To most of us, music is an integral part of our workout. It is the one thing that is used and loved by both amateurs and professional athletes. It’s positive effects are backed up by scientific research – playing music while exercising has been shown to increase endurance by 15%.
But it isn’t just a case of the louder and faster the better. In fact, the best music for the gym may not be anything from the past 100 years or so. Say goodbye to your Rihanna rhythms and dance floor jams because classical music is actually thought to be the best workout music. The sonatas of Beethoven, Brahms and co have been found to regulate breathing, reduce stress, lower blood pressure and increase concentration. So what exactly is the science behind this?
Classical music helps athletes to maintain focus
Studies have suggested that classical music has a beneficial effect on energy levels during workouts. According to Dr Jack Lewis, a neuroscientist studying the effects of music on exercise, energetic but not overly fast classical music can increase speed, strength and endurance. This, combined with the relaxing qualities of classical, reduces perceived exertion.
Lewis has looked at different genres of music and analysed how it affected a subject’s athletic performance – or what he calls the ‘ergogenic benefit’. He found that high-tempo dance music made it harder for his subject to stick to a routine, whereas classical music helped his subject to maintain focus.
This is because musical beats stimulates the basal ganglia – an area of the brain which initiates movement. This is widely believed to be the reason we naturally match the energy of our movements to the beat.
Is music always good for a workout?
According to a 2009 review published in the Sport Journal, music helps to narrow concentration in moderate workouts, but for more strenuous activity it has no effect. There are even arguments that suggest music, specifically when listening through headphones, negatively affects your workout.
Dr Caroline Silby, a sports psychologist who has worked with Olympic gold medallists, believes listening to music when exercising disconnects you from how you’re really feeling. In an interview with GQ magazine, she said: “What ends up happening is you start to feel very passive about your workout. You sort of look back and say, what did I just do?”
The truth is music can both help and hinder us, depending on the type of music, our personal preferences and where we are. So, if louder and faster doesn’t necessarily mean stronger and better, what music can you listen to, even if you’re not a big fan of Ludwig Van Beethoven?
The perfect classical workout music
If you’re willing to give classical music a try, Mozart is a good starting point. Previous studies have claimed his music makes you smarter and even repairs memory loss. His composition ‘Eine kleine Nachtmusik’ is perfect for a quick workout.
Classical FM has also recommended a number of pieces to play during your daily workout. They include Bach’s ‘Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, 1st mvt’, Johann Strauss’s ‘Auf Der Jagd’, and Maurice Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ – the latter famed for being the music behind Torvill and Dean’s gold medal figure skating performance at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
If classical really isn’t your thing, the most important thing to remember is beats per minute (bpm). It’s not so much the genre that’s important, it’s the workout. You need to think about rhythm of your rowing, jogging, peddling, lifting or whatever exercise you’re working on and pick tracks that will assist you in maintain that beat. For this, songs that range from 120 -140 bpm are good.
Whether you choose Beyonce or Bach, Drake or Debussy, make sure you do what works for you.