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Music and Your Workout

By Robyn Abree
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD

Music could make your workout better by helping you last longer and enjoy it more. 

You just have to know what types of tunes to put on your playlist. 

Music as Motivation

Music can motivate you to work longer and harder, says David-Lee Priest, PhD, a psychologist and researcher at University of East Anglia, Norwich, England.

Fast music, especially, can help, because it distracts you from getting tired or wanting to stop exercising, Priest says.

There's a catch: If the music is too fast, it probably won't help your performance, enjoyment, or endurance, says Costas Karageorghis, PhD, a sports psychology expert at Brunel University in London.

"Findings show there is a sweet spot, in terms of tempo, between 120 and 140 beats per minute," says Karageorghis, who has studied the effects of music on exercise for more than 20 years.

The Music Advantage

How you respond to music also depends on who you are. If, like most people, you work out at a moderate level a couple of times a week, music is definitely a plus. It's like the "cheese sauce on top of the broccoli," Priest says. That is, you can tolerate exercise better if you're listening to music.

But if you're an elite athlete, or if you work out a very intense level, you're already so into it that music may not give you as much of an edge.

Choosing Your Exercise Playlist

Listen to anything you want.  If you like, you can check the beats per minute (bpm) on an app.

Choose songs that mirror your heart rate, depending on the level of exercise, Karageorghis suggests.

For instance, he recommends slower songs that have tempos within the 80-90 bpm range, like "Stereo Hearts" by Gym Class Heroes or "Twilight" by Cover Drive, when you're warming up or cooling down.

As you pick up the pace to a moderately intense level, Karageorghis says songs within the 120-140 bpm range are ideal -- such as "Starships" by Nicki Minaj (125 bpm), "Domino" by Jessie J (127 bpm), and "Turn Me On," by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj (128 bpm). Songs over 140 bpm are unlikely to improve workouts, he says.

Watch the Volume

Take it easy on your ears.

In the short run, there are few consequences to listening to music too loudly, says audiologist Marshall Chasin, director of auditory research at the Musicians' Clinics of Canada. Blasting music on your iPod during a workout may lead to slight pressure, ringing in your ears, and temporary hearing loss. In most cases, hearing will recover fully in about 16-18 hours, Chasin says.

But if you make it a habit, listening to very loud music on headphones can cause permanent damage, says Brian Fligor, director of diagnostic audiology at Boston Children's Hospital.

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