Is Your Music Hindering Your Workout Intensity?

I love listening to some great, upbeat music when I am working out.  My running becomes gazelle-like and my lifting is instantly filled with power and, well, muscle.  But, like everything else, not all music is created equal in regards to your workout activity.  I mean, let’s face it, you wouldn’t listen to The Black Keys if you would be doing yoga or some other zen-like centering meditation. And you probably would not listen to meditation and calming music while attempting to push through a tough set of bench presses. In both cases, you just would not expect to get the desired results out of your workout.  So, matching music to intensity and desired outcome is key when taking your workout to the next level and reaping as many benefits as possible.

Let’s Talk Scientifics, Shall We…

There is a lot of science and psychology that goes behind why certain music is more inspirational than others. It isn’t all about the tempo and the beats.  How the music moves your body, affects your soul, recreates memories, has meaning..all that has to be taken into account. When looking at the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke, remember that a song that sparks a negative vibe will not necessarily produce an amazing workout, regardless of how fast the tempo is. If you like an artist or how you interpret an artist’s emotions will produce a certain “feel” from the song. A negative song can actually slow you down, while a song that produces inner positivity can increase your energy and your own personal tempo. Although many people do not feel the need to run or move in exact time with their workout music, synchrony may help the body use energy more efficiently. When moving rhythmically to a beat, the body can adjust accordingly and preserve energy more effectively by not having to consciously adjust and alter your rhythm.

Music is also a great distraction and motivates people to exercise more and for longer periods. The human body is amazing in the sense that it is always monitoring itself and acting accordingly, so, when fatigue sets in, the brain will react and the body will send physical signs to the body that fatigue is present and the body wants a break. Music competes with this feedback and allows the brain’s perception to be altered and lengthened.  Along with causing a distraction, music also elicits an emotional response and creates strong emotions.  It brings memories and perspectives that can either positively or negatively impact you. According to, “scientists now know that, although different regions of the human brain specialize in processing different senses—sound, sight, touch—the brain uses the information it receives from one sense to help it understand another. What people see and feel while listening to speech or music, for example, changes what they hear. Music and movement are particularly entangled in the brain. Recent studies suggest that—even if someone is sitting perfectly still—listening to enjoyable music increases electrical activity in various regions of the brain important for coordinating movements, including the supplementary motor area, cerebellum, basal ganglia and ventral premotor cortex.”

Let’s talk about how to create your own playlist…

There are a few key things to keep in mind when picking your songs: tempo, rhythm, familiarity and associations, and personal significance.

  1. Tempo. If your goal is background music only, try a tempo of 120–130 bpm for low-to-moderate workout intensity and 130–145 bpm for moderate-to-high workout intensity. You can go higher on your beats per minute, but research has shown that higher tempo does not provide much more motivation. If you are running, your bpm should be synchronized with your running pace, for optimal performance. Try picking a song in the range of 150-190 bpm.
  2. Rhythm. Stick with songs that make you want to get up and move your body. If the rhythm doesn’t move you, you will less likely be motivated by it. This is a highly subjective quality of music, but strong beats usually work well.
  3. Familiarity and associations. Not all music affects and inspires each person the same. What may make me want to get up and dance around the room could be totally boring and ear-burning for someone else. Try to find those powerful songs that are strong and upbeat and create a positive vibration inside of you. Find songs that make you want to overcome adversity and push past personal obstacles.
  4. Personal significance. The stronger your emotional response to music, and the more you identify with the singer’s perspective and lyrics, the more motivated you’ll feel. How connected are you to the song, the singer, and the message? Interestingly enough, songs from musicals can produce powerful emotions and connections because they typically are filled with messages of power and overcoming obstacles.

What am I listening to?

We all have our go-to’s in life and, in my workouts, my go-to’s are essential when it comes to music.  I want something that is going to pump me up during my strength training and keep me rocking throughout my run.  I also like variety and want to listen to what inspires me at the moment, so I rely on phone apps like Pandora and Songza.  They are amazing in the sense that you can adjust and pick the channels or artists that get you inspired and/or appropriate for your workout of choice. My absolute favorite free app for running is “Rock My Run.” This app has pre-made playlists of specific bpm so you can easily stream and keep a consistent pace during your cardio exercise. Obviously, you can take the time to put together your own playlist, but “Rock My Run” makes it super easy for those who do not want to mess with it AND they have great selections of songs.  Try one of these apps out during your next workout and see how they can increase your workout intensity and your workout attitude!

If you decide that your iPod is the way to go, check out to figure out bpm to your favorite songs and what songs would be best for the pace or activity your are looking to participate in.

What’s on my current rotation? Variety!

  1. “Lonely Boy”- The Black Keys
  2. “Are You Gonna Go My Way”- Lenny Kravitz
  3. “Kick Start My Heart”- Motley Crew
  4. “Thunderstruck”- AC/DC
  5. “Radioactive”- Imagine Dragons
  6. “Sail”- Awolnation
  7. “Pump It”- Black Eyed Peas
  8. “Happy”- Pharrell Williams
  9. “Fever”- The Black Keys
  10. “Heaven Knows”- The Pretty Reckless
  11. “Coming Undone Wit It”- Korn
  12. “Thunder Kiss ’65”- White Zombie
  13. “Lights Go Out”- Fozzy
  14. “Ain’t No Rest For The Wicked”- Cage The Elephant

Take action now! Create your own exercise playlist and create multiple ones to match the appropriateness of your activity. Either download some of your favorite tunes on your iPod or download some of my suggested apps to keep the intensity appropriate and the music varied.

Are you already tailoring your music to fit your workouts? Comment below and tell me what your exercise playlist looks like and how it has changed your workout world. Live life with passion and purpose…

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