Move to the Music

When you first start a new workout program, you’re ready and rearing to go! It’s exciting and energising, and you often wonder why you didn’t start sooner…

But after a while, no matter how enthusiastic you were at first, motivation starts to wean. The HIIT class seems exhausting rather than energising; those weight-training machines no longer hold the same allure; that evening walk weighs about as heavily as the bowl of pasta you ate for dinner. It’s disappointing. After all your initial interest, you wind up with a serious case of the “workout blues.”

But have you ever tried countering this unmotivated mood with another kind of workout blues? Exercising to music – be it blues, hip hop or pop – might be just the motivational injection your lagging workout needs.

Studies show we move better to the groove

Recent research has shown that music can be a key motivational tool for exercise, and listening to up-beat music can actually increase the intensity of a workout.

Regardless of the type of exercise undertaken in the studies, performance improved by around 5 – 7% when participants listened to music while exercising. It was also observed that these exercisers had higher final heart rate readings, indicating the music motivated them to work harder during their workouts. As sport psychology lecturer, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, explains, “Music may have a considerable effect on enjoyment levels during exercise, and selecting the ‘right’ music may be a key factor in maintaining adherence to exercise.”

Why does music help with motivation?

When you exercise, it can be all too easy to focus your attention on how bored you are, or on the fatigue you’re feeling. Music can provide a good distraction from these thoughts. It seems humans cannot focus their attention on too many thoughts and stimuli at once, and so select the most dominant one – the music. People who exercise while listening to music also often experience a reduced sense of effort – in other words, the music allows them to exercise harder but feel less fatigue.

Good news, huh? Just remember for this effect to be noticeable, you need to make sure the music is loud enough for it to be the main focus of your attention, rather than just a passive background noise. Listen actively to the lyrics and beat of the music, and let it block out other noises around you. However, never have the volume too loud while running or cycling on the street; your safety is critical and you need to be able to hear traffic and other surrounding noises.

Use music to set the pace of your exercise

Studies also suggest that music can improve the efficiency of your workout. It may be that “the faster the music, the faster the workout”, but it’s also important to select the right kind of music for the right kind of exercise. The tempo of the music has been identified as one of the most important factors for motivation.

For instance, consider what would happen if you listened to up-beat music while performing an exercise program that was comprised of slow, controlled movements, such as tai-chi or slow reps during weight lifting? In these types of exercise, the pace of the exercise is much more important to the effectiveness of the workout than the intensity. Not only that, but carrying out an exercise at a faster pace than what is recommended can lead to injuries, such as overworking or tearing muscles and tendons.

On the other hand, listening to slow music during intense exercise may also have adverse results. Exercise intensity is very important when the goal is to burn fat. Choose music with a tempo the same as the rate at which you plan to exercise.

Musical taste is personal

Choose music that triggers positive feelings in you; you want to inspire yourself to complete a better workout and make it more enjoyable, not drain your motivation! If pop music makes you want to pump and grind…to a halt, then keep it shelved! If country music is what strums your strings, then switch it on. (And if you’re using headphones, no one will ever know!)

Overall, pick workout music that is in the genre you enjoy (pop, classical, rock, etc.) and that has a tempo that matches the intensity of your exercise. For a bit of subconscious encouragement, you could also try music that is associated with sport, or contains inspiring or catchy lyrics that promote physical activity to help you “move your body”.

Don’t forget to mix up your music, too. If you’re continually playing the same tracks over and over, you’ll soon find your mind tuning out the music – and it probably won’t be long before your motivation is drooping all over again.

Of course, if you don’t like music in general, don’t use it! Some people prefer to focus on their own thoughts while exercising and actually find music a turn-off. Assess your mood during and after exercising with music and see how it makes you feel.

Give music a try for your next workout – maybe it will be just the boost you need!



This article was compiled in consultation with experts and in reference to the following sources:

L. Crust, ‘Ergogenic aids: How turning on and tuning in can boost your motivation and aid your workout.’ Peak Performance, Available: (Accessed: July 2004)

C.I. Karageorghis, ‘Music in sport and exercise: Theory and practice,’ The Sport Journal, 2(2), Spring 1999, Available: (Accessed: July 2004)

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top