Boss your next workout with Barbra Streisand (and other tunes)

Wednesday 10 June 2015
  • Barbra Streisand
    “What do you mean I’m not on your playlist?”

Yep, you read that right, but no I’m not talking about the legendary Barbra Streisand. Sorry Babs.

I’m talking about this song by Duck Sauce… 

Remember it? It’s pretty catchy right?

It’s one of those songs that makes you want to get up and dance – or at least, do a little shimmy in your seat.

The Star Trek shimmy

The point I'm making is that music is a huge motivator to move.

Lots of you already know this of course. Why else would we pop the headphones in to workout or have a meltdown when we forget to pack our iPods for the gym?

If those little flappy-hands-tanties are a regular occurrence, it's OK. Research says you have every right to feel ticked off. Non-music workouts suck, in more ways than one.

Why we listen to music when working out

In a 2012 survey of undergrad students, it was found that the most common reasons for listening to music during exercise were:

  • “To work out harder” (22.4%)
  • “Make the exercise seem easier” (21.4%)
  • “To work out longer” (20.2%)

And the good news is that science actually backs this up. 

Music CAN help your performance in all of these areas.

No longer is it just a luxury to listen to music while working out, or a bonus that you remembered your iPod. It is an essential part of exercise. 

How music can help you run further, lift more and go for longer

OK, so there’s a bit more to it than fast songs with strong beats – though these do work! 

Music taste obviously differs from person to person, but what you choose to listen to and what may be most effective can depend on whether you’re running, lifting, walking, etc. 

But how does music actually boost your performance? And can it help you go that extra mile or make you push that little bit harder?

Here’s what the experts say...

Music for endurance

Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University, the world’s leading expert on the psychology of music and exercise, wrote that music is like: “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” 

Big claim, huh?!

His studies have found that music can enhance endurance by up to 15%, mask exertion by up to 12% and improve movement efficiency by up to 7%

That’s a massive increase all round. Especially if you’re in competitive sport or aiming to smash some fitness goals – fast!

Music for coordination

Say a song with a catchy beat comes on the radio. Before you know it, you find yourself tapping your toes or bobbing your head. Sound familiar?

Studies suggest that even if you’re sitting perfectly still, listening to enjoyable music increases electrical activity in areas of our brain that are important for coordinating movement.

Costas, our music/exercise expert, says: “we are almost hardwired to appreciate music aesthetically.” 

So if we hear something we like, we move to the rhythm… or some of us at least try to.

Leonardo DiCaprio doing some funky dancing

Needless to say, group fitness classes would be a bit of a shambles (and we’d all generally look and feel a bit weird) without beat-y music to help direct the uncoordinated beings among us.

Music for speed

Tempo plays a big part in movement too. 

According to research, music with a rhythm of 120 beats per minute (bpm) is suggested to be the sweet spot. It’s what we naturally sync to when walking (120 steps per minute) or when unconsciously tapping along to music.

So it makes total sense to listen to faster music when running or exercising.

BUT, before you think listening to faster music helps you run faster, that’s not necessarily the case.

Some researchers suggest that anything above 145 bpm – which would be a pretty slow run – has a ceiling effect, meaning it doesn’t make you run faster. Most likely because your exertion level is greater and so a higher bpm simply can’t override the pain. 

HOWEVER, faster music can help you reach or maintain your target pace.

Matching your pace to the music is great if you’re looking to keep a steady speed.

Most runners should try selecting songs that fall into the 140-170 bpm range. That’ll generally work if you’re going for a gentle jog (140 bpm) or if you’re aiming for a decent running speed (170 bpm). Though you’ll need an even higher bpm if you’re training for a sub 5 minute km.

But how the heck do you work out beats per minute you ask? Well there are apps that can figure it out for you.

Jog FM has a huge range of songs and their bpms for you to create your perfect running playlist, or you can opt for Spotify Running. Start running and it’ll match songs (you can select genres thankfully!) to your cadence. How cool is that?!

But if this whole sync your music to your speed really isn’t doing anything for you. Don’t stress. 

That’s where music’s other motivational powers come in to play.

Music for distraction

At some point during exercise your body is going to begin feeling fatigued. You’ll start to breathe heavier, sweat will start pouring and your muscles will begin to feel the burn.

Music is your diversion. 

When you have your fave Calvin Harris tune pumping in your ears, you can be so immersed that your brain doesn’t react to these physiological tiredness triggers as quickly as normal. That is, you don’t feel like you have to stop or slow down so soon.

That’s why it seems easier to run that 6km or get through those final few reps. You ignore, or at least get distracted from, the initial signs of fatigue and keep powering on.

However, the benefit of music as a distraction only works to a point. For low to moderate intensity exercise, music works a treat. If you’re going for high intensity, physical exhaustion will win out.

Music for motivation

Nothing effects your mood quite like music, right? 

If you have a strong emotional connection to a song, whether it’s because you can relate to the lyrics, the singer’s emotion or even if it brings back good memories, it can have a huge effect on how you feel – instantly. 

Brad Pitt rocking out on a treadmill

Some songs just literally move you (or make you want to move). And some songs are just made to be motivational. 

Take for example, Bon Jovi’s: “It’s my life, it’s now or never, I ain’t gonna live forever, I just want to [run] while I’m aliiiiiive. It’s. My. Life.”

Sorry… started to get a bit carried away. That’s some pretty empowering song writing right there. Each to their own, of course.

So next time you want to push past your threshold or stop yourself from giving up, make sure you’re really feeling the music.

How to create your perfect workout playlist

Based on allllll the advice above, here’s what you’ve got to think about when putting your perfect playlist together:

  1. DISTRACTION/COORDINATION: do you like the music and does it make you want to do a little shimmy like Patrick Stewart above?
  2. MOTIVATION: does it make you feel good, does it empower you (like you can push out that last push up!)?
  3. SPEED: does it match your pace (remember, there’s apps for that)?

Take into account what kind of exercise you’re doing too. If you’re running – something fast that matches your pace will help you get into a good rhythm. If you’re weight training – go for something with uplifting and motivational lyrics to help you power through.

And if nothing else, good music generally stops your workouts from sucking. 

Music is a must for an effective workout – 15% more effective to be exact. 

*P.S. Really sorry if you now have that Duck Sauce song and dear Ms Barbra Streisand stuck in your head for days – it could be worse... *cough* One Direction *cough*


Flickr Creative Commons Image via Jonathan Tommy.

Giphy gif sourced from io9.com.

Giphy gif sourced from www.reddit.com.

Giphy gif sourced from syddysb.tumblr.com.

Amy Cox

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
AMY COX
Amy is UQ Sport’s resident blogger. She’s a peanut-butter loving Brit, who exercises to eat whatever she wants. You’ll find Amy either in the gym, playing badminton or doing the wrong moves in group fitness classes.