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New Research: Upbeat Music Makes Exercise Feel Easier

By Jiri Kaloc

Listening to your favourite track while riding is nothing new, a lot of cyclists do it. But did you know the choice of music can influence how much you enjoy exercise? New research explains why upbeat music is the way to go. Here is why.

The right music selection

A new study published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise journal in 2019 set out to investigate the psychological and physiological effects of motivational music during sprint interval training (SIT). First, researchers gathered a panel of adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. The 3 songs with the highest motivational ratings were used for the study.

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“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy. This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise such as increased heart rate or sore muscles,” says Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC Okanagan. “But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational.”

Three 20-second sprints

The study’s subjects were 24 insufficiently active adults, 12 being women and 12 men, who were inexperienced with SIT. They were instructed to complete three SIT trials under different conditions: motivational music, podcast without music, and no audio. The SIT consisted of three 20-second all-out sprints with short rests in between and a warmup and cooldown for a total exercise period of 10 minutes.

They enjoyed exercising with music more

Participants reported greater enjoyment of high-intensity interval training with music. They also exhibited elevated heart rates and peak power in the session with music compared to the no-audio and podcast sessions.

“While high-intensity interval training is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people may find it to be unpleasant. As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation,” says Stork. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy the exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”

The author speculates that the elevated heart rates may be explained by a phenomenon called entrainment, where humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward musical rhythms.

Music can help inactive people get more out of their workouts

This research is great news for people who don’t exercise enough. The right choice of music can make them exercise harder while also enjoying it more. It might just be the thing that makes them do HIIT regularly.