Music & Exercise – Get to Know the Research

As almost any group exercise instructor will tell you, the right music is key to making the class experience the best it can be. Certainly, Destiny Child’s Survivor can make the most difficult hill in cycling class a little less impossible, cranking out some ACDC could push you right through that last set of push-ups, and hearing Britney tell you to “Work” might just get you over the “am I there yet?” point in your cardio workout.

A little music research

The intelligent use of music not only contributes to the class experience but according to recent studies it can also:

  • Increase stamina
  • Reduce oxygen intake
  • Decrease perceived exertion

These reasons make it a worthwhile consideration when planning any workout.

Dr. Costas Karageorghis (School of Sport and Education, Brunel University, London) has been studying how music affects exercise for the past 20 years and concludes that for casual athletes, music is a legal performance-enhancing drug.   Dr. Karageorghis’s study came to several conclusions regarding, music selection involving intensity, speed, volume, and environment that could be beneficial to fitness professionals.

Most notably, the study concluded that well-selected music could reduce one’s level of perceived exertion by 12% thereby allowing them to “go harder” for a longer period of time.

What exactly is well-selected music?

Type of music

According to the study, the rhythmic quality of the music should match the level of desired intensity of the workout and appeal to the listener’s age, gender, background and musical preference.

Speed of music

The speed of the music is also a factor.   The study found the most effective music was between 120 and 140 beats per minute and that anything faster than 140 BPM can actually have an adverse effect.

Make it loud!

Despite what your mother may have told you, louder music is actually better for more intense workouts (within safe levels, less than 80 decibels) and soft music is effective at helping to lower the heart rate, especially when used in conjunction with short silences.

Keep them coming

Music can also be a factor in motivating a participant to return time and again, especially in the case of small group training or a class setting.

Match the music

Perhaps the statistic that appealed to my senses the most stated that exercise synchronized to a beat (did someone say dance-fitness?!?) extends that participant’s ability to perform by 15% suggesting that most workouts could use some sort of rhythmic movement to improve endurance.

This is one of the top reasons why people are so drawn to pre-choreographed classes.  They love that the music 100% matches to the moves and exercises completed, and are motivated by these connections.  Do you love pre-choreographed or fell freestyle classes are better?  For more on this debate, check out: Pre Choreographed vs. Freestyle Programming – The Great Debate.

Create your classes

Dr. Karageorghis’s work is the most recent research available but certainly not the only study out there suggesting that fitness professionals should give a lot of thought to the music they use when teaching, training or even working out on their own.  Consider your target audience and the goal of the program- will you be sprinting to Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumble Bee, practicing downward-facing dog to nature sounds, or shaking your groove thang to Lady Gaga? The answer could give you a leg-up and your clients a much-needed, bass-driven boost into better fitness!

Create great playlists

Check out these four (4) great tips on how to create playlists that will motivate and inspire everyone in your classes to work to the very end: Don’t Have Sucky Music! 4 Steps for Successful Group Exercise Playlists.

Need some help knowing where to get great music that is legal and legit for using in your classes?  Check out our full list of Music Resources.  Or check out these playlists that our Pro Team and Choreo Freaks have shared.

  • Pilates Pump
  • Power Yoga
  • ZUMBA Highs and Lows
  • Zumba Fitness

Learn More

If this topic interests you, check out Dr. Karageorshis’s book, Inside Sport Psychology and learn more about some the physiological effects of music on exercise as outlined by Dr. Len Kravitz, in his article, the Effects of Music on Exercise.


Music & Exercise - Get to Know the Research

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Music & Exercise – Get to Know the Research

by Jenn Hall Time to Read: 3 min
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