Anyone who’s ever exercised and listened to music at the same time—so, all of us—knows that a good playlist can keep you moving and motivated. And, that’s not just anecdotal evidence. Plenty of scientific research backs up the claim. In fact, a Canadian study found that music can increase both enjoyment and performance during high-intensity interval exercises. And, during more repetitive endurance activities, like running, motivational music has been shown to reduce perceived exertion, improve energy efficiency, and increase one’s work output. This has something to do with BPMs and RPMs.
To recap: Music and exercise pair nicely together. But, we can break things down further by looking at how beats per minute (BPMs) specifically impacts revolutions per minute (RPMs) in cycling classes, and how it applies to other activities, like lifting weights. We’ll do that with help from Aaptiv Trainer Katie Horwitch, who utilizes various song tempos to her advantage during fitness classes.
How Tempo Affects Activity
“Who hasn’t been at a party, at a concert, heck, at the grocery store, and felt the joy of a great song starting to play?” asks Horwitch. “We can’t help but dance, sing, or be transported back to a specific time in our life. It’s the exact same way in fitness.” She notes that, since music is designed to make us feel, it can also make our bodies move better, easier, or differently than they would otherwise.
“When we hear an upbeat song, we want to chase that beat,” says Horwitch. “When we hear a slower beat, we want to either relax or, in some instances, dig in with our physical effort even harder—think of a slow, uphill climb in a spin class.”
Horwitch adds that music also gives you something else to focus on besides the work you’re doing, which can occasionally be boring or even grueling. But, cue up a great song, and you can tune in or zone out—whatever you need to keep going.
“A great playlist has been shown to decrease fatigue, increase excitement and awareness, and help you perform tasks better,” says Horwitch. “Some scientists have even referred to it as a legit performance-enhancing drug.”
How to Match BPMs and RPMs
According to Horwitch, every song has two beats to work with. The first is a slower beat (usually counted one-and-two-and…). The second is a faster, double-time pace (usually counted one-two-one-two, without the “and”). The RPMs you’re working with can be on either pace, depending on the song and the particular drill that you’re doing. “When you’re riding on an indoor cycling bike, you hit the RPM at the strongest point in your pedal stroke,” says Horwitch. “When you’re running or walking, it’s when your foot hits the ground.”
Now, how do you find that beat? “Listen to a song. Where do you want to clap, snap, or tap your foot? That’s the beat,” says Horwitch. She advises that, if you’re curious as to a song’s beats per minute, look at a stopwatch and count how many times the beat hits within 30 seconds, then multiply that number by two. Even easier: Use an app like Tap That Tempo, which will help you count BPMs. “I use it for every single one of my Aaptiv classes,” says Horwitch.
BPMs and RPMs Beyond Cycling
BPMs and RPMs are extra-important in rhythm-based cycling classes, where you ride to the beat of the music. But, cycling isn’t the only tempo game in town. With a little effort, you can employ a similar application to other activities, like running or lifting weights.
“Before you hit play on a song, album, or playlist, think about the activity [that] you’re doing and what you want to accomplish,” suggests Horwitch. “For example, if you’re running, you might want to feel high-energy. A song above 60/120 BPMs (depending [on] how you’re counting) is going to be perfect.” But, when you’re lifting, she says that you might want something a little slower that will help you focus on maintaining your form. In both cases, it’s less about the specific BPM/RPM combo and more about utilizing music to your advantage.
“You don’t need to run, lift, or work on the beat in order to feel its effects,” says Horwitch.
Playlists to Improve Your Workouts
As for what type of music she likes to exercise to, Horwitch professes her love for late-’90s/early 2000’s pop because it’s upbeat and uplifting. “Old-school Britney Spears or NSYNC (usually 80/160 to 90/180 BPMs) always gets me running faster than I thought I could.”
When she’s lifting, Horwitch likes to listen to hip-hop, which often features more extreme variances in BPMs. That allows her to get pumped up during the more energetic segments, while still maintaining slow and steady form.
“Two of my favorite playlists on Aaptiv that I’ve made are the Fear Less cycling class and the Let’s Pump It Up elliptical class,” says Horwitch. “Both are pop playlists, and both are all about helping you feel unstoppable.”
Cue up these workouts the next time that you open the Aaptiv app. You’ll see how upbeat music improves your performance. It’s all about BPMs and RPMs.