Your feet hit the ground in perfect rhythm with the music. Your once-sore knees and ankles somehow move faster than you thought possible. There’s no question that running with the perfect set of tunes can make you feel like you’re performing better, but is there an actual science behind that feeling?
Many researchers are saying yes.
Evidence from a Brunel University study suggests that music can “improve the ‘feeling states’ of exercisers, helping them to derive much greater pleasure from the task.” And who doesn’t need a bit more pleasure when they’re running?
Beyond just feeling great, the study also suggests that the right music can help you perform better. It can enhance an athlete’s endurance by 15% and can also provide motivation by helping to “block out the little voice in your brain telling you its time to quit.”
But, as you might have guessed, not all songs will work the same way. It’s all about the tempo.
As you might imagine, fast paced, high energy songs can be the most helpful for runners. These songs help you kick it into high gear by serving as the ultimate pace-setter. Your body naturally moves to the rhythm of the music, and which will help you maintain or improve your endurance and speed.
High tempo songs aren’t the only ones that are good for working out. Slow-to-medium paced songs are helpful as well. These songs are a key ingredient to a more productive warmup and cooldown period. Coupled with powerful lyrics, medium paced songs are also ideal for a person lifting weights.
While finding a great tempo and effective lyrics can literally move you, working out with music won’t be quite perfect until you go back to the basics: find songs that speak to you. In other words, listen to songs that you like or find interesting. A song, artist, or genre that doesn’t inspire you will do little to help your performance. While Kanye West’s “Stronger” may be considered the “best workout song ever” (according to Gold’s Gym), you may find more success with “Dog Days are Over” by Florence and the Machine.
What’s playing on the gym radio or on the treadmill TV doesn’t matter when you can build your own playlist, customized for your pace with your hand-picked songs, and no commercials. Who can beat you when you’ve got a team of hard-hitting, inspiring teammates in your iPod?
And if a decrease in pain and an increase in performance aren’t enough, there’s an unexpected benefactor in all of this: your brain. The part of your brain that processes music, the frontal lobe, is also associated with higher mental functioning, planning the future, and thinking abstract thoughts. When you exercise with the right music, your frontal lobe is working out too.
According to ABC News, “this bit of mental stimulation works for the brain like exercise works for the body. The more you do it, the more those muscles — including the ones between the ears — stay in tune and function more efficiently.”
Matt Venables and Julie Herman are amateur runners and founders of jog.fm, the premier workout music recommendation engine. The website suggests music and playlists with a tempo that is perfectly suited to your exercise pace. But Matt and Julie see jog.fm as far more than just music recommendations. It is a motivational tool aimed at getting the average person off the couch and working out.