Working Up A Sweat To Music That Makes You Move

Src: Flickr Creative Commons/Don Hankins "iPod Yoga Stretch"
Src: Flickr Creative Commons/Don Hankins “iPod Yoga Stretch”

If you’re at all like me, the music you listen to while you exercise can make or break your workout. If music is too mellow while you’re trying to race for time, your pace can start to drag. If tunes are too uptempo while you are moving through a yoga flow, you may find it difficult to keep your breath and heart rate slow and even, making it difficult to transition into poses remaining focused and relaxed. When you’ve got a playlist that hits the sweet spot, it puts you right in the zone to break a PR (personal record) while lifting weights, beat time for a race or have the most relaxing, yet energizing yoga practice.

How Music Affects the Body & Mind With Workouts

Increasing studies in the past decade have shown scientifically how music affects both the mind and body during exercise. Inducing brain wave activity responsible for dream and rest states, or what is known as “the flow,” music brings us to, what renowned music and sports performance researcher Costas Karageorghis told BBC Wales, “an ultimate motivational state in which sportspeople are completely immersed in what they are doing and feel as if they are functioning on autopilot.” He said athletes might even consider exercise a “legal, performance-enhancing drug,” with no unwanted side effects. Karageorghis believes music can trick the mind into feeling less fatigued during a workout and can stimulate positivity. “Music can also act as a sedative or a stimulant,” he said. “Music with a fast tempo can be used to pump you up prior to competition, or slower music can be used to calm your nerves and help you focus.” Gary Wuerth, of Windsorville, said he uses “Tomb of the Mutilated” by death metal band Cannibal Corpse to “bring out the beast” mode and help push through his hardcore, strongman training. “I like to keep it heavy and from the ’90s,” said musician Ben Golder-Novick, formerly of Hartford. “That way there is no room for slacking.”

Tapping Into Tempo And Rhythm

According to Scientific American, tempo, or speed, and rhythm response—basically, how much a song makes you want to dance—are the two most crucial components of workout music. We tend to synchronize our strides on the Treadmill, for instance, to the constant pulse of Lady Gaga’s latest hit. Neuroscience also suggests the brain may be hardwired to associate music with movement. The neuroimaging of study participants who listen to their preferred tempo of music showed increased activity in regions of the brain responsible for coordinating the motor system. “We have also known for decades that there are direct connections from auditory neurons to motor neurons,” explains Jessica Grahn in Scientific American. Grahn is a cognitive neuroscientist in Ontario studying music, who enjoys working out to “cheesy techno-music.” “When you hear a loud noise, you jump before you have even processed what it is,” she says. “That’s a reflex circuit, and it turns out that it can also be active for non-startling sounds, such as music.”

The Beats That Make Us Bop

What tends to get us bopping? Apparently, we love faster tempo songs with driving beats. Is it any wonder that a throbbing bassline is becoming a staple of every hit on the radio these days? A 2012 study of 184 college students revealed that most popular styles of songs they listen to while exercising are hip hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent), pop (20.3 percent), and country (12.7 percent). The students said listening to music made them work out harder and longer, as well as make the exercise seem easier to get through. Alicia Phillips loves rock band Linkin Park for her workouts. “I’ve tried lots of others, but they definitely get me the most pumped up,” she said. Emotionally engaging songs are also way to increase endurance. Tunes that you connect with emotionally tend to give you pleasure and give you escape from what is often the arduous monotony of a workout. In Women’s Health Magazine, Karageorghis recommends working out to songs that recall your adolescence and early adult years as that is when you likely were at your fittest and most energetic. Former Tolland resident Eric McComas loves “old-school” songs like Rob Base’s “It takes Two” and ‪Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train,” on his playlist. “They are all upbeat and rhythmic.”

The Ultimate Workout Playlist

He and Spotify have joined forces to make the Ultimate Workout Playlist, with tunes plucked from more than 6.7 million workout playlists on Spotify around the globe—I wonder if they glanced at mine? The style, lyrics, and BPMs (beats per minute) of each of the 20 songs have been studied to give you a scientifically backed edge for your workout. The selection is intended to cover the range of routine phase, from mental and physical warm up to different levels of cardio (low-, medium- and high-), from strength training to your cool down. Included on their list is the very danceable Daft Punk hit, “Get Lucky,” which is on both my playlist and that of Katie LaFrance, publisher of Hartford Woman Online magazine. I know that whenever I feel like I am dancing along to the music, as well as singing along to fun lyrics, I am much more motivated to get through the arduousness of a repetitive or just plain physically grueling workout. TuneCore has also released a fitness playlist of energizing hits from a few of their indie artists. TuneCore is a distribution and publishing admin service that indie artists can use to get their music on online music platforms—such as Spotify, iTunes, and Amazon MP3—and make it available for purchase for a flat fee. “TuneCore is consistently impressed by the creativity and talent of our many artists. Attempting to narrow down a perfect playlist for the gym was a daunting challenge, but these tracks were some of the best among our Fitness labels that includes Zumba and iSweat,” TuneCore Senior Director of Artist Promotions and Strategic Relationships Chris Mooney told us. “[The beginning of the year] is all about getting back into a healthy routine, and we’re confident this playlist will get listeners in the mindset to take fitness to the next level.” Even if you don’t get a chance to exercise today, work out your winter blues today by listening to any of these workouts, and get your groove on! To hear the tunes I bop to while I work up a sweat, visit the MindBodyShift Workout Playlist.


  1. says

    OMG, just told a friend I took my iPhone w/me for a walk last wk, and the music got me going, and how I use to listen to tunes all the time when walking years ago, so true-it makes you move!

    • says

      Cathy, it really does make a huge difference, doesn’t it? If I’m not feeling the music is in the right spirit of the workout, it’s hard to stay motivated! What are a couple of your favorite songs for working out?

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