There IS an easier way to work out, after all: If you want to feel like you’re working 12% less hard, the right music can help do the trick.
According to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, author of Inside Sport Psychology and a leading expert on the psychology of exercise music at the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University in London, well-selected music can actually reduce your perceived exertion by 12%.
Basically, the right jams can make you forget that exercise hurts. Karageorghis’ research found that even arbitrarily selected music can reduce our perception of effort by 8%.
1. First, figure out what kind of attention style you have to find out the best way to use music in your workout.
…have a tendency to focus on whatever you’re doing, paying attention to your breathing, heart rate, and regulating your movements? You have an associative attention style.
…seek out distractions while you’re working out to make it less painful — like looking out the window or at the landscape, making conversation with a friend, or tuning out to TV/music? That’s dissociative behavior.
…adjust your attention based on the situation? You’re a switcher, which means you can focus on your body to get the most out of yourself (associative), but also tune out when jogging at a low intensity (dissociative).
2. Music is most likely to benefit people who find it hard to focus while working out, and who find it hard to stick with a program.
For “dissociators,” “switchers,” and those who find exercising painful, music can make a critical difference, Karageorghis said.
3. Choose music you would regularly listen to.
It should be music that you’re familiar with, Karageorghis said. Studies have shown that the more familiar we are with a song, the more we tend to favor it.
4. Choose uplifting songs with bright harmonies.
Your workout music shouldn’t be negative, Karageorghis explained. In order to get you to really push yourself, the music should be in major mode, and generally has to be emotionally stimulating.
5. Make sure to mix up your playlist every couple of weeks.
“You’re less likely to derive benefit if you always listen to the same thing, because there is desensitization,” Karageorghis said. “And like any mild stimulant, the effect of the music will wear off and may lead to some negative consequences, like boredom and irritation.”
6. Use shuffle mode or discovery apps (like Pandora or smart playlists for Spotify) to avoid falling into a rut.
Change it up every couple weeks, or at least once a month, to avoid desensitization — which means that you become so familiar with a stimulus that it loses its effect.
Peterson recommends setting up a Pandora station for your favorite artist, and using the thumbs-up and thumbs-down feature to craft a station that will introduce you to music that will suit your taste.
7. Try doing a workout without music once in awhile, to keep your brain sharp.
Research shows that if you conduct two sessions with music to one session without, music tends to maintain its effectiveness.
8. Save your favorite song for when the going gets tough and you need an extra mental boost.
A jam is most effective when you need it most, Karageorghis said.
Those pump-up jams are sometimes called “tunnel” songs: the ones you’d want to play if you were an athlete coming out onto the field.
A “tunnel” song is “like when the turbo in a car kicks in,” celebrity fitness trainer Gunnar Peterson told BuzzFeed. Peterson pays attention to which song his clients react to, then uses those over and over to fire them up.
9. Turn up the volume when you need extra motivation.
When you’re nearing the end of a hard set, cranking up the volume a little can help your focus.
For cardio, trainer Peterson said upping the volume can help drown out the sound of heavy breathing or feet striking a treadmill. Beginners, take heed: You may want to listen to the sound of your feet to make sure your gait isn’t off, or that one foot strike is heavier than the other.
Karageorghis said his experiments have shown that listening to slightly louder music, around 75 dB, is more stimulating than softer music (around 65 dB). But listening to music beyond 75 dB should be avoided for safety reasons. “Prolonged exposure to high music intensities can cause temporary hearing loss, particularly when coupled with exercise,” Karageorghis said. “The blood runs from the cochlea to the working muscles leaving the hair follicles more susceptible to damage from high music intensities.”
10. Focus on the lyrics.
“When athletes need a psychological boost,” Karageorghis said, “it’s the lyrical content that has a big role to play.” Michael Phelps, he noted, credits Lil Wayne’s “I’m Me” for giving him a mental boost, with lyrics like “Yes, I am the best / and no, I ain’t positive / I’m definite.”
Those are great affirmations, whether or not they come from Lil Wayne. Choose lyrics that speak to you.
11. When you’re not pushing really hard, play music in the “sweet spot” tempo of 120 to 140 beats per minute.
This “sweet spot,” Karageorghis said, is for asynchronous music, which is music to which you do not consciously synchronize your movement rate. That tempo range seems to work across a big range of exercise intensities for repetitive-type activities.
If you’re at the beginning of your workout and operating at a lower intensity, Avicii’s “Wake Me Up” would be perfect at 120 bpm…
…Whereas Lady Gaga’s “Applause” would be good for when you’re really breaking a sweat on the treadmill, at 140 bpm.
12. Lose less breath by choosing synchronous music — something you can coordinate your movements to the beat of.
Synchronous music can also help iron out the kinks in the kinetic chain, making your movements smoother and more efficient.
13. Choose synchronous music that accounts for how fast you’re moving.
So if you’re cycling, and you pedal at a rate of 55 revolutions per minute, a track like Eminem’s “The Monster” would work, at 110 bpm.
“That means you can take a semi-revolution of the pedals on each beat of the music,” Karageorghis said.