maxwithmusic 499624244 682x408


Let the music move you

Using music to improve athletic performance isn't a new concept, but understanding how to use music to enhance your workout is a little less obvious. As a music therapist, I can help you understand why exercise and music are such an effective pairing for so many people, as well as how music affects you physically, emotionally, and cognitively.

Change your mood
In music therapy we implement something called the "iso-principle", where we begin by choosing music that matches a person's current state whether it be mood, respiratory rate, pain levels, or a combination. Then we gradually change the music until we end with a desired outcome such as increased relaxation, decreased pain or enhanced mood.

You can use this same principle to motivate yourself to workout at a higher level. Say you are in a less than stellar mood and don't feel like putting in much effort for a workout. You can actually change your mood and get to a point where you are ready to crush a five-mile run. Start by playing a song that mirrors your mood ("You Oughta Know," Alanis Morissette) then a song that is slighter more cheerful ("Let It Go" from Disney's "Frozen"). Continue to do this until you are playing a song that you know brightens your mood ("Eye Of The Tiger," Survivor). 

Push yourself to the beat
Your body intrinsically wants to move when it hears music, even if you are not aware of it.  A good example is when your find yourself tapping your foot to the beat of a song, you didn't even realize was playing. Your body and breath can naturally fall into a rhythm to match the beat of the music you are listening to. Music between 120 and 140 beats per minute (BPM) are ideal (there are apps that can help you find these songs). However, music that is faster or slower than this range can have a negative effect on your workout. When creating your playlist, be sure to have songs with lower BPM for warm ups and cool downs and save the songs with faster beats for the middle of your workout. Finding music with the right beat can be especially helpful for triathletes, cyclists, swimmers and runners who tend to start a race too fast.

Get in the zone
Music can also serve as a distraction (the good kind) to help redirect your brain to something more enjoyable. You'll often hear this state-of-being referred to as "in the zone." Using the "iso-principle" would help you to get in the zone. Otherwise, you may find yourself hitting skip on your device too often and have a harder time reaching your desired level of output.

Up your motivation
You might hear some people say rap music is the best genre for a great workout because of the strong down beat. However, there is no one type of music that can make you work out harder. The most important thing is to choose music that is familiar and enjoyable to you. You should consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke. It is important to be aware of why you are choosing the music. Thinking about how the music makes you feel and whether it is helping or harming your desired goal can help boost your motivation power and lead to a successful workout!

When I'm training or running in a road race, the first thing I do is refresh my play list. I get rid of songs that no longer elicit an emotional response that matches my mood or effort. I also make sure that I have songs I know will distract me when I hit the wall. 

While music can be a powerful tool to help you perform at your physical best, it can also help in other areas of your life, including reducing feelings of anxiety, stress and pain and promoting relaxation. If you do listen to music, be sure to keep the sound at a reasonable level so you don't damage your hearing and so you can stay aware of your surroundings, for safety's sake.


Share this article


Healthy can be as easy as 1-2-3

Continue reading


Get fun, inspiring, provider-reviewed articles sent to your inbox.

Sign up for our email newsletter