Should you listen to music while exercising?


Have you been finding it difficult to motivate yourself to exercise? Well, your problem might be due to the lack of motivating melodies or the style of music you are currently listening to.

Researchers have studied the effects of listening to music whilst exercising. Music may help you run faster, lift more and exercise for longer.

How can music improve your exercise performance?

Listening to music is suggested to help you perform better at exercise due to its effects on the brain. It does this in many ways:

  • Reduces the awareness of fatigue, acting as a distraction tool.
  • Increase levels of mental arousal, meaning better concentration.
  • Improve co-ordination, such moving on beat and on time.
  • Increase relaxation, which aids with focus and precision.
  • Changes mood state, music has the potential to make you feel happy or sad.


Some even suggest, that music could and should be used as a public health tool,because it can influence exercise enjoyment and participation. [1] Wouldn’t it be great if music could be used to solve our inactivity problems in society?

Music does this though four factors;

  • Rhythm response; this is the natural response a human has to certain rhythm or speed of music, usually expressed in beats per minute.
  • Musicality; this involves the pitch or tone of the music, how loud or varying the sounds are.
  • Cultural impact; how widely accepted a genre or style of music is and if it represents anything within an individuals life. For example heavy mental evoking a feeling of rebellion or strength.
  • Association; if the music is associated with any other event or feeling. For example the sound of the beagle playing on Anzac day or the sound of the national anthem.


All four of these factors have the potential to change the way we feel and influence our nervous system. By simply choosing a song or style of music to suit your given activity, you could prime your brain ready for the activity ahead. It could even potentially make you look forward to exercising, now wouldn’t that be awesome?

The use of tempo and pitch in running

Choosing the correct style of music for certain sporting activities is more important than you think, and should not be done in a haphazard way. If you’re serious about sporting performance choose your music carefully. For example if you’re a long distance runner look at choosing;

  • A quick tempo to match or push your running speed faster [6]
  • An upbeat song to put you in an alert frame of mind
  • Songs with positive encouraging lyrics or no lyrics to put you in a happy mood


This may even work with sprint distance runners. Researchers have tested the effect of different styles of music on 400m running a performance and showed that music can make athletes run faster, compared to when no music is used at all. And it’s not necessarily the style of music that counts in this example but the tempo and how well the athlete can synchronise themselves with the beat of the music played. [2]

In other words, pick a faster beat and you will naturally run faster. Pick a slower beat and you will naturally run slower. This will work even if you’re not musical or uncoordinated. Synchronising to the beat happens on an unconscious level so it doesn’t matter if you’re beat or tone deaf.

Exercise to music for different sports

The requirement or preferences of music will change for different training or sporting goals and this has been used throughout history. For example playing soft tranquil sounds during yoga classes for slow, relaxation style movements. Classical music in gymnastics is another example. Typical gymnastic routines use varying pitch and tone of classical instrumental pieces to choreograph dance and tumbling movements to. Routines typically speed up and slow down in different places, yet the classic music is still relaxing which allows for focus and precision.

In weight lifting the style of music that is beneficial may be different once again. Researchers have shown that when people are trying to increase strength, they benefited from listening to more up-beat rhythms. Rhythms chosen were greater than 130 beats per minute, compared to when they listened to relaxing classical tunes at less than 100 beats per minute. [5]

Maybe next time you’re at the gym make a playlist with some up-beat dance music to assist you in lifting heavier weights.

It’s not only the speed of movement that’s important here, but in other research studies the tempo of the musical accompaniment actually improves mood state. Researchers looked into what happens in aerobic classes that are performed on tempo. They found that when class participants move in sync with music during exercise, they report more positive moods. [3] It’s no wonder aerobics and dance classes are still a popular choice of exercise activity amongst gym goers.

It’s important to note, that self-selected music you enjoy works the best, because there are other association based mental activities going on at the same time, not just the tempo of the music chosen. Music you love will produce better results, than music you hate.

Exercising to music for people with disabilities

Music has also shown to be beneficial for people with disabilities, such as hemiparetic stroke patients. Typically these types of stroke patients have abnormal walking patterns such as; shorter walking stride and slower walking pace.

Researchers took two groups of stroke patients through an exercise program one with music and one without music. The group without sound was given normal walking training from an exercise coach. The second group was given the same therapy sessions but to music.

The walking with a musical accompaniment produced greater improvements than those without. Improvements included an increase in walking pace and a longer stride length. These improvements in walking capacity were simply by playing the right tunes to walk to.

It’s thought that the beat of the music helped stroke patients remember the timing better of how they should walk and hence stimulating a natural pace to walk to. [7]

Why music is great for exercise

Music tricks the brain into ignoring signs of fatigue, it helps you get distracted enough to increase the comfort level of performing exercise. [4] It helps you to stay alert, motivated, feel more coordinated and ultimately happier. It could be said that listening to tunes actually improves the exercise experience.

Next time you’re looking for a bit of motivation to go on a run, why don’t you put a playlist together of all your favourite tracks, get your head phones on and get running. You never know, you might even run a personal best. Crank it up!


[1] Peter C. Terry & Costas I. Karageorghis Psychophysical Effects of Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Theory, Research and Application

[2] Simpson, S., & Karageorghis, C.I. (in press). Effects of synchronous music on 400-metre sprint performance. Journal of Sports Sciences.

[3] Hayakawa, Y., Miki, H., Takada, K., & Tanaka, K. (2000). Effects of music on mood during bench stepping exercise. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 90, 307- 314.

[4] Effects of music during exercise on RPE, heart rate and the autonomic nervous system. 2006. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness

[5] Karageorghis CL, Drew KM, Terry PC. Effect of pretest simulative and sedative music on grip strength. 1996

[6] Karageorghis Cl, Jones L, Low DC. Relationship between exercise heart rate and music tempo preference. 2006 Research quarterly for exercise and for sport.

[7] Mauritz KH. Musical motor feedback in walking hemiparetic stroke patients; randomized trials of gait improvement. 2003 Journal of clinical rehabilitation.


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