Music and Your Workout

From the WebMD Archives

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.

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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.

In some severe cases, people who blast their music for extended periods of time may develop chronic tinnitus -- permanent ringing in the ear. Follow Fligor's advice: If you use headphones, follow the "80 for 90 rule." This means that it is safe to listen to music on a portable device, such as an iPod, at 80% of the maximum level for no more than 90 minutes a day. Any more than that, and you risk overworking the ear, he says.

Moderation is a good plan, Chasin says. "If it's your favorite song, by all means turn up your iPod," he says. "Just turn it down afterward to a reasonable level." And if you overwork your ears one day, keep things quiet for the next few days.

Let's say you cranked the volume too high during a workout on Friday. For the rest of the weekend, limit the volume to 50% or 60% of the maximum level, Chasin says. That won't undo any damage from blasting your music on Friday -- it just prevents super-loud music from becoming a habit.

Fligor also suggests using sound-isolating headphones that hush background noise. That might make it easier to dial down the volume, since you don't have to drown out other sounds.

Just don't wear your headphones if you're exercising outdoors. You need to be able to hear traffic and other things going on around you, for safety's sake.

WebMD Feature Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on February 25, 2014

Sources

SOURCES:

David-Lee Priest, PhD, psychology teacher and researcher, University of East Anglia, Norwich, England.

Costas Karageorghis, PhD, deputy head of sport psychology, Brunel University, London.

Brian Fligor, ScD, director of diagnostic audiology, Boston Children's Hospital; instructor in otology and laryngology, Harvard Medical School..

Marshall Chasin, AuD, audiologist; director of auditory research, Musicians' Clinics of Canada, Toronto.

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