Why Your Workout Music Matters

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I could not have survived half of my first marathon without my 90s playlist (Thank you, Wu Tang). Without my Beyoncé “7/11” remix, I’d fizzle out by the second round of any one my HIIT routines for sure. And my elliptical workouts would be dull with a capital D with no soca in my ears. Workout music means a lot to me.

So it’s no shock that researchers at the University of British Columbia found that people new to HIIT (high intensity interval training) and sprint-interval workouts who listened to music finished with a more positive attitude than those who exercised in silence.

I need to be tuned in, just like the men and women in the study.

“For busy people who may be reluctant to try HIIT for the first time, this research tells us that they can actually enjoy it,” study co-author Matthew Stork told Time.com. “And they may be more likely to participate in HIIT again if they try it with music.”

HIITs aside, people tend to workout, run, cycle, or walk longer, faster and harder with the right music in their ears. I witness it in my fitness class when my members are dog tired from a challenging circuit. Yet, just when a song they love comes on, they break out in a dance. Where did that energy come from?

Psychologists have discovered that music paired with exercising not only elevates the mood, but it takes the focus off of the pain and tiredness, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. It distracts a person from realizing that doing mountain climbers for 30 seconds is a long time!  I bet music could shake up a plateau, too. Bored? Find some fresh tunes. So, how do you get that playlist together?

Picking out the right workout music is key

Experts say to choose music that motivates you. Learn a little about BPMs (beats per minute), so you can recognize how fast or slow you’d like the tempo of your songs to be. There are a growing number of websites out there to help you with this task. Here are other strategies:

  1. Listen to the lyrics. The day before my marathon, my co-worker suggested Sia’s “Greatest” for the chorus Don’t give up, I won’t give up / Don’t give up, no no no / Don’t give up, I won’t give up. What the artist sings about could be what pumps you up a hill. About 23 miles into my run, “Ain’t No Stopping’ Us Now by McFadden & Whitehead blared from speakers. Much as I wanted to, how could I stop at that point?
  2. Find your rhythm. This is where the BPM comes in. You may like to run with a fast tempo song. Try tunes with a 145 or higher BPM. Go lower to get you through a tough, core workout.
  3. Pick mood music. Try songs that remind you of good times – that night you went to the club with your friends and THAT song came on. Songs that bring back memories of your childhood, places you traveled to, or that just give you positive energy. I’m not from Trinidad, but soca music makes me feel happy. It reminds me of the fun of Carnival.
  4. Keep it steady. Your workout playlist should all have the same tempo. Don’t let a sexy Maxwell song come on in the middle of your Burpees and change your mood!
  5. Need help? Google “workout music.” You’ll find endless suggestions online. Take the time to listen to snippets of different songs via Spotify and YouTube. Ask your friends what they’re listening to.

Lastly, use whatever you need to help you dig deeper during your workouts. The health benefits matter more than anything.

So. What’s on your playlist?

Stacy Julien is editor in chief and co-founder of CRUSH Fitness Magazine. When she finished this piece, she was listening to her Booty Beats playlist, featuring Rihanna, Janet Jackson and Yemi Alade. 

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