Fewer things are less motivating than a workout plateau. But, if you’re desperate need to hit that new PB, switching up your work out music may be the secret.
We all know from our own experience that the right playlist influences performance, but why? To get the science, we asked Dr Costas Karageorghis, a leading researcher at Brunel University and author of Applying Music in Exercise and Sport, to break it down.
“Music doesn’t influence what we feel, but it does influence how we feel it,” he says. From stimulating specific areas of the brain (“FMRI scanners have revealed [that music is involved in] the activation of the cerebellum – one of the earliest parts of the brain to form – and also part of the motor cortex, which generates movement in the human body,”) to altering our brain activity, (“brain waves have a cycle of synchronising, de-synchronising and re-synchronising, yet this cycle appears to be extended by music,”) the right tune can ramp up your inner Mo Farah.
Due to the altered brain waves, less thought is needed to actually engage in your workout whilst you are listening to music. According to Dr Kargeorghis: “You’re more likely to enter a float state or a state of little conscious awareness, and you’re immersed in the exercise you’re doing.” As to when you start to feel depleted: “music suppresses the lower band theta brain waves which become quite strong when we are highly fatigued.” This beat-gained block allows us to power through and to perform at a higher level than we would if it was left to pure willpower.
Side note: this can stop working as effectively when we reach our peak. “When we are going beyond 75 per cent of our aerobic capacity – when your heart is beating hard and you’re perspiring profusely – is when we make the most cardiorespiratory gains, but this is when music cannot alter our perceived exertion due to the signals from our organs becoming overwhelming.” While “our affective memory will try to stop us from reaching that intensity again, the right music can still make us feel pleasure overall.” Besides, “increasing our overall enjoyment of exercise and make us adhere to it in the long term.”
Anecdotally, the right rhythms make a big difference. Edie, a 22-year-old PR professional, reckons that Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN album is the perfect pep-up. “The first song, Blood, is great to get you going,” she says. For Roisín, a 26-year-old health journalist, it’s all about the pop. “For cardio, it’s got to be Little Mix or 2013-era Miley Cyrus – “Nothing like an endorphin high plus climatic pop chorus to shake you out of a fug.”
If you’re on board, try one of these turn-it-up playlists next time you’ve got a fresh goal to smash.