Does listening to music at the gym enhance performance?

Posted by Dayne Hudson in Muscle Building

Estimated reading time: 4mins

Does listening to music at the gym enhance performance? | Bulk Nutrients blog

Music and performance in the gym

For some, headphones are an absolute must when it comes to resistance training. Memes like this attest to it:

Just got to the gym... Left my headphones - meme

Scientists also think there's some power to your headphones (noise-cancelling technology aside) and have thus investigated them in studies like this.

These researchers found music increases stamina and put you in a better mood. 

And if you put a song on with a large beat count that you basically run or lift too, you're doing it right! 

Research shows that music that is synchronised with your exercise has psychological and physical benefits; you're more motivated to train and you can do so for longer.

Additional research adds weight to this: when we engage in low-to-moderate exercise, faster pace music improves our athletic performance by increasing how far we can run or how many reps we can perform.

This study found that fast-paced music also increased pace and distance, but with subjects NOT becoming more tired! 

Keeping time with the music

What's clear is how tempo affects how effectively we can exercise, and researchers have examined this in the context of different exercise activities: 

Cycling: To achieve the best performance, the ideal tempo is between 125-140 beats per minute.

Treadmill: Between 123 and 131 beats per minute.

Certain beats per minute suit certain types of exercise more. Choose one that synchronises with your training!
Certain beats per minute suit certain types of exercise more. Choose one that synchronises with your training!

The suggestion is that different tempos are better for different exercises because of our ability to keep time with the music: either pedalling or running to it. We obviously have different paces and intensities during different cardio workouts.

Deeper research finds music increases performance in two ways:

  1. It delays fatigue
  2. It increases work capacity

The researchers concluded that music could induce:

“...higher-than-expected levels of endurance, power, productivity, or strength.”

And our perception of pain is reduced because music simply distracts us because of the competing sensory stimuli.

Getting in the mood to train with music

We all know how much mood affects our gym performance.

If we turn up cranky and, in a rush, we tend to not perform a great workout.

But when we're feeling great and have had a good day, we bounce into the gym and tend to train well.

And this is the other way music can help: research shows music can lead to feelings of pleasure via an increase in serotonin -- the "feel-good" hormone. 

A better mood and more serotonin can therefore set the stage for a better workout. 

Music before bench pressing for increased strength

A very recent study in 2021 reported head-turning findings for bench press performance.

Ten resistance-trained males in their 20s took part in a crossover counterbalanced research design (ie, well setup!).

They did two bench press trials with pre-exercise music, and no music, separated by at least 48 hours. The researchers reported:

"Improved muscle power explosiveness and strength-endurance when listening to music before a bench press exercise."

They added:

"From a practical standpoint, athletes who have the option of listening to music immediately prior to resistance exercise may benefit from its use."

So, it seems pretty clear that music will assist with our cardio and weightlifting efforts, and we're likely to have a better workout if we utilise it. 

Music can help us get more out of our bench presses.
Music can help us get more out of our bench presses.

The bottom line is that music can enhance exercise performance. When we engage in low-to-moderate exercise, faster pace music improves our athletic performance by increasing how far we can run and by delaying fatigue. Certain beats per minute are better for the type of exercise we're doing. 

To achieve the best performance cycling, the ideal tempo is between 125-140 beats per minute, and for the treadmill, the ideal beats per minute range are between 123 and 131 beats per minute. Experiment with a beat per minute that suits your exercise for optimal results. 

Moreover, music can increase serotonin, which puts us in the mood for a better workout. Muscle power explosiveness and strength-endurance in the bench press is also increased when music is played pre-exercise.

References:

  1. Altenmüller, E., & Schlaug, G. (2012). Music, brain, and health: Exploring biological foundations of music’s health effects. In R. A. R. MacDonald, G. Kreutz, & L. Mitchell (Eds.), Music, health, and wellbeing, 12-24. New York: Oxford University Press. 
  2. Judy Edworthy & Hannah Waring (2006) The effects of music tempo and loudness level on treadmill exercise, Ergonomics, 49:15, 1597-1610, DOI:10.1080/00140130600899104 
  3. Karageorghis, C. & Jones, L. (2014). On the stability and relevance of the exercise heart rate-music-tempo preference relationship. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(3), 299-310. 
  4. Karageorghis, C. I., Jones, L., Priest, D. L., Akers, R. I., Clarke, A., Perry, J. M., et al.(2011). Revisiting the exercise heart rate-music tempo preference relationship. Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, 82, 274-284. 
  5. Karageorghis, C.I., & Priest, D.L. (2012). Music in the Exercise Domain: A Review and Synthesis (part II). International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5(1), 67-84. 
  6. Karageorghis, C.I., Priest, D.L., Williams, L.S., Hirani, R.M., Lannon, K.M., & Bates, B.J. (2010). Ergogenic and psychological effects of synchronous music during circuit-type exercise. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 11(6), 551-559. 
  7. North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008). Music and Physical Health, In The Social and Applied Psychology of Music, pp. 301-311. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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