How Music Helps You Exercise

Updated on September 19, 2017
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Marcelle has a degree in Journalism. She is also a certified Spin Instructor, where she shares her passion for fitness and music.

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Maybe Ed Sheeran gets your heart in shape or Bruce Springsteen reminds you that you were born to run! Most fitness enthusiasts know that good music inspires their workouts and helps them to get the most out of it. Imagine an hour long spin class in silence or a Zumba class without Latin tunes. Decades of research stand behind the fact that music enhances athletic performance, but you already knew that.

Research on Music & Exercise

More than ten years of research by Dr. Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University in London asserts that working out with music can improve fitness. According to his research, music improves fitness by reducing the perception of one's exertion, increasing endurance, and enhancing beneficial exercise effects.

In a comprehensive review of research conducted by various parties, Karageorghis found evidence for practical applications of using music with exercise. He found evidence that music heard before beginning an exercise can heighten arousal at both a physiological as well as a physiological level. During exercise, music can delay fatigue and decrease the perception of exertion at low to moderate exercise levels.

As exercisers push to higher levels of intensity, however, meeting and passing their anaerobic threshold (the intensity at which lactic acid starts to accumulate in the blood stream), music does not seem to provide this same benefit. It does however, provide general good feelings about the workout experience. It cannot alter what someone feels while he or she is working out at a higher intensity, but music can still have an impact on how one feels about the workout.

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Fitness instructors, like myself, can tell you practically how important music is to motivating the class and creating a positive atmosphere. It is important for fitness instructors to carefully select music for their classes. Karageorghis found in his review that when music is selected according to its motivational qualities, exercise participants feel a positive mood and effect across all levels of exercise intensity. The closer the music matches the participants musical preferences and task at hand, the more pronounced this effect becomes.

Music and Exercise in History

As far back as Roman times, music has motivated physical performance and stamina. Take the rowers of the Roman Galleys that used music to improve their rowing abilities according to Carl Foster, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, Exercise and Health Program. 1

“The guy is sitting there beating on his drum and he drives the basic rhythm of the rowing. Part of that is coordination—you want the rowers to row together—but part of it is that people will naturally follow a tempo. It’s just something about the way our brains work.”

— Carl Foster, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin

Early in U.S. history, physical fitness was unpopular in the states despite strong endorsements from Benjamin Franklin and President Thomas Jefferson. Gradually, the idea gained merit and in the 19th century American educator Catherine Beecher introduced the first aerobics-like workout directed at women, mixing calisthenics with music.

In more recent history, examples of how music has enhanced fitness programs can be seen from Richard Simmons to the 80's fitness craze lead by Jane Fonda to the highly successful Jazzercise program and most recently, Zumba!

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Run To The Beat

A unique 10K race in London each year, puts the research on music and exercise to the test. The event, called "Run To The Beat" pairs runners with electric music from top DJ's to today's hot hit makers. Past musical acts have included Juicy J, Calvin Harris, and DJ Fresh. The musicians and DJs are on stages scattered along the racecourse and playlists can be downloaded for the race.

In fact, many competitive and fun races across the U.S. and other countries have incorporated music into their event. Take the Rock 'n Roll marathon and half marathon that is hosted now in cities all over the U.S. Typically bands are dotted along the course to entertain and motivate the runners. Interactive running course maps that can be previewed before a race show the locations of music stages. The video posted is a promotional clip from the 2014 Rock 'n Roll Marathon in Las Vegas. Notice how the bands are highlighted.

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Great Tunes for Spin Class

As a certified Spin instructor, music is one of the most important elements of my indoor cycling classes. I can attest that it has a motivating effect on the exercisers in my class as well as myself, while teaching. I use the beat of the music to pace a climb or the chorus to burst into a run. Music also sets the mood for a ride and certainly makes the clock "tick" faster during that house.

Here is a list of my favorite songs to use for different cycling moves. Are there any that you especially enjoy in your indoor cycling classes or any exercise you do? If so, please share in the comments below.

Warming Up
Anna Sun - Walk The Moon
Every Teardrop is a Waterfall - Coldplay
Castle on the Hill - Ed Sheeran
Titanium 500 (mashup) - DJ Schmolli
Beautiful Day - U2

Fast Flat Roads
Now We Are Free - Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard
Mrs. Robinson - The Lemonheads
Everlong - Foo Fighters
Sandstorm - Darude
Black Dog - Led Zeppelin

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Flat Road Jumps
My Sharona - The Knack
Crazy Train - Ozzy Osbourne
How Far We've Come - Matchbox 20
Happy - Pharrell Williams

Hills
Lose Yourself - Eminem
Boulevard of Broken Dreams - Green Day
Creep - Radiohead
My Sacrifice - Creed
Sister Christian - Night Ranger
Baba O'Reilly - The Who
Closer - The Chainsmokers

Hill Jumps
Yeah! - Usher Feat. Lil John and Ludacris
We Will Rock You - Queen
Dark Horse - Katy Perry Feat. Juicy J
My Hero - Foo Fighters

All of the Above
(Songs that incorporate multiple skills in a single tune.)
I'd Do Anything For Love - Meat Loaf
Fool In The Rain - Led Zeppelin
Come Sail Away - Styx
Bohemian Rhapsody - Queen
Welcome to the Black Parade - My Chemical Romance

Cooling Down
Sunday Morning - Maroon 5
Brand New Day - Sting
If I Had A Million Dollars - Barenaked Ladies
Here Comes The Sun - The Beatles
Purple Rain - Prince

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Sources

1 Foster, Carl, Ph.D., John Pocari, Ph.D., and Mark Anders. "ACE-sponsored Research: Exploring the Effects of Music on Exercise Intensity." ACE Fitness. The American Council on Exercise, Sept. 2010. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/805/>.

"Music to Make the Heart Beat Faster." Music to Make the Heart Beat Faster. Brunel University London, 9 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.brunel.ac.uk/research/ref-2014/case-studies/music-to-make-the-heart-beat-faster>.

Karageorghis, Costas I., and David-Lee Priest. "Music in the Exercise Domain: A Review and Synthesis (Part II)." International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology. Taylor & Francis, 7 Dec. 2011. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3339577/>.

"Jog To The Beat: Music Increases Exercise Endurance By 15%." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 Oct. 2008. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081001093753.htm>.

"Event - Run to the Beat." Event - Run to the Beat. International Management Group (UK) Limited, n.d. Web. 21 Apr. 2015. <http://www.runtothebeat.co.uk/Event>.

Dalleck, Lance, Ph.D., and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. "The History of Fitness." Www.ideafit.com. IDEA Health & Fitness Association, 1 Jan. 2002. Web. 28 Apr. 2015. <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/the-history-of-fitness>.


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    • My Bell profile image
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      Marcelle Bell 2 years ago

      Yes it does, Monia! Thanks for the comment.

    • monia saad profile image

      monia ben saad 2 years ago from In my Dream

      of course music help us to do aerobic and be well

    • My Bell profile image
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      Marcelle Bell 2 years ago

      Thank you, Flourish! I just love teaching spin classes and the music is my favorite part.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image

      FlourishAnyway 2 years ago from USA

      The right music can make any hill easier to climb. I like your presentation of research here. I bet you are an awesome instructor.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 2 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Excellent hub and I agree music helps while exercising and keeps us motivated. Music is an effective stress buster and it helps you focus better.

      Nice pictures and a well presented hub. Thanks and voted up!

    • My Bell profile image
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      Marcelle Bell 2 years ago

      Thanks for your comment, Cycling. Sorry that you have been stuck with some bad playlists at spin classes. I spend so much time designing my classes around both the work and the music. I always tell anyone who is considering teaching spin classes that you first must love this type of exercise but also, you must love music. I've posted some of my spin class playlists in articles on here if you want to check them out.

    • My Bell profile image
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      Marcelle Bell 2 years ago

      Thanks, Jackie! I also listen to music when I do housework, cook, drive, really just about everything.

    • CyclingFitness profile image

      Liam Hallam 2 years ago from Nottingham UK

      I've done so many spin classes where instructors have chosen poor music and it holds back a class. The wrong track can be demotivating as I found when my partner updated my ipod from her itunes and halfway into a 2 hour run I was 'treated' to olly murs and a bit of Nina Simone. I could handle Nina Simone but the Olly Murs could have ended the relationship!

    • Jackie Lynnley profile image

      Jackie Lynnley 2 years ago from The Beautiful South

      So true! Love music also to help me get my housework done quickly too! Makes all the difference. ^+