Imagine taking a spinning class—or capoeira, or zumba or any derivative of cardio—without accompanying music, and the prospect is rather bleak. The addition of a soundtrack is essential to most people’s workout—it’s universally known to elevate what would otherwise be a pretty painful (albeit rewarding) experience. In a 2012 study from Brunel University London’s Costas Karageorghis, one of the world’s foremost experts on the psychology of music, the professor said that music is essentially “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” Here we explore the scientific reasons behind why your studio’s playlist really is that important.
A key finding in Karageorghis’ 30-year body of work is that during low-to-moderate intensity workouts, music distracts from pain, diverting the brain’s attention from fatigue to music stimuli instead. In other words, music distracts your student’s mind from both how physically and mentally tired they are becoming. “Given that exercise is often tiresome, boring and arduous, anything that relieves those negative feelings would be welcome,” Karageorghis explains.
According to Karageorghis, music loses its ability to mask pain and fatigue during a high-intensity workout, but it becomes a motivational tool people rely on to continue pushing forward rather than giving up. He says that music comprises four motivational aspects that every person relates to—rhythm, musicality (a.k.a. pitch or harmony), cultural impact and personal associations. The first two traits are categorized as “internal” factors, since they relate to a song’s inner makeup, while the latter factors are dubbed “external” because they are based upon one’s preferences and how they personally interpret a song.
Science jargon aside, the point Karageorghis is making is that the beats, lyrics and popularity of a song can propel a student forward in a workout. Running an extra mile in silence may be impossible for some, but with the help of Beyonce or Adele belting out their hits, it’s suddenly a goal within reach.
3. INCREASED PERFORMANCE & ENDURANCE
Another key benefit of a killer playlist? It can actually increase performance by up to 15 percent. “The synchronous application of music resulted in much higher endurance while the motivational qualities of the music impacted significantly on the interpretation of fatigue symptoms right up to the point of voluntary exhaustion,” Karageorghis reported. A separate study by John Moore’s University monitoring cyclists found that the athletes worked harder when they listened to faster music, compared to slower, softer tunes.
So what type of music will get your students there? “Findings show there is a sweet spot, in terms of tempo, between 120 and 140 beats per minute,” says Karageorghis, referring to students who are mid-workout performing moderate exercise. A few good examples: “Starships” by Nicki Minaj (125 bpm), “Domino” by Jessie J (127 bpm), and “Into You,” by Ariana Grande (126 bpm). For a warmup or cool down, Karageorghis recommends choosing songs that hover between 80 and 90 beats per minute, such as “Cold Water” by Major Lazer and Justin Bieber (93 bpm) or “Cheap Thrills” by Sia (90 bpm). (Tip: Head to songpbm.com to find out the bpm of any song you’re considering adding to a playlist.)
4. HAPPIER STUDENTS
The last and probably best reason music is imperative to a workout is that it just makes everyone straight up happy. The right song or playlist can elevate the mood, thus positively affecting the workout. If you stream a playlist of back-to-back hits in your class that has students smiling and hollering throughout, your grueling workout suddenly turns into a party-like atmosphere. And when your clients leave, they remember it that way—60 minutes spent sweating and singing. Perception is everything and through an upbeat, dance hall-esque playlist, you’ve altered your students perception of their workout from something that is typically hard and not exciting, to a fun, calorie-burning activity.