Mar 29

Move to the Beat – The Effect of Workout Music

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This is a continuation from the February article.
The following information is based on my survey of articles, research abstracts, and articles by SIRC Canada. The credit for the respective authors is provided in the References at the end.

Studies – Part II

The Psychophysical Impact of Music

Because – according to research findings – music is a major influence in society it is no surprise that athletes incorporate music into their workouts. Many believe that it can greatly increase their workout output, and motivate them during training or exercise – when linked to aerobic or endurance training (example, running, cycling, etc.). Although it may seem to some to be inane or fruitless, research indicates that numerous applications of music can be used to maximize personal workout. However, we need to mention here that this applies to youth and experienced, not developmental athletes, who still depend upon instruction, direction, correction, feedback, and encouragement from their coach during workouts or training.

At times, athletes may start to feel that the daily exercise routine becomes boring, a ‘grind’, difficult, or even unpleasant. Subsequently, motivation becomes increasingly important if the level of workout is to be maintained over an extended period of time. Interest and enjoyment play a big role, and a great playlist can make a world of difference. If the selected music is ‘attention grabbing’, and encourages ‘moving to the beat’, workouts become more fun!

Findings from sample studies

Participants in a study were found to workout significantly longer when exposed to motivational rather than ‘neutral’ music or no music at all. It was found that most males and females responded with the following:

  • Brighter mood/outlook
  • Increased motivation
  • Reduced feelings of pain or fatigue
  • Perceived level of difficulty within the workout changed 

Suggestions for Selecting Suitable Playlist

Here are some suggestions:

  • Spotify is a free music streaming app that allows you to create your own playlist or choose from dozens of premade playlists specifically tailored to your music-listening needs
  • jog.fm download the jog.fm app that plays music from your iTunes library and matches your running pace 
  • Motion Traxx Radio workout music for running and exercise is also available through iTunes. The non-stop workout mixes are designed for running, cardio, cycling, power walking, and interval training. 

Your favourite playlist can help you to focus, relax, and create positive feelings when you’re less than excited about ‘having’ to work out or train.


SIRC Collection

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

Elliott, D. D., Carr, S. S., & Savage, D. D. (2004). Effects of motivational music on work output and affective responses during sub-maximal cycling of a standardized perceived intensity. Journal of Sport Behavior, 27(2), 134-147.

van der Vlist, B., Bartneck, C., & Mäueler, S. (2011). Using interactive music to guide and motivate users during aerobic exercising. Applied Physiology and Biofeedback, 36(2), 135-145. moBeat.

Workout Intensity: What’s in a Playlist? (2010). Running & FitNews, 28(5), 4-6.


Additional Studies

According to Szabo, Small & Leigh (1999), a prevailing belief exists that music facilitates exercise performance by reducing the sensation of fatigue, increases psychological arousal, promotes relaxation, and improves motor coordination. An examination puts these theories to the test when Harmon and Kravitz, (2007) investigated the effects of music as a motivator in exercise performance (Refer to February Newsletter). According to these authors, for years, researchers examined the effects of music on exercise performance; however, the results revealed conflicting data. Karageorghis and Terry (1997) attribute this to the use of different research designs. Some studied the role of music in enabling exercisers to increase their workloads or the length of time between their starting point and exhaustion, proposing that music can prevent exercisers from focusing on the specific physical sensations of fatigue. Researchers also suggest that this mechanism may be more effective at lower exercise levels than at higher intensities, at which the body’s internal cues of fatigue have a greater influence (Karageorghis & Terry, 1997).

Szabo, Small, and Leigh (1999) studied the effects of slow-rhythm and fast-rhythm classical music on progressive cycling to the stage of voluntary physical exhaustion using Symphony music, wherein fast music was two times faster than slow music. 12 males and females listened to music that was slow, fast, slow-to-fast, and fast-to-slow; the control group had no music. For the slow-to-fast and fast-to-slow trials, the tempo was adjusted once a subject’s heart rate reached 70% of maximal reserve. The investigators found that those in the slow-to-fast intervention completed a slightly higher exercise workload than subjects in all other study conditions. According to the author’s, these findings may indicate music can temporarily distract exercisers from some of the body’s internal cues typically associated with tiredness.

The Importance of Workout Intensity

Eight males were studied to determine if the intensity of a workout impacts the effect of listening to music (Yamashita, Iwai, Akimoto, Sugawara & Kono, 2006). The subjects performed two 30-minute submaximal cycle ergometer exercise bouts at 40% of maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max) and at 60% VO2max. The researchers found that those in the 40% VO2max trial, who listened to self-selected music, had a lower rating of perceived exertion (RPE) than those in the control group (no music); however, the music did not show this effect in the 60% VO2max trial.

The Effect of Music Type

Researchers have investigated the effects of different types and intensities of music on a graded maximal treadmill test (Copeland & Franks, 1991). 13 females and 11 males of college-age walked and ran to maximal capacity listening to type A music (loud, fast, exciting); type B music (soft, slow, easy-listening); or no music. The actual times to exhaustion varied by less than 30 seconds, and the maximal heart rates varied by only 2 beats per minute in the three conditions, which may very well indicate that in measures of maximal work capacity, music is not able to provide an ergogenic effect above that of the body’s physiological limitations.

Unlike many researchers who focused on time to reach the exhaustion stage during exercise trials, Atkinson, Wilson and Eubank (2004) investigated average speed, power, heart rate (HR), and RPE (Rating of Perceived Exertion – measuring intensity of exercise) for 16 physically active 25-year-old males during timed trials on a cycle ergometer. “Dance” music (142 beats per minute [bpm]) was used in a 10-kilometer (10K) trial, and the results were compared with those from a 10K control trial that used no music. Average speed, power, and HR were significantly higher in the group with music accompaniment than in the control group. Though subjects were cycling at higher speeds during the music trial, their RPE was also higher. This suggests that they were fully aware of the intensity despite the attempt to alter perceived exertion with the use of music. In their qualitative assessment of the trials, subjects noted an ergogenic effect of the music that seemingly stimulated their cycling performances. Substantiating this qualitative finding with a very large group (532 subjects) of male and female participants, Priest and colleagues demonstrated that participants were inspired to exercise by preferential choices of music, with the one commonality being a strong rhythmic component (Priest, Karageorghis & Sharp, 2004).

Practical Application

Research findings suggest that music, regardless of whether it lowers exercisers’ RPE, can act as a motivator, enabling individuals to exercise with greater efficiency. However, the motivational stimulus may be less effective at higher intensities.

Improving Strength and Endurance Through Psychological Arousal

One investigation dealt with the effects of different types of music on the grip strength of 25 males and 25 females of college-age (Karageorghis, Drew & Terry, 1996). Participants were subjected to three testing conditions prior to a grip strength test: listening to stimulating, energetic music (more than 130 bpm); listening to sedative, relaxing music (less than 100 bpm); and listening to white noise sounds from a blank cassette (white noise- contains many frequencies with equal intensities). Care was taken to choose music familiar to the subjects in order to enhance any arousal effect. Analysis of the results revealed that subjects had significantly higher strength scores when listening to stimulating music rather than sedative music or white noise. Furthermore, sedative music produced significantly lower grip scores than white noise. No significant difference in gender responses was found.

Timing of Music Intervention

To determine whether the timing of music intervention makes a difference, Crust (2004) examined the effects of listening to music during a muscular endurance test (holding a dumbbell at a 90-degree angle in front of the body to exhaustion stage) rather than just prior to the test. 27 college-age males listened to either white noise or self-selected motivational music (120 bpm) under the following three conditions: (1) music or white noise was played immediately before the task prior exposure; (2) music or white noise was played simultaneously with the task but terminated halfway through (half exposure); and (3) music or white noise was played simultaneously with the task and continued throughout (full exposure). Crust found that all conditions of music exposure produced significantly longer endurance times than the white noise experience. A comparison of the results showed that subjects who experienced full exposure produced significantly longer times to exhaustion than those with prior exposure. Crust noted that using self-selected motivational music (as opposed to researcher selected music) was indicative of a real-life situation.

Practical Application

Music can increase exercisers’ psychological arousal, but choices should reflect the level of arousal needed to perform certain tasks (North & Hargreaves, 2000). Specifically, when doing physically demanding work or exercise, energetic music that the exercisers enjoy is most beneficial.

Music and Relaxation

The theory that music increases relaxation during exercise is based on the concept that it can ‘dampen’ some of the byproducts of high-level exercise such as acidosis and elevated hormone levels, thereby enhancing performance. To test this theory, Szmedra and Bacharach (1998) had 10 healthy, well-trained males complete two 15-minute treadmill trials at 70% VO2max. In one trial, the subjects listened to classical music (Hooked on Classics, Volume 3) while exercising, and no music was used in the other trial. Since plasma lactate and norepinephrine have been identified as indices of exercise stress, the researchers measured these components along with HR (heart rate), blood pressure, and RPE during the treadmill running. The results showed statistically significant decreases in HR, systolic blood pressure, and lactate levels when individuals listened to music during the treadmill test. Though the levels of norepinephrine were also slightly lower in the group who listened to music, the difference was not statistically significant. The authors suggest that music has the ability to interfere with unpleasant stimuli and sensations associated with exercise. In this study, music not only led to a lower RPE but also influenced the metabolic (acidosis) and hemodynamic (heart rate and blood pressure) components.

Practical Application

Although the exact mechanism of this phenomenon is still unclear, music does appear to limit some of the uncomfortable physical sensations associated with exercise. Encouraging participants to listen to self-selected music during challenging exercise is an application that fitness professionals have employed for years. In order to improve motor coordination, researchers have been interested in ways music or rhythmic stimuli might be used to improve, augment, or enhance both large and small motor tasks.

Music and Gait Training

This is usually applied to stroke patients with abnormal gait function caused mainly by abnormalities in motor control. However, this could be of value for injured athletes, especially those with hip, groin, and hamstring issues affecting performance. According to findings, recovery can be enhanced with the use of extensive motor training. Schauer and Mauritz (2003) demonstrated that subjects who combined auditory feedback of their own steps with a musical accompaniment showed greater improvements than those in a conventional gait therapy control group. Significant differences in the intervention group included an increase in walking speed and stride length, decrease in symmetry deviation, and improved rollover path length. The researchers hypothesized that motor, cognitive, and perceptive processes were in some way influenced by musical stimuli, producing an overall improvement in walking. An earlier review of the literature suggests that the beat in music might improve gait regularity by allowing individuals to find the desired rate of movement (Kravitz, 1994). The rhythm and percussion of auditory cues may have a positive effect on coordinated walking and proprioceptive control.



Atkinson, G., Wilson, D., & Eubank, M. (2004). Effects of music on work-rate distribution during a cycling time trial. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 25(8), 611-615.

Copeland, B. L., & Franks, B. D. (1991). Effects of types and intensities of background music on treadmill endurance. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 31(1),100-103. March 1991.

Crust, L. (2004). Carry-over effects of music in an isometric muscular endurance task. Perceptual Motor Skills, 98 (3 Pt. 1), 985-991. June 2004.

Harmon, N. M., & Kravitz, L. (2007). The beat goes on: The effects of music on exercise. IDEA. Article. September. Retrieved February 20, 2017, from https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article% 20folder/musictwo.html

Karageorghis, C. I., Drew, K. M., & Terry, P. C. (1996). Effects of pre-test stimulative and sedative music on grip strength. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 83 (3 Pt. 2), 1347-1352. December 1996.

Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1997). The psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: A review. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(1), 54-68.

Kravitz, L. (1994). The effects of music on exercise. IDEA Today, 12(9), 56-61.

Molinari, M., Leggio, M. G., De Martin, M., Cerasa, A., & Thaut, M. (2003). Neurobiology of rhythmic motor entrainment. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 999, 313-21. November 2003.

North, A. C., & Hargreaves, D. J. (2000). Musical preferences during and after relaxation and exercise. American Journal of Psychology, 113(1), 43–67. Spring 2000.

Priest, D. L., Karageorghis, C. I., & Sharp, N. C. (2004). The characteristics and effects of motivational music in exercise settings: The possible influence of gender, age, frequency of attendance, and time of attendance. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 44(1), 77-86. March 2004.

Schauer, M., & Mauritz, K-H. (2003). Musical motor feedback (MMF) in walking hemiparetic stroke patients: Randomized trials of gait improvement. Clinical Rehabilitation, 17(7), 713–722. November 2003.

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), 220-225. September 1999.

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. January 1998.

Thaut, M. H., Kenyon, G. P., Schauer, M. L., & McIntosh, G. C. (1999). The connection between rhythmicity and brain function: Implications for therapy of movement disorders. IEEE Engineering Med Biology Mag, 18(2), 101-108. March-April 1999.

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), 425-430. September 2006.


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