Music Improves Exercise Training in the Gym.

So for one reason or another, music has always played second fiddle to my training sessions. Early on, I always ran with music and the gym I worked in played hard rock music so we'd always be psyched to train. Then over time, I started running without an mp3 player and the gym I worked in became commercialised that resulted in playing set music that was distributed nationally and was generally pretty anti-pump music, that's a scientific term. This has meant over the last 7 or so years, I have nearly always trained whether that be cardio or weight trained without accompanying of 'self-selected' music or anything direct at least.

Until recently that is, so my training partner has been working away and I decided to invest in a set of wireless, sweat proof headphones. So I've loaded up Spotify and used an array of different playlists (check out below to see some of my favourites) and found myself training better, lifting heavier and certainly working harder when compared to without music.

This made me think back to when I was at University studying Sports Science and several of my friends investigated the effects of music on exercise performance for their dissertation's - one issue, I couldn't remember their finding's at all!

So off I went to review some journal articles to investigate the BIG question - Should we all be training with music?

I quickly found there was an array of research conducted in both cardiovascular exercise and resistance training so I'll make a quick summary of each paper I read!

Research Paper One

An article published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research by Biagini et al., (2012) investigated the effects of self-selected music on strength, explosiveness and mood. They asked 20 men to take part in a bench press, squat jump and mood assessment. Their rate of perceived exertion (RPE; how hard they worked) and their mood state was measured before and after the exercises. The results were pretty clear, takeoff speed and force development during the squat jump were all greater with music and whilst RPE was greater with no music. The mood investigation also found that there was a greater feeling of vigour when performing with music than without. This does suggest there is some benefit to exercising with music if the application is anaerobic. The research wasn't flawless and the author openly admits the further findings were slightly opposing as they found that multiple set exercise showed music had no effect on repetitions to failure.

Takeaway Message

Train with music if you want to improve explosive performance.

Research Paper Two

Waterhouse et al (2009) looked at the effect of music, particularly fast tempo music on cycling performance. We've all had that sensation when we've been doing that dreaded cardio session and the 'power' song comes on and suddenly we get an extra burst of speed, our legs feel lighter, quicker, smoother and our lungs don't burn anymore. That's what Waterhouse et al (2009) investigate in this study on 12 male students who chose their own workout speeds whilst listening to six popular music tracks of different tempos. The researchers found that the faster the music the greater the distance covered, power and pedal speed achieved whilst average heart rate only increased by 0.1%. Interestingly, rate of perceived exertion did rise but the investigators suggested that this was a choice made by the participants as the faster music encouraged them to work harder. Therefore, faster music can offer physiological benefits due to the motivational and distracting effects.

Takeaway Message

Train with music if you want to be motivated to work that bit harder and improve your physiological performance.

Research Paper Three

The effect of music on running in elite triathletes was researched by Terry et al (2012). They believe that music could provide an ergogenic aid to athletes both psychologically and physically in particular when the movement is performed rhythmically to music. The 11 triathletes took part in three different states, running in time to self-selected music again, neutral music and no music as a control at a sub-maximal intensity to exhaustion. The researchers found that time to exhaustion was between 18 and 20% longer for music than no music, in addition to this they found motivation and mood was higher when music was present. It was also found that the rate of perceived exertion was lowest for the neutral music condition and highest for no music but blood lactate (a physiological marker of exercise intensity) was lowest in the motivational music test. The researchers also found when music was present, oxygen consumption was lower by 1-3% when music was present and thus encouraged better running economy. Terry et al (2012) concluded that the presence of music with a strong beat maybe equally important to the motivational quality of music to improve time-to-exhaustion and oxygen consumption and therefore music provides ergogenic, psychological and physiological benefits to training.

Takeaway Message

If you're running find some music that has a tempo that matches your running speed more closely, this may prove to be more beneficial particularly if you're training for a running event like a half-marathon.

Now all of these research papers suggested that there are significant positive effects of training with music to improve performance but there were other papers that suggested there was no particular difference discovered so it must be mentioned that it is not conclusive.

I for one, have noticed a distinct improvement in motivation and resilience and therefore will continue to do so both during weight training and cardiovascular training.

What have I listened to so far?

Middleman - Spinning Plates

Middleman - Counterstep

Linkin' Park & Jay Z - Collision Course

Spotify - The Rock Workout Playlist

Spotify - Beast Mode Playlist

Tell us what you've been listening to?


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Biagini, M.S., Brown, L.E., Coburn, J.W., Judelson, D.A., Statler, T.A., Bottaro, M., Tran, T.T. and Longo, N.A., 2012. Effects of self-selected music on strength, explosiveness, and mood. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(7), pp.1934-1938.

Terry, P.C., Karageorghis, C.I., Saha, A.M. and D’Auria, S., 2012. Effects of synchronous music on treadmill running among elite triathletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport, 15(1), pp.52-57.

Waterhouse, J., Hudson, P. and Edwards, B., 2010. Effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 20(4), pp.662-669.


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