move to the rhythm
The secret to boosting your workout isn’t necessarily high-tech equipment – it could be the music you’re listening to
How music can boost your workout (and help you push past the pain).
Whether you’re into Haim or Halsey, you’re probably one of the millions of people engaging in the age-old ritual of exercising to music. “The power of music is huge. We’re programmed to respond to it and it can change your mood,” says fitness guru Kayla Itsines. “People ask me what they should do when they have no motivation to work out. I tell them to put on your favourite song and feel your brain and body kick into gear.” Such a believer in the positive relationship between tunes and exercise, Itsines and her team curate playlists that sync to workouts on her popular app Sweat, which can also be streamed directly from Apple Music.
Beyond the feel-good factor, research has shown music can give your workout an edge, too. Dr Costas Karageorghis, an expert on the psychology of exercise music from the UK’S Brunel University, found that specific elements of music, such as tempo, affect performance not only through motivation but by changing the perception of fatigue and pain. “In terms of activating people during exercise, there’s a sweet spot in tempo between 120 and 140 beats per minute, which is about double most people’s resting heart rate,” he says. “For indoor cycling at 70 revolutions per minute, you might then find music at 140 beats per minute and take a semi-revolution on each beat.” His research also found that the impact of music depends on whether it’s asynchronous (background music) or synchronous, which is when “you need rhythm to try to emulate the pattern of movement you’re seeking to produce”.
Interestingly, Dr Amanda Krause, a research fellow at The University of Melbourne, says it’s not only the song that can boost a workout, but the choice itself. “It’s more effective for people to distract and feel less pain if they’re the ones in control of making the choice.”
Pro athletes have long relied on music to give them a lift – Michael Phelps famously kept his headphones on until the last second at the Rio Olympics, admitting since that it was Eminem, Lil Wayne and Skrillex blasting through his Beats By Dre. “Output can be influenced by music, it can give an advantage and can also give a sense of personal control and mastery over your environment,” Karageorghis explains.
Now gyms are getting technical about their tunes, too. “We design the ebbs and flows of classes around the beat of songs,” says Katy Neville of Sydney’s The Barre Project. “Matching intense tempos to certain movements allows you to enter a meditative state and block out the world. And when the tempos are slow, you’re able to relax into it.” Neville aims for songs with 105 beats per minute – and lyrics are crucial. “When there are none, people focus on the pain.” Karageorghis agrees: “Where we can find music with positive lyrics in terms of altering the way we feel about ourselves or giving us messages that pertain to the type of activity we engage in, it can be very powerful.”
Krause suggests keeping it simple. “You have the social elements and personal associations with a song,” she says. “So something that’s going to cheer you up might be really useful in that 40th kilometre of a marathon, regardless of the tempo.” Meaning if a Bieber ballad helps you survive a HIIT session, then Mark My Words, you’ll be good to go. Plug in.