dates to at least 1911, when American investigator Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedaled faster while a band was playing than when it was silent. Since then psychologists have conducted around a hundred studies on the way music changes people's performance in a variety of physical activities, ranging in intensity from strolling to sprinting. Looking at the research as a whole, a few clear conclusions emerge.

Two of the most important qualities of workout music are tempo—or speed—and what psychologists call rhythm response, which is more or less how much a song makes you want to boogie. Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements and expressions with music—to nod their heads, tap their toes or break out in dance—even if they repress that instinct in many situations. What type of music excites this instinct varies from culture to culture and from person to person. To make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people's workout playlists. In a recent survey of 184 college students, for example, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent) and pop (20.3 percent).

Links to Favourite workout tracks

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