Music and Muscle

Finding Your Inner Playlist

Musical taste is as unique as a fingerprint.  While some people can run to the sounds of Folsum Prison, others would grind to a halt. From Johnny Cash to Dr. Dre, whatever your preference, music has the unique power to motivate, stimulate and inspire. Sure you may enjoy the sound of silence (or the voices in your head) but tapping into your inner playlist might just bring your workout to a whole new level.

Old School(111175)Credit: Ferrari + caballos + fuerza = cerebro Humano  / photo on flickr


Whether you’re just starting out or a seasoned gym veteran, music is as much a part of your workout as the treadmill, stair-climber or peck deck. Why? The human body is one of those rare machines that can synchronize itself to a beat. If you’ve ever found yourself tapping along to your favorite tune or busting a move on the d-floor, you’ve experienced this natural phenomenon. How does this translate into a better, more efficient workout experience? We could turn to neurology and biomechanics for a detailed explanation of the interplay between human physiology and the physics of music…or you could throw on a pair of headphones.

HeadgearCredit: photosteve101 / photo on flickr

Here and Now

Dumbbells(111182)Credit: Gabriel Porras / photo on flickr

In much the same way a certain song can put you in a good mood, it can also fuel the workout fire. The energy created by music is difficult to describe but easy to experience. The right combination can create focus and with nothing more than sound, allow the body to find it’s natural rhythm. Free of distractions, this hypnotic effect can allow for complete concentration. Gone are the crying kids and annoying co-workers, there’s nothing but you, the beat and the task at hand. 

According to Dr Costos Karageorghis, a reader in sport psychology at Brunel University, “The synchronous application of music resulted in much higher endurance while the motivational qualities of the music impacted significantly on the interpretation of fatigue symptoms right up to the point of voluntary exhaustion.”

During his study, thirty participants exercised on a treadmill while listening to a various selections of motivational music. Keeping in strict time with the beat, the findings showed that when carefully selected, music could enhance endurance by as much as 15% and improve the ‘feeling states’ of exercisers (helping them to derive much greater pleasure from the task). Karageorghis also concluded that music could help exercisers feel more positive even when they were working out at a very high intensity, close to physical exhaustion.

Dr. Karageorghis’s findings clearly demonstrate the considerable benefits associated with exercising in time to music.  Elite athletes, such as the USA Women’s National Rowing Team, have been doing it for years. Olympian Megan Kalmoe asked her teammates to put together a playlist to help them get through those long training sessions with each member submitting a song. The resulting video is an eclectic collection of her teams musical training tastes.

2012 USA Women's National Rowing Team

The Cerebral Concert


Don’t want to go through the trouble of creating that perfect song list? Then let Songza or iTunes Genius do it for you.  Songza is a simple app that creates random playlists based on everything from moods and activities to genres, decades and culture. Within these lists are subcategories that are even more specific. From stripping to barbecuing, Songza has a fitting musical combination. iTunes’ Genius function is an easy way to find songs similar to what you’re already listening to; if you’re a fan of Deadmau5, comparable artists are only a click away.

The Mix and The Mind

JukeCredit: williamcho / photo on flickr

Like your workouts, keep your song library varied. Allowing things to become stale (musically or physically) can quickly result in boredom and loss of interest. Searching for new music has never been easier and that last rep or quarter-mile is well worth the .99 cent price tag. So strap on the headphones, fill your head with metal, trance, techno or country and let your inner playlist find it’s natural rhythm.