Music

8 Ways Workout Music Improves Your Exercise

Here’s how listening to your favorite tunes during a workout can improve your performance, speed, pace, and more.

Listening to music during your workout can do more than just make it more fun. Workout music can motivate you, improve your mood, and even enhance your performance. Thankfully, music can help in more ways than just one. In fact, plenty of research supports the theory that music and exercise make the greatest team ever. Here are a handful of reasons why creating a killer exercise playlist can set you up for fitness success.

It can improve your performance.

Even when you’re tired and feeling groggy, listening to music can give you that extra boost to work harder and move faster. In fact, one study found that runners who listened to motivating music during a race completed it faster than runners who didn’t listen to music at all. “Put together a playlist that includes songs that motivate you—whether that means the Rocky theme song or [songs by] Beyoncé,” suggests Jenny White, yoga teacher and producer of DAYBREAKER in Denver, Colo.

It can elevate your mood.

Endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that your body releases when you exercise, go hand-in-hand with music, which plays a similar role. One study found that listening to music releases dopamine, another neurotransmitter in the brain that’s associated with pleasure. “This musically enhanced mood now allows for an escape from the present struggles and stressors of life, and an onward and upward movement toward something positive—an alive, active, empowered mind and body,” says Sara Davis, a master cycling instructor at CycleBar.

It allows for a faster recovery.

You probably match your stride to a high-paced song mid-workout. And you can actually bring your heart rate down to a slower song. That’s why the “slow down” music in nearly all fitness classes is, well, slow! “Research has shown that listening to slow, relaxing music after an intense workout brings your heart rate down faster than silence,” says Jennifer Townsend, M.M.T., certified music therapist at the Houston Methodist Center for Performing Arts Medicine.

It helps you maintain your pace.

“Music and a ‘good beat’ can help you keep pace and also serve as a consistent motivator to press onward, despite challenges during exercise,” explains Townsend. “The rhythm of your workout music indicates to the motor area of your brain when to move, thereby aiding an individual’s desire to ‘keep going.’” This signaling helps our body utilize energy more efficiently, which leads to a steady pace that our body can handle. One study, published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, discovered that participants who cycled in time to music required seven percent less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who didn’t.

It serves as a welcome distraction.

Music can be a powerful distraction from fatigue and pain during exercise, notes Townsend. And, not just because it gives our brain something to think about aside from the discomfort or monotony of exercise. “Research tells us that listening to music, especially music that we associate as positive, triggers a release of dopamine in the brain,” she explains. “The same dopamine release happens when we participate in other rewarding activities, such as eating a favorite meal.”

This release occupies our brain with the task of processing positive feelings. As a result, Townsend explains, we’re less focused on pain or discomfort.

It motivates you.

To put it simply: Music makes you want to move. “Music increases your effort, encourages you to push past limits, and dictates maintenance of speed or increases in speed. The body has an easier time following [music] than thoughts or the sounds of one’s own breath,” says Davis. “Music prevents the person exercising from hearing demotivating sounds, such as heavy breathing or other sounds of exertion.”

Just hearing the rhythm of music alone inspires you to start dancing or, at the very least, tapping your feet. This translates to the movement you’re being instructed to do during your workout.

It improves coordination.

Don’t shy away from dance-based classes because you have no rhythm. You might be missing an opportunity to see improved movement. “When we use music during exercise, motor skills, such as coordination and balance, are enhanced, due to the way [that] music provides a steady beat for cyclical motions to be reproduced,” explains Townsend. “The tempo gives the brain a map in time—beat one is point A and beat two is point B.”

This wires the brain to initiate movement in time to reach point A and B consistently, with each stride or arm movement. “Additionally, musical cues and lyrics can play a role in coordinating moves,” she says.

It keeps you committed.

The act of planning your workout playlist alone helps commit you to the task at hand. “If you’re excited about the music that you’ll be jamming to, and you have your workouts in your calendar, chances are greater tha[t] you’ll follow through on them,” says White. She recommends taking some time on Saturdays or Sundays to schedule your workouts for the week. “You’ll enjoy your workout more, and will be proud when that last track ends!”

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