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Body beat: How music can benefit your workouts

An article published on the Scientific American website states: “Many people depend on bumpin’ beats and stirring lyrics to keep themselves motivated when exercising.”

But the gym manager’s selection of the latest EDM compilation isn’t everyone’s preference. That’s why more people choose headphones or earphones to listen to their favourite playlist.

While this is an ideal method to ‘tune out’ the world and focus on your training, the right type of music during exercise does more than merely give your routine a motivating soundtrack.

READ MORE | How music impacts your workout

According to a 2012 study by researchers from the International Council for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, Sport and Dance, the most common reasons to listen to their music are:

  1. To work out harder (22,4%)
  2. Make the exercise seem easier (21,4%)
  3. To work out longer (20,2%)

In the study, the most common modes of exercise while listening to music were:

  1. Free weights (27,2%)
  2. Treadmill (26%)
  3. Machine weights (19,6%)
  4. Elliptical trainer (17, 4%)

READ MORE | Get personalised workout playlists on Spotify

Music is a performance enhancer

Prof. Ina Shaw, PhD, a leading local professor and researcher in the field of biokinetics, says research shows that music has the potential to improve an individual’s energy utilisation while they train.

This is believed to occur when a person synchronises their movements during aerobic-type movement (running, walking, rowing, etc.) with music,” says Shaw.

She also indicates that music may somehow lessen the by-product molecules (i.e. acidosis and elevated hormones) of high-intensity exercise that contribute to fatigue.

Research on the interplay of music and exercise dates back as far as 1911 when American investigator Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedalled faster while a band was playing than when it was not.

Accordingly, it is no secret that people generally run farther, swim faster, lift heavier and bike longer than usual when listening to music, in many cases without realising it.

In a 2012 review, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University of London, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug”.

While Shaw agrees that music can boost performance in the right athlete, in the right sport and under the right conditions, some individuals don’t derive the same benefit. 

Some research has shown that music, especially at maximal intensities, may not be able to override an individual’s physiological limitations.”

READ MORE | Deezer and Fitbit reveal SA’s top workout soundtracks

Shot of a beautiful young woman setting the music playlist for the workout.

Pick your playlist

According to Shaw, music can be used either to stimulate or calm an individual down prior to physical exertion.

A good tip for selecting music for a workout is to find preferential music that has a similar amount of beats per minute to the heart rate that you expect and that you want during the exercise you are going to do. So, when planning the exercises for your programme, it is essential to give thoughtful preparation to your music organisation and make sure that songs blend into a continuous mix,” says Shaw.

With so much to gain from adding the right type of music to your training or competition the decision to create a playlist and connect up to your music device at your next session may seem like a no-brainer.

However, there are a number of additional factors worth considering. Durban-based speech therapist and audiologist, Dr. Fathima Timol states that wearing headphones while training can make you more oblivious of other gym-goers and your surroundings.

Music in headphones can reduce our awareness and decreases our ability to react,” Timol states. “We therefore need to train our mind to listen to the music but also be aware of the environment around us.”

This is also the main reason why other sporting federations around the world have banned the use of headphones and earphones during mass sporting events. Athletes need to be able to listen to instruction from race marshals and officials and remain cognisant of traffic and the other athletes around then, for their own safety and the safety of other roads users.

When you listen to music in the gym, Timol’s advice is to use good quality headphones (or earphones) at an average sound level, perferably big over-the-ear headphones.

“I believe they fit better and they cut off more of the background noise than the in-ear-headphones. Using the in-the-ear ones are also okay as long as it is a good fit. A good fit decreases background noise and will prevent the listener from increasing the volume,” says Timol, who also advises that music should not exceed 85 decibels for any extended period of time.

By Werner Beukes

Author: Pedro van Gaalen

When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.

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