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The Benefits of Music in Exercise

Mar 10, 2021 | Sports Psychology


We as humans possess an innate ability to recognize music, to understand it, and to react to it. As we as individuals grow, music plays an integral role in our mental development. We establish a preference to a particular taste in music which correlates to the way we view ourselves as individuals but also is somehow connected to who we are.

The way we use music, is the important aspect connected to our fitness journey and that is to motivate us through action, thought and performance. With music, as a tool, in our goal to better our performance we can develop a method on what type of music to listen in order to better ourselves in the road to performance enhancement.

The method will include not only the type but I as your guide, using this method, will include the rhythm and tempo as a precursor for “zoning in” and a way to distract ourselves from the feelings of pain and boredom which are sometimes inevitable companions of the repetitiveness of working out. Let me point out, that we don’t have to focus only on boosting workouts but this knowledge can also transfer in boosting performance overall in our job, daily chores, etc. It can be used as an exercise to battle complex negative emotions, such as anxiety before or during performing a variety of tasks.

Benefits to Physical and Psychological Fitness Performance

We all agree that music is important to us. How can we use this to our advantage in our own fitness journey? Sports scientists have focused on the different characteristics of music such as pace, intensity, rhythm to examine how it relates to our perceived exhaustion during exercise. A 2006 study found that people who listened to fast-paced music increased their distance traveled and pace without becoming more tired.

Other studies suggested that listening to music with more beats per minute enhances physical performance during low to moderate lever exercise. These scientists rely on data that can be replicated in a laboratory setting, so their conclusions are based on a scientific method which often sheds only a glimpse into the totality of the benefits. But we can conclude that if we want to better ourselves cardio-wise, we can do so much more with listening to faster and more upbeat music while exercising. Dr. Costas Karageorphis found that music helps through 4 areas of action:

  • Distract (taking the mind off of the exercise; Dissociation through music diverts the mind)
  • Creates Emotion (the emotion which we create by listening to a song that is somehow significant to us)
  • Causes Arousal (tendency to move, to exercise, to act in a way which positively benefits our health)
  • People Move to Tempo

In summary of this research, listening to music while exercising can help us divert the mind from the pain and boredom of repetitive movements, such as doing cardio-intensive work on treadmills, steppers, bikes, etc. Because our mind has a divergent focus, it does not perceive a single action as immensely consuming of energy, so the body’s signals, which are linked to metabolic changes while under the stress of exercise, aren’t that alarming to us. Music distracts us from panicking that a radical change in our system is happening.

Music creates emotions because we become linked to certain songs and genres of music. We integrate our music taste with our personality traits and no wonder that music creates emotion. While we are in certain emotional states, we can use the energy produced to enhance our performance. The ritual of putting headphones on before a training session, or getting the right music on the speakers is the actual beginning of the workout.

That simple action causes arousal and mentally puts in a state of proactiveness towards our health (mental or physical). There is a “thing” in sports that require explosive movements (such as powerlifting, bodybuilding). It’s called the “drop” effect. It’s the arousal effect when the “bass drops” and athletes use the created emotion of that single moment to propel and exceed their previous performance.

“In terms of muscle strength, music that is perceived to be motivating can lead to bursts of intensity. This increases your work capacity and can bring about ultra-high levels of explosive power, strength, and productivity.”

This can certainly transfer on activities such as sprints, high jumps, weightlifting, plyometrics, cross-fit, and high-intensity interval training, known under the abbreviation of HIT.

In 2007, the USA national governing body for distance racing, banned the use of headphones and portable audio players at its official races, thus establishing a rule which is to “ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge”. This action puts into perspective the power of music. Listening to music before, during or after a sports activity can contribute to the enhancement of motivation and performance.

Music helps athletes get in the zone. Studies examining the effect of music during warm-up on athletes’ short-term maximal performances found significant ergogenic effects (enhancing physical performance). The music motivational effects have been linked to increases in individual perception of self-esteem sense of confidence, enhanced arousal, and facilitating motor coordination. Moreover, this auditory stimulus can be used as a tool to ‘psych up’ in preparation for performance (arousal regulation), shift intentional focus (association/dissociation), boost self – efficacy, and encourage psychological skills usage.

Musical Preference

When speaking about the music we choose to listen to, we manifest different tastes on what is “good” music or “bad” music. We can start this train of thought to clarify all the different purposes which we use music for in modern society. Because fitness is an integral part of modern-day living, each use of music will in some way be connected to positive or negative outcomes of the music we experience every day. One common purpose of music is a pure pleasure aspect connected to aesthetic pleasure which we derive from it. Another common practice of listening to music is to inspire and encourage dancing and physical movement. Many use its functional aspect and that is to regulate the current mood.

As adolescents and in early adulthood, we strive to listen to the music that our friends listen to and this results in bettering our social identity as well as our musical preference. Music is also used to better concentration and cognitive function and to keep the alertness and productivity of the worker. Social movements and activist movements use music as a means of motivation and group cohesion in order to focus their messages and goals, similarly as musical therapists encourage their clients to select musical genres that will correspond with the different therapeutic goals.

Throughout history, music has been used for social attachment, comfort, motivation, and coordination of physical labor, preservation, and communication of knowledge, rituals, and beliefs; as well as expression of physical and cognitive feats.

Rentfrow and Gossling produced series of studies on musical preference in hopes that they will come to a conclusion about how the importance of music and musical preference is connected with many personality dimensions. They tried to create a theory which will explain when, how and why do people listen to particular music. One of their researchers was designed to evaluate basic beliefs around music. During the analysis on musical preference, the scientists established their theory that there are four types of music:

1. Reflective and Complex (jazz, blues, folk)

2. Intense and Rebellious (alternative, rock, heavy metal)

3. Upbeat and conventional (country, religious, soundtrack, pop)

4. Energetic and Rhythmic (rap, hip-hop, soul, funk)

Those who preferred a “reflective and complex” category of music scored highly on openness to new experiences, verbal ability, self-perceived intelligence, and political liberalism. People who listen to the “upbeat and conventional” category of music score highly on extraversion, self-perceived physical attractiveness, athleticism and political conservatism. The category called “Energetic and rhythmic” music, as it went through the analysis of the authors, was intertwined with extroversion, agreeableness, liberalism, and also athleticism. The “Intense and rebellious” category of music was in positive correlation to those people who are opened to new experiences as well as athleticism, self-perceived intelligence, and verbal abilities.


Although this research is outdated because music is an entity that changes rapidly, and is somewhat culture and context-dependent, it clearly contributed to the fact that certain musical genres can be used to boosts performance and athleticism.

I have conducted research in 2014 among students in the faculty of Philosophy in Skopje, the Republic of North Macedonia, titled Musical Preference and Personality Traits, in which I similarly analyzed how young people group certain genres of music and how those “factors” (the groups of genres of music) are related. I will go in-depth on that research in the second edition of this series on how to boosts our performance through music.

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Tose Zafirov

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