Walk into any gym in the world and you’ll immediately be met with loud, energetic music playing in the background. The inclusion of music with exercise increased exponentially during the 1980s when popular home fitness programs were aired on television or sold in VHS packages. The vast majority of people listen to music during their workout – unless they were seriously scarred by watching their mother workout with Jane Fonda on TV back “in the day.” The funny thing is though, that while every gym is blasting music over the loud speakers, most gym goers are jamming to their own music on their headphones. Music can definitely help improve exercise performance, but being able to select your own music improves performance beyond generic music alone (1,5,8,9,11). Unless you’re lucky enough to train in some hardcore, grungy garage gym, this seems like a good enough reason to tell the front desk to turn the music down, right?
Listening to music during exercise appears to have many benefits, especially for low and moderate intensity exercises (1,3,5,7,10,11). Music can reduce perceived exertion, improve mood state, increase arousal, and reduce overall anxiety (2). Unfortunately, the jury is still out on whether music has any benefit to intense exercise like sprints or maximal lifting. Some music and performance studies show improvements in anaerobic power and fatigue rates (2,6,8) while others exhibit no change in peak power or movement velocity (5,7). As far as resistance training goes, music may not improve peak power output for maximal efforts but it does seem to increase repetitions to failure in sets at low and moderate intensities (5). This is extremely applicable for the bodybuilder or individual interested in general fitness; if max strength isn’t necessarily your goal, listening to music, especially music you like, can definitely improve your workout performance.
The largest benefit to listening to music during exercise is that it simply makes your workout more enjoyable (4,8). This enjoyment ultimately leads to better adherence to an exercise program (1) which is essential for making gains and reaching your goals. We all know consistency is the #1 component of an effective training program and it appears that listening to your own music during workouts can help that aspect. This also may help individuals who are hesitant about starting a workout program stick with it in the beginning stages when working out feels awkward and hurts like hell.
Since we have the benefits mostly covered, I don’t think we need a ton of scientific evidence to prove the case for music during exercise. Just about any gym goer will tell you they prefer music while they exercise and many probably believe music to have a performance-enhancing effect on their workouts. Now, we’ve got a real treat for you – we’re going to compile a list of motivational songs that you may not have heard before. It goes without saying that many of these songs contain explicit lyrics or inappropriate content that we do not endorse by any means – it’s just for the gains, remember that. Each song has a link to YouTube if you want to check it out.
Top Motivational Songs
- Alter, D. A., et. al. (2015). Synchronized personalized music audio-playlists to improve adherence to physical activity among patients participating in a structured exercise program: a proof-of-principle feasibility study. Sports Medicine-Open, 1(1), 23.
- Brooks, K., & Brooks, K. (2010). Difference in Wingate power output in response to music as motivation. Journal of Exercise Physiology, 13(6), 14-20.
- Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1997). The psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: A review. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(1), 54.
- Khalfa, S., Dalla Bella, S., Roy, M., Peretz, I., & Lupien, S. J. (2003). Effects of relaxing music on salivary cortisol level after psychological stress. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999(1), 374-376.
- Moss, S. L., Enright, K., & Cushman, S. (2018). The influence of music genre on explosive power, repetitions to failure and mood responses during resistance exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 37, 128-138.
- Sanchez, X., Moss, S. L., Twist, C., & Karageorghis, C. I. (2014). On the role of lyrics in the music–exercise performance relationship. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(1), 132-138.
- Schwartz, S. E., Fernhall, B., & Plowman, S. A. (1990). Effects of music on exercise performance. Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention, 10(9), 312-316.
- Stork, M. J., Kwan, M. Y., Gibala, M. J., & Martin, K. G. (2015). Music enhances performance and perceived enjoyment of sprint interval exercise. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, 47(5), 1052-1060.
- Szabo, A., Small, A., & Leigh, M. (1999). The effects of slow-and fast-rhythm classical music on progressive cycling to voluntary physical exhaustion. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical fitness, 39(3), 220.
- Szmedra, L., & Bacharach, D. W. (1998). Effect of music on perceived exertion, plasma lactate, norepinephrine and cardiovascular hemodynamics during treadmill running. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19(1), 32-37.
- Yamashita, S., Iwai, K., Akimoto, T., Sugawara, J., & Kono, I. (2006). Effects of music during exercise on RPE, heart rate and the autonomic nervous system. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 46(3), 425.
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