Move to the Music
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Move to the Music

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

But after a while, no matter how interested you were at first, motivation starts to wear a little thin. That step-class doesn’t tickle your endorphins quite so much; those weight-training machines no longer lure you like they used to; that evening walk weighs about as heavily as the bowl of pasta you just ate for dinner. It’s disappointing. After all your initial enthusiasm, 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, hiphop 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 that listening to up-beat music can increase the intensity of a workout.

Regardless of the type of exercise being undertaken in the studies, performance was improved by around 5 to 7 percent when participants listened to music while exercising. It was also found that these exercisers had higher final heart-rate readings, indicating that 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 we exercise, it can be all too easy to focus our attention on how bored we are or on the fatigue that we’re feeling. Music can provide a good distraction from these thoughts. It seems we cannot focus our 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 find that they have a reduced sense of effort – in other words, the music allows them to exercise harder but feel less fatigue.

Good news, huh? For this effect to be noticeable, you need to make sure the music is played loud enough for it to be the main focus of your attention, rather than just a passive background noise. But also be careful that it’s not so loud as to impair hearing! Listen actively to the lyrics and beat of the music, and let it block out other noises around you. However, you should 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

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The findings of the studies give credibility to the idea that music can improve the efficiency of your workout. It may be that “the faster the music, the faster the workout”, but it is 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 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-tempo 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.

“You say potato, I say patatah” – Musical taste is personal

Although music is a promising way to help battle the “workout blues,” the type of music you select and how it affects you is very personal. Musical taste varies considerably between individuals.

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 listen to it. (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 your type of exercise. For a bit of subconscious encouragement, you could also try music that is associated with sport or that contains lyrics that promote 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 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.

So get that body bopping!

Whether you prefer Metallica, Britney, or Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, it is important to keep in mind the type of exercise you are performing and the type of music you actually like. Give music a try for your next workout – maybe it will be just the boost you need!

References :

This article was compiled in consultation with Calorie King 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: http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/0951.htm (Accessed: July 2004)

C.I. Karageorghis, ‘Music in sport and exercise: Theory and practice,’ The Sport Journal, 2(2), Spring 1999, Available: http://www.thesportjournal.org/1999Journal/Vol2-No2/Music.asp (Accessed: July 2004)

Calorie King
CalorieKing's mission is to provide the best information, tools and education to Australians to help them conquer their weight.

CalorieKing is the brainchild of Allan Borushek, registered dietitian, co-found here at food.com.au and author of "Allan Borushek's Pocket Calorie & Fat Counter", Australia's best-selling calorie counter for over 30 years.

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