Science shows music can amp up workouts
At times it can feel like music and exercise are linked together, whether it is the radio station playing over the speakers or the workout playlist thumping from the iPod of nearby weightlifters. Some swear by music, saying songs help focus and motivate the body. But is music really a useful tool to boost physical performance or do people just like setting a soundtrack to their workouts?
It turns out science backs up the former statement. A number of studies, including one at Brunel University, in Uxbridge, West London, point out that the right kind of music can help the brain concentrate on the task at hand and make the body operate on an even rhythm. Music actually stimulates sections of the brain associated with focus and movement, helping to coordinate activity. Efficiency increases as well, as the body adapts to do more with less, meaning less energy is exerted and less oxygen is taken in.
The most important takeaway from the Brunel study is that the best songs are ones with a high tempo. Music with somewhere between 120-140 beats per minute is the âsweet spot,â so to speak, during which the brain is best stimulated and the body is most energized. This pace narrows the mindâs area of attention, which helps avoid distraction and feelings of exhaustion. This range, however, is mostly suited for running or high-energy exercises. Some research suggests a slightly lower tempo of 110-130 BPM can be more helpful for slow, controlled exercises such as bench pressing, in which a more moderate pace is necessary.
It turns out, however, coordination isnât the only benefit music can provide. Another study found music can help distract a person from being self-conscious when exercising or playing a sport. By stimulating the frontal lobe, which helps concentration, music can actually prevent the mind from second-guessing and doubting oneâs actions.
So, if music can help the body and mind focus on exercise, what genre is best? It turns out, almost any, as long as the tempo is high enough to hit that 120-140 BPM range. Anything from Eminem to The Clash can work. Fair warning â almost all country music or soft ballads are out of the equation. But a lot of rap (such as Jay-Z or the Beastie Boys) and rock (everything from Cake to Rage Against the Machine) is perfect.
Some research suggests the music should contain positive lyrics to stimulate the body and mind, but itâs not a universal finding. After all, âLoserâ by Beck is a good song to work out to, because it matches the tempo range, but itâs not exactly the most upbeat song, nor are many of the other songs that match the effective tempo levels.
Ultimately, it comes down to personal preference. I avoid listening to music when doing any exercise other than running, as I tend to alternate exercises quickly and often as part of a circuit training-based workout plan. If you are easily distracted, music could be a detriment. But it is very useful when doing a lengthier and more repetitive exercise such as cycling or running.
So, yes, science does point to music as a tool for increased endurance and focus during exercise. But itâs not true for everyone. For me, it depends on attention skills.
In a way itâs like listening to music during studying. For some, music can be a much-needed tool to help focus and plow through readings and essay writing. For others, it can just be a distraction.
Radios can play good songs but at the gym there isnât much say regarding what station is on, or what the songs are. The occasional soft rock song could come on, throwing off your momentum. Itâs best to bring that iPod with you.
If youâre looking for a more focused, intense workout, try adding some music to it. You might find yourself running farther, doing more push-ups and lifting at a better pace.
Nicholas Slayton is a junior majoring in print and digital journalism. His column âWay of the Bodyâ runs Tuesdays.