Music And Exercise

Let’s review this together before I get into more research guys =)


Katelin Koper


Music And Exercise


Exercising can mean different things to different people. It can be a new year’s resolution, a stress reliever, a way to socialize or a way of life. There are also endless types of exercises that can be performed. You can participate in group classes, run on a treadmill, join a gym, or play a sport. The possibilities are almost endless. Across all these different types and reasons, however, there are unifying characteristics. The ability to be comfortable with your own sweat and the ability to push yourself past the limits you thought you had. The mental benefit that is gained from any form of exercise and the physical satisfaction that comes along with it. There is also the question asked in every gym, by every athlete, and highlighted by the organizers of the 2007 New York Marathon. Music or no music? This question has been studied for generations, and there is conclusive evidence that music does increase performance and is an ideal tool to be used for training. (Karageorghis, 1)

Scientific research has indicated five reasons why music is effective in boosting athletic performance. They are dissociation, arousal regulation, synchronization, acquisition of motor skills, and attainment of flow. (Karageorghis, 1) Dissociation is a technique used by athletes to accomplish tasks that their mind tells them are impossible. The popular saying “just do it” is an example of dissociation ideology. Researchers also discovered that dissociation can promote a general sense of well being, and take a persons focus away from the feeling of fatigue. In a study that asked participants to run on a treadmill, it was found that dissociation through music resulted in a 10 percent reduction in perceived effort. (Peterson, 3) Of course, dissociation can not let an individual move mountains; it is found to be most effective in light to moderate intensity exercise. High intensity workouts override dissociation, however, it can still change the way an athlete responds to the fatigue. The correct type of music can help an athlete to refocus and override the feeling of exhaustion, as opposed to just giving up. (Jabr, 4) In a study conducted at the Georgia Southern University, athletes were asked to describe the experience of using music as a tool and across the panel of participants, focus, was found to be a key theme. “Music keeps me focused. I block out everything else that goes on…” (Sorenson, 10)

Music as arousal regulation is based on the belief that music has effects both on emotional and physiological aspects of a person. Therefore, music becomes the perfect tool to either amp an athlete up or to calm them down before or after a competition or workout. (Karageorghis, 2) Fast paced, up tempo music is typically used to amp an athlete up, whereas, calming slower music is used to calm nerves and help them to focus. Peoples physical bodies respond to the music itself; listening to music increases electrical activity of various regions of the brain even when we remain completely still. (Jabr, 4) From an emotional standpoint, arousal regulation operates through the use of imagery. Athletes create images within their own minds, based on associations they have with a particular song or artist. People can become immersed in an entirely different reality while listening to a particular song and this can help to increase endurance and motivate an individual. (Jabr, 4) “Really just internalizing, kind of seeing what I have to do on the field position wise, and what certain situations present themselves.”

(Sorenson, 11)

Closely related to arousal regulation is synchronization. The basic theory of which is that synchronizing repetitive movement to the rhythm of music will increase levels of work output. (Karageorghis, 3) The body is already predisposed to react to musical stimulus, so the synchronization of movement to the music would be like putting oil into your car engine, it just makes things easier. Synchronization has to do with the rhythm of a song and occurs when we match our heart rate to a corresponding frequency or bpm level. (Karageorghis, 3) The human body has an innate preference for the rhythm of 120 bpm, and an analysis of songs between the years 1960-1990 find this to be the most prevalent rhythm. However, while exercising, people tend to want a higher bpm. Studies vary on the exact number but the range is anywhere between 145 and 180 bpm for an effective synchronization pattern to occur. (Jabr, 3) A study performed among bicyclists found that when music was synchronized to their heart rates, they used 7 percent less oxygen to do the same amount of work compared to when arbitrary music was playing in the background. (Kargeorghis, 3)

The acquisition of motor skills is a function of music that is prevalent throughout our culture. Children are taught games such as ring around the rosie, duck duck goose, and miss mary mack. These are all rhythmical, music based tools to help children gain certain motor skills and coordination. Research conducted indicates that there are three possible explanations for why music can help in the acquisition of skills. The first being that music is an auditory representation of body movement. Therefore, the music can carry the body through patterns of movement since the music itself is movement turned into audible phenomena. Second, lyrics within a song can actually be action words and guide athletes through movements. For example at cross fit there is an exercise that goes along to the song “Bring Sally Up, Bring Sally Down.” Every time the word down is heard you have to squat and hold the position until the word up comes around, at which point you stand. Third, it makes the learning environment more fun, motivating people to obtain certain goals or perfect a movement. (Karageorghis, 4) “We were not even two minutes into our workout and everyone said ah, sweet, we’re listening to music today.” (Sorenson, 12)

The attainment of flow, while seemingly innocuous, is actually a major part of exercise. From being able to lift a barbell efficiently, to getting the kip momentum right in a pull-up, flow will make or break you, everyday. A flow state scale was created in 1996 by Jackson and Marsh consisting of nine factors, that were found to be favorably impacted when motivational music was playing. (Karageorghis, 4) Flow can also be described as intrinsic movement and is the culmination of all the other factors. Being able to step outside of your own mind and body, to perform the movement correctly, to maintain that movement at a steady pace. All these things contribute to making the exercise look easy.

While each person is an individual, it is scientifically proven that music has a positive impact before during and after a workout. It helps athletes both in and out of competition and is extensively connected to the human body. There is so much technology available to athletes now a days. Heart monitors, distance calculators, oxygen masks for endurance training. There is also so much technology that is in the works, making the future of exercise even more exciting. Recently, a game called zombie run has been released, which is the first of its kind. It narrates the runner through a series of situations that would occur if there were a zombie apocalypse as the runner is moving. There are also a few start up companies that are working on retrieving your heart rate from a monitor and automatically plugging music with the correct correlating bpm into your earphones. Healthy lifestyles are in the forefront of technology, research, and life.


1. Karageorghis, Costas. “Music in Sort and Exercise: An update on Research and Application.” The Sport Journal. Web. 2 December 2013

2. Peterson, Dan. Music Benefits Exercise, Studies Show. LiveScience 21 October 2009. Web. 2 December 2013

3. Jabr, Ferris. “Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music.” Scientific American, 20 March 2013. Web. 2 December, 2013.

4. Sorenson, Lacey. “The Experience of Music in Sport – A phenomenological Investigation. The Online Journal of Sport Psychology. 2 December, 2013.



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