Music Makes a Workout Better
High-intensity exercise in which a person alternates quick intervals of extreme activity with periods of very light activity offers many fitness benefits. Those who do these kinds of workouts get a great cardio boost and rev the metabolism for greater fat burning. Plus, an added advantage for many is that due to the fast bursts of intensity, the workouts are often much shorter than the average aerobic regimen. The main disadvantage, however, also revolves around those quick bursts, since many people say they find them too unpleasant and give up on this type of training. If you've been interested in high-intensity exercise but intimidated by what it requires, you may want to rethink that now. According to new research, highly strenuous physical activity may be made more effective simply by listening to music during the workout. In other words, music gives you more gain for the same pain.
The study, which took place at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, found that when people listen to songs they enjoy, even the most high-intensity, difficult workout becomes easier to complete.1 The subjects were 20 young adult men and women, all of whom were in good health but were novices when it came to high-intensity forms of exercise. In the laboratory, they were instructed to ride stationary bicycles for four 30-second rounds of "all-out" effort. In other words, each participant was told to dig down deep and put everything they could into hard and fast pedaling for those four brief intervals.
After each high-intensity interval, they were given four minutes to recover, either by slowing the pace as they continued cycling or dismounting the bike entirely to walk or sit down. During the course of the workout, the researchers monitored each subject's personal power output, or the exertion of the muscles being used. Afterward, the volunteers were interviewed about how tough they found the exercise to be and whether they enjoyed it at all. They also were asked to provide the names of their favorite songs and a customized series of songs was made for each participant containing their top choices.
The participants were then put through the paces of high-intensity workouts on two more occasions, performing exactly the same routine as in the initial visit. In one of these extra trials, the subjects performed the workout exactly as before. But in the other one, they were allowed to listen to their favorite songs. In their post-exercise interviews, they consistently rated the workout as difficult whether they were listening to music or not, but, surprisingly, the volunteers were able to expend significantly more energy during the session in which the music was played.
With or without music, the participants rated the high-intensity intervals at an average of eight on a scale of one to 10, with 10 considered unbearable. It may not have been the most enjoyable workout, but since they were able to really pour it on and maximize their performance with musical accompaniment without feeling any worse for the wear compared to the quiet exercise, it offers evidence that music can help us maximize our workouts.
The study was obviously quite limited in its size and scope, involving a very tiny population sample made up only of young adults. Therefore, a larger, more diverse follow-up would give the results more weight. However, these findings are in line with other experiments that have shown music helps us have more productive workouts. A 2008 study at Brunel University in London, England, found that playing the right music before and during exercise can boost your performance by as much as 20 percent.2
And let's face it, with the abysmal rates of exercise in the United States--only a measly 20.6 percent of people regularly meet aerobic and strength training recommendations3--we need all the help we can get. If you are already physically active and want to give interval training a try, by all means pop in your ear buds and turn up the tunes before that first attempt. It may make for an incredible workout. But even if you are totally disinterested in this particular form of exercise, give something else a chance. Take a walk, go for a bike ride, or do a series of resistance exercises, but before you start, put on your ear buds and listen to your favorite songs while working out so you can make the most of your activity.
- 1. Reynolds, Gretchen. "How Music Can Boost a High-Intensity Workout." New York Times. 22 October 2014. Accessed 26 October 2014. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/10/22/how-music-can-boost-a-high-intensity-workout
- 2. "Music increases exercise endurance by 15 per cent." Brunel University London. 1 October 2008. Accessed 27 October 2014. http://www.brunel.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/news-items/press/ne_24957
- 3. "Adult Participation in Aerobic and Muscle-Strengthening Physical Activities--United States 2011." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 3 May 2013. Accessed 27 October 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6217a2.htm