Whether you’re into Madonna or Megadeth there’s no denying that music will have an effect on your workout. Some people prefer chilled and relaxed R&B to focus their attention on the exercise at hand where as other’s prefer blasting beats to pump them up and get them in the zone. Yet, you may be in doubt of your gym playlist and be wondering what the best music for your training is. Let’s take a look at what the research has to say so that you’re getting the most out of your headphones.

Firstly, one study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research1 monitored the effects of picking your own music opposed to listening to whatever the gym was playing. Depending on where you choose to workout, the speakers can be playing anything and sometimes nothing at all. For some this may be off putting as it’s not what they usually listen to where as for others it can create a hassle-free experience so that they can concentrate on the task at hand.

This study examined two groups; one that chose their own music and the other listened to no music whatsoever. The groups were then tested on two movements; the bench press and squat jumps.

In the bench press the participants had to perform as many reps as they could at 75% of their one rep max. Interestingly, the results were negligible leading us to believe that for this particular exercise music selection (or music at all) has no effect. However, after being questioned by the researchers the participants that used music said that they felt more fatiuged and more tense than their music-less counterparts.

Moving on to the squat jumps and, like the bench press, neither group showed a significant difference in their end performance. The squat jump was measured as the height of three reps at 30% of their one rep max. Those who listened to music displayed greater speed and acceleration out of the hole even though the ultimate loads and heights were almost the same.

From this study we are led to believe that for upper body exercises it may be more beneficial to turn the tunes off but for lower body exercises then you should turn them up. Although, the results could also show that music is better for spadework and explosiveness opposed to strength and volume work.

Another study2 published in 2009 by British researchers examined the effects of music on 12 male college students who were asked to ride stationary bicycles. The music that they listen to consisted of six songs of varying tempo and, according to the researchers, “reflected current popular taste among the undergraduate population.” Each participant was told to ride the bicycle at a pace that they could maintain comfortably for 30 minutes while having their heart rate, power output, pedal cadence, enjoyment of the music and perceived exhaustion monitored. Throughout one ride the tempo of the tracks was the same where as for the others they were slowed down or increased by 10%. As you would expect, when the tempo slowed so did the pedaling and heart rate. When the temp increased, however, they covered more distance, increased their pedaling rate and heart rate. They even enjoyed the music about 36% more than when it was slowed down. This shows that for cardiovascular or high repetition work it may be very beneficial to choose songs with an increased tempo as you are more likely to work harder.

But what type of music do people listen to most?

Well, according to this survey titled “College Students’ Usage of Personal Music Players (PMP) During Exercise” which involved 184 undergraduate students, the most popular genres of music to listen to are hip-hop at 27.7%, rock at 24% and pop at 20.3%. Country music even managed to get 12.7%. The same study also listed the most common modes of exercises while listening to a PMP with free weights at 27.2%, treadmills at 26% and machine weights at 19.6% which is hardly surprising.

What this all means is that for heavy lifting where you need to concentrate then you are probably better of turning off the tunes to focus on the exercise. If you’re doing exercise where you need some motivation or some sort of tempo work such as in cardiovascular activities, though, then blaring out a playlist of hip-hop or rock will probably aid your mentality and your performance. In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. There are gigantic power lifters who choose to listen to Katy Perry when they’re squatting and there are long distance runners who only like the sound of their feet against the ground. Test out different genres and tempos on different exercises and monitor what the effects are. Only you can know what’s best for yourself.

 

[1] http://journals.lww.com/nsca-jscr/Abstract/2012/07000/Effects_of_Self_Selected_Music_on_Strength,.26.aspx

[2] http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19793214

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