Feb 27

“Move to the Beat” – The Psychology of Effective Workout Music

Share This Post!


I have always been interested in the effect of music on both exercise and athletic performance. In my search, I came across some interesting articles. I have modified the information, and listed the References at the bottom of each article.

This topic is divided into several parts.

Note: Using music while warming-up, cooling-down, during training, or before or during a competition/game depends on the age and level of expertise of the athlete(s). For example, although suited background music could be beneficial for development athletes, they need to be able to focus entirely on the correction(s) and feedback of the coach.

“Move to the Beat” – The Psychology of Effective Workout Music


Everyone seems to have those stressful days where things don’t seem to go our way and it is more appealing to ‘laze around’ rather than work out or train. A helpful tool to overcome this slump is music because it can act as a motivational tool to get our bodies moving. However, in the ‘age of techno gadgets’, music has become more than just background noise at a party. Mp3 players and downloading sites such as iTunes have made it a part of people’s daily routines with a shift to exercise programs and athletic training. For some, it has become a vice.

The February Tip of the Month centers on the effect of music during training and prior to competition or a game. According to the research results, there are more positive than negative influences on athletic performance. However, it should be remembered that it is common that research findings can differ. Coaches, therefore, need to examine the ‘pros and cons’ and then decide on the appropriate use of music, rather than ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ without doing any research of their own.

Studies – Part I

According to Brooks and Brooks (2010), anaerobic and aerobic training generally elicit changes specific to the mode of training, although the physiological response to both types of exercises differs greatly. Previous studies have shown mixed results most likely attributed to failure of controlling the environment. Self-selection of music, as opposed to using pre-selected music or music that is categorized as motivational, has also produced mixed results. In addition, studies of submaximal versus maximal performance, as well as exercise at moderate intensity versus high-intensity, have reported mixed findings.

“Enhancing sports performance through the use of music” (Brooks and Brooks, 2010), a study that examines music as a motivational tool in aerobic versus anaerobic performance, concludes that the greatest response to music as a motivational aid is found with aerobic or endurance training, while resistance training and anaerobic training would need further investigation. Based on the results, music as a motivational tool has the greatest impact on cardiovascular exercise whereas resistance training and anaerobic exercise have not been analyzed as often.

Conclusions of the Study:

  • Compared to aerobic exercise performance and its relationship with music as a motivational device, anaerobic testing and exercise performance have produced mixed results.
  • The effect in anaerobic performance is very important in sports performance as most of the popular sports are power sports or have an anaerobic component.
  • If music is significant in motivating athletes, it can be used as both a positive and a negative tool in the sports arena.
  • Intensity of music in anaerobic performance could prove to be positive or negative.
  • If the motivational music contributes to a significant increase in anaerobic performance, it can be said that slow, sad, and discouraging music may have a negative effect on performance.
  • The intensity and beats per minute may prove to limit or enhance anaerobic performance as it does in aerobic performance.


Brooks, K. A., & Brooks, K. S. (2010). Enhancing sports performance through the use of music, American Society of Exercise Physiologists, JEP 13(2), 52-57. Online.

The Effects Of Music On Athletic Performance

According to Flaherty (2008), music is a way to distract oneself from physical activity and lessen the consciousness of fatigue. However, recent studies reveal that music has a much greater effect than just providing a distraction; it has been determined that music has a great impact on the performance level of an athlete, and that the correct type of music can heighten an athlete’s performance by up to 20%. Sport psychologist Karageorghis at Brunel University (London, UK) examined the results of synchronous versus asynchronous music. The former has a clear and steady beat and was shown to elevate performance by 20% whereas the latter (background music) seemed to calm the nerves of athletes by as much as 10%. He theorizes that there are four main components to the effects of music:

It can:

  • Distract from fatigue
  • Act as a mood altering catalyst
  • Synchronize an athlete’s rhythm and movement
  • Be a trigger for learning certain motions and aid with muscle memory

Based on the evidence, there seems to be a correlation between music and performance. But what is really happening? A study to investigate the psychological effects of music on performance at Milligan College in Tennessee set up an experiment under the term ‘priming’ with the aim to answer that question. The participants of the study were given particular instructions (i.e. they were ‘primed’) prior to the experiment so they were predisposed to respond to the stimulus in a particular way. When participants are told that a given stimulus is going to affect them in some way, they behave accordingly. This ‘priming’ process is particularly effective with regards to physical exercise. Therefore, it is the perfect way to test the effects of music on athletes. The ‘raw’ effects of music can be measured by pre-conditioning the study subjects to certain expectations and attitudes,

For this experiment, ninety-one college students were invited to run several laps while listening to music for a scheduled duration. Ninety-one participants were divided into three groups: Group A was told that music would heighten their athletic performance immensely; Group B were informed that music would greatly diminish their ability to perform well; Group C (control group) was not given any information on the impact that music would have on their performance. The results were fairly significant and demonstrated that preconceived notions of the effects are key to actually seeing positive effects from music during athletic performance.

The most interesting and significant part of this study was the fact that two groups were told completely different information and performed very differently. This demonstrates that it is not the music that is changing the level of the achieved athletic performance, rather, it is the knowledge that an outside force might have the ability to change one’s performance level that actually made an impact.

This may be a clear indication of the power that the brain has on affecting a person’s physical self.  Similar to the sugar pill, the impact that music can have on a person is a preconceived notion – music itself does not have the power to induce athletic prowess.


Flaherty, G. (2008). The effects of music on athletic performance. Online. Web Paper.


How Does Music Inspire Sport Performance?

This information is modified from SIRC Canada (Sport Information Resource Centre), received January 31, 2017.

Numerous studies show results that music provides a welcome distraction from discomfort and serves as a great mood booster. It encourages moving with the beat of each song, and has the capacity to increase energy and improve physical performance. This is great news for anyone that may have trouble to get motivated for both recreational exercise as well as elite training or performance.

Here are some of the findings:

  • Music can reduce feelings of stress or anxiety before a competition or race
  • It has the potential to switch a negative mood to a positive one.
  • The Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) is likely to be lower and thus one may work longer and push harder.
  • Moving to a beat may help to master a variety of movement patterns and increase motor skills.
  • Listening to music increases the chance that an athlete experiences a ‘state of flow’, i.e., ‘losing’ oneself in what one is doing. It is considered to be an optimal state whereby an athlete becomes relaxed but with complete focus and concentration on the task at hand.


How to Select a Playlist?

  • Obviously, music is very individualized so when working out on your own, pick songs that get the athlete ‘pumped up’ and excited to move.
  • Ideally, the best exercise music should be between 120-140 beats per minute (BPM). Figure out the BPM of a song the old fashioned way by simply counting, or access software online that calculates it for you.
  • There are endless ways to customize the playlist. The selected music depends on taste and the type of exercise to be performed. For example, if running at a steady pace on a treadmill, a playlist that slowly increases the BPM with ‘power songs’ added at the end can provide extra motivation to finish the workout strong.
  • If creating a personal playlist seems too time consuming, there are plenty of exercise compilations available for free or to purchase online.
  • Studies have shown that listening to music directly influences the enjoyment of the activity to be performed. One of the #1 compliments or complaints about fitness classes is on the music.
  • This means that if the coach leads the group workout, the chosen music played (and the volume) is a very important consideration when designing the program.
  • When people listen to music they enjoy they tend to experience less pain and fatigue and have lower levels of perceived exertion.
  • There are also indications that people can push themselves to work harder and move faster than they would without music.
  • Incorporating music into the workout is easy and provides a lot of positive benefits that can occur before, during, or after physical activity.

So, pick some songs and get your body moving!



SIRC Collection

Bassett, J. West, S., & Shores, K. (2011). The effects of asynchronous music on the physical activities of youth in supervised recreation activities. Journal of Park & Recreation Administration, 29(1), 80-97. Spring 2011.

Jones, L., Karageorghis, C., & Ekkekakis, P. (2014). Can high-intensity exercise be more pleasant? Attentional dissociation using music and video. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 36(5), 528-541. October 2014.

Karageorghis, C., Terry, P., Lane, A., Bishop, D., & Priest, D. (2011). The BASES expert statement on the use of music in exercise. Sport & Exercise Scientist, 28, 18-19. June 2011.

Koç H., & Curtseit, T. (2009). The effects of music on athletic performance. Ovidius University Annals, Series Physical Education & Sport/Science, Movement & Health, 9(1), 44-47. March 2009.

Senger, M. (2013). Science uncovers the perfect playlist. IDEA Fitness Journal, 10(8), 48-57. September 2013.

Tiev, M., Manire, S., Robert, J., & Barbara, W. (2010). Effect of music and dialogue on perception of exertion, enjoyment, and metabolic responses during exercise. International Journal of Fitness, 6(2), 45-52. July 2010.

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>