13/07/2017 13:24 BST | Updated 13/07/2017 13:24 BST

Let The Music Play

Why you should tune in to tone up!

In the quest to get in shape it could be argued the MP3 player is as essential a piece of fitness equipment as the treadmill and motivating music is as important within your armoury as a gym membership and a decent pair of running shoes. But just why is this and how can we make the most of the results boosting potential of music while we work?


Studies have shown that women and men, of all ages, respond similarly to music and that it can improve workout performance in the following ways:

Enhanced mental awareness - results from the role of music in helping us to psyche ourselves up.

Improved co-ordination - is related to the fact that working with rhythm improves our motor skills.

Reduced feelings of fatigue - due to our focus of attention being directed to the music rather than the sensations associated with getting tired.

Interestingly, the particular choice of music tempo can impact the magnitude of the above three effects with a workout soundtrack that starts slow and then gets faster leading to higher workloads being achieved in an exercise session than one that goes from fast to slow or stays constant throughout.

Top Tip - When compiling your own workout playlist, take note of the tempos and place them in order of ascending beats per minute.


In an experiment that specifically tested strength, there was no surprise to learn that the more energetic music (at more than 130 beats per minute) produced the best results, but perhaps not so obvious was the realisation that white noise produced better results than slow music.

Top Tip - If you generally listen to whole albums, then, you might want to skip over any slow tracks or they might sabotage your weight training workout.

Research found that in addition to music speed, another contributory element is something referred to as extra-musical association, whereby we identify certain experiences, perhaps movies, which can then help to create a set frame of mind. An example of this would be 'Survivor' by Destiny's Child, which is a fairly slow tempo but contains very affirmative lyrics so could be quite motivating.

Top Tip - Get used to listening carefully to lyrics and make sure your playlist includes songs with empowering messages, even if they might not be heart-pumpingly fast.

This phenomenon is mirrored when considering endurance workouts with a proven drop in performance if music is only played for part of the workout. Also, without wishing to sound like I'm stating the obvious, ensure the battery has enough charge to get you through your whole session.

Top Tip - So the take home message is, make sure you load a wide selection of tunes so you can go to a really motivating track when you're putting in the most effort, eg your sprint finish.


Runners, joggers and powerwalkers take note - music accompaniment has been shown to increase foot speed, stride length and step symmetry leading to an overall improvement in performance and more likelihood of setting a new personal best. It's thought this is because percussive auditory cues positively impact gait proprioception..... in other words, stepping to a fixed beat improves co-ordination in the lower limbs.

Top Tip - Choosing songs that match your pace can lead to you improving your rhythmic movement and so enhance your performance, so joggers should be on a slightly slower soundtrack than competitive runners.

Research at the University of Maryland quantified the impact of personal choice and it really can make a huge difference. In a test, the blood vessels of exercisers listening to tracks they didn't like constricted by 6%, resulting in a decrease in performance of around 10%. Conversely, those who tuned into their fave songs were noted to experience an expansion of 26% in their blood vessels, resulting in a 34% improvement in their efforts. From a 10% decrease to a 34% increase is quite a swing in anyone's book.

Top Tip - It's also been established that personal choice plays a great influence so take some time to prepare your own playlists rather than opt for any old mix off the shelf.

A word of warning though, the British Tinnitus Association advises against constantly listening to music at high volumes, otherwise permanent damage could result.

Top Tip - Selecting moderate levels and limiting your exposure will be enough to protect you from any health issues related to hearing.

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