We’ve all been there. That moment near the end of your workout when your limbs feel like noodles. Or when you gear up for a workout, get started, and then just can’t really find the groove.
How do you even get started when you’d rather be curled up on a couch somewhere? How do you keep going when you just don’t think you have anything else left inside of you? The answer might be simpler than you think: music.
A lot of recent studies have found that music can not only motivate you to keep going when your willpower starts waning, but it can also help you maximize the benefits of your workout as well. Of course, like anything in life, there are caveats and music isn’t a magic elixir. You still have to put in the effort.
Here’s a closer look at the benefits — and the drawbacks — music can have on your fitness routine so that you’ll know how to optimize your workout soundtrack and make the most out of every movement.
Music can up your tolerance for pain
For as ubiquitous as the old saying “no pain, no gain” is, it’s not actually the best maxim to bear in mind when you’re working out.
Pain is actually the body’s way of protecting itself and warning you that you’re working out too intensely. However, while a good, solid workout shouldn’t be painful, it should push you past the point of feeling comfortable — which is where music can help.
In a study for the UK’s National Health Institute, researchers found that listening to music we enjoy can stimulate the pleasure sensing areas of the brain and help you be up to 15 percent more effectual during your fitness routine. Essentially, listening to music powers up the “beautiful boost” activity in your brain, which can help your brain drown out the portions that are screaming, “Let’s quit!”
Of course, it’s important to not only stay tuned to the music in your headphones, but to your body as well so you know when enough exercise is enough. But if you always find yourself having trouble pushing through to the very end of your routine, loading up your MP3 player with your favorite jams could just be the motivation you need to persevere.
Music can maximize your workout
Listening to music during your workout doesn’t only help you when you’re tired. In fact, it may actually help you be maximally effective throughout your entire workout.
A study by Thomas Fritz for the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences looked at a phenomenon that he dubbed “jimmin’” — a combination of gym and jamming — or the relationship between athletes and music in a gym setting. What he found was that athletes who were jimmin’ consistently used less of their energy stores and were therefore able be more physically effective and focused during their workout.
But the study did find that music was most effective when it wasn’t simply listened to passively in the background, but instead incorporated more fully as part of the exercise routine.
What does that mean for your workout? Instead of simply plugging in your earbuds and hopping on a machine, try building a playlist that is actively part of your routine. Let the music dictate your workout.
As Dr. Sakamoto points out in a study for the Journal of Sound and Vibration, choosing songs that have “steady noise with high intensity peaks” can help make music less of a noisy distraction and more of an integrated part of your fitness routine.
Music can set the perfect pace
Finally, it seems that music has the ability to set the pace for your workout.
In the same study for the NIH that found that music can make us forget pain, researchers also found that “listening to music can induce us to tune in to its beat,” which has a strong correlation to how well our workout actually goes. Choose songs that are too slow, and you could find yourself moving more slowly as well. Choose songs that are too fast-paced, and you might find yourself pushing too hard and burning out before you get to the end of your routine.
But how do you know what that pace should be? Luckily, sports medicine researchers have spent countless hours studying just that question and have come up with an answer.
“During high-intensity exercise, there is a ceiling for music-tempo preference of approximately 140 bpm,” says Dr. Costas Karageorghis of the School of Sport and Education. Beyond that, you’re likely going to be working too hard and not reaping the greatest benefits from your workout.
Furthermore, when warming up, start with a slower tempo — somewhere in the range of 120 bpm — and then gradually speed the rhythm up until you hit the 140 bpm sweet spot for the most intense part of your routine. If you need some help getting started on building a playlist, the online music player Spotify has put together an Ultimate Workout Playlist for 2014 that can help you get started. Or take some inspiration from the Go for Gold playlist we put together for the Olympics.
Of course, the most important part of any fitness routine is sticking to it, but a great music playlist could be just the thing to keep you motivated.
What are you some of your go-to workout songs?