One of my earliest experiences with the powerful influence of music on fitness was in the US Army. There we were—60 new recruits in Basic Training. None of us had ever worked together or even knew each other. Most were terribly out of shape. But our drill sergeants demanded that we march in synchronized formation, sometimes for many miles.
Unbelievably, within a few short days we were marching in synch by calling cadence. Calling cadence refers to call and response “songs” that establish a beat and rhythm to march to. Click here to watch a brief Air Force marching cadence. Calling cadence with a unified voice promoted camaraderie and morale. Lastly, calling cadence took the tedium and fatigue out of marching and made it fun.
Today, it’s not uncommon to see people running, biking, or working out with earphones dangling down to an iPod. Chances are they have recognized the powerful connection between music and fitness. In fact, music has become integral to their workout.
Here are 12 Reasons to Mix Music with Fitness:
1. Distracts from pain and tedium
One gets lost in the music, shutting out fatigue and any boredom that might surface from mere repetitive motion. Upbeat tunes and songs with motivating lyrics give our brains information to process that takes our minds off the stresses of the workout.
2. Increases endurance
“Music is like a legal drug for athletes,” increasing endurance by as much as 15%. In recognition of that fact, the USA Track & Field Association has banned athletes from combining music with running in races that involve cash prizes and awards. Type of music and its tempo play a huge role in this phenomenon. When researchers played calming music, they observed strength and endurance actually drop.
3. Steps up cadence of exercise helping you work harder
Studies with cyclists have demonstrated that they pedal harder when listening to fast music than they do listening to slow music. Songs that match elevated heart rate—120-140 beats per minute—show the greatest benefit.
4. Reduces perceived effort
This is in part due to the fact that music enables the person exercising to relax, or get into the zone with their exercise routine. Music that motivates you to push hard and keep going makes exercising feel easier.
5. Elevates your mood
Consciously or subconsciously we tend to select music that will either promote the good mood we’re in, or move our mood to a better place. In a good mood, we’re more likely to exercise and take care of ourselves.
6. Promotes metabolic efficiency
Recent research revealed that when cyclists pedaled in cadence to fast-paced music, they required 7 percent less oxygen to perform the same work as that performed without music.
7. Speeds post-exercise recovery
While so many benefits revolve around listening to music during exercise, researchers have discovered that listening to music while cooling down after exercise can significantly improve recovery. The study showed that blood lactate levels dropped more rapidly in the presence of music and perceived recovery felt less demanding to subjects.
Coordination and balance are core elements of any form of physical activity. As coordination and balance improve, so does fitness. By reducing muscle tension, music improves motor coordination and balance., 
9. Helps synchronization for efficiency of effort
Whether running, cycling, walking, rowing, or participating in any other exercise that requires rhythm and tempo, music aids in getting our movements synchronized quickly and for top efficiency.
10. Increases enjoyment of exercise
Subjects in various studies report that listening to music improves their enjoyment and sense of fulfillment while exercising. If you get bored with a workout, a sure way to revitalize it is to change up your music or select the random function on your playlist.
11. Makes you want to move; stimulates, and arouses
When we hear music with a snappy, fun beat it’s nearly impossible to sit still. The music triggers something that makes us want to move and exercise provides a great outlet for that stimulation.
12. Improves reaction times
Listening to faster tempo tunes with higher intensity before and during a physical activity can improve motor control and reaction times. This is especially important in competitive sports like tennis.
Of course, not all music produces the same benefits. In order to get the most from mixing music with exercise, choose:
- Tunes with a beat that matches your desired heart rate or cadence during the exercise. Typically, this is somewhere between 120-140 bpm. Anything higher than that may prove counterproductive. The websites and phone apps below to help you select songs with a specific tempo.
- Melodies that you enjoy. If you don’t like classical music, then a classical piece, even though it has a good beat, probably won’t work for you. Choose something that moves
- Songs with lyrics and/or associations that motivate and inspire you. These types of songs have the ability to enhance your workout.
Examples of music that reach your target heart rate:
- 120 bpm – Aretha Franklin Respect, or Diana Ross I Will Survive
- 140 bpm – Eagles Take it Easy, or The Rolling Stones Brown Sugar
Music can add pleasure while improving endurance and efficiency in your exercise routine. If you currently struggle to maintain a regular fitness regimen, music could be the instrument that gets you in the groove.
I defy you to sit still and refrain from smiling as you listen to We Will Rock You by Queen! Or if Queen is not your style, how about Come go with Me by the Del Vikings. Here’s one with a great beat: Run through the Jungle by Creedence Clearwater Revival.
The key is to play music that you enjoy and that moves you! Next time you go out for a jog, walk, or ride what tunes will you be playing to enhance your workout?
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Rob Fischer has been writing professionally for over 35 years. His experience includes writing curricula, study guides, articles, blogs, newsletters, manuals, workbooks, training courses, workshops, and books. Rob has written for numerous churches, for Burlington Northern Railroad, Kaiser Aluminum, and Barton Publishing. He has also trained managers in effective business writing. Rob holds two Master’s degrees, both focused heavily on writing. Rob has published eleven books and serves as an editor and ghostwriter for other authors.