When it comes to exercising to music, choosing the right tempo is key. That’s the message from Gershon Tenenbaum, a sports psychologist at Florida State University. He says whether you’re walking on a treadmill, cycling or on the Stairmaster, many new studies show that exercising to the same tempo as the music you’re listening to can boost your endurance. That’s because music distracts the brain. It literally blocks out the negative feedback we normally get from things like sore muscles, difficulty breathing, or fatigue. And because it feels like we’re not working out as hard, we tend to workout longer.
So, what’s the “sweet spot” for workout music? According to the School of Sport and Education, it’s songs with tempos between 125 and 140 beats per minute. That’s about the tempo of popular songs like “Gangnam Style” by Psy, “Edge of Glory” by Lady Gaga or “Beat It” by Michael Jackson.
In one study, swimmers who synchronized their movements to music at that tempo reported a 10 percent jump in their level of motivation, compared to swimming with no music. And in races, they shaved up to three-seconds off their time!
And music can even help before a workout. Researchers say listening to an upbeat song before you lift weights – or go for a run – works like taking a mild stimulant, or drinking coffee. The music will increase your heart rate and blood pressure slightly, so it’ll be that much easier to perform.
Don’t like fast music? It turns out, you can also boost your workout by listening to songs with motivational sounds and lyrics – like the theme from “Chariots of Fire,” for example.
But here’s the best part: Scientists say the benefits of listening to music are greatest for “recreational exercisers” – meaning normal people. Because elite athletes are already performing at optimal levels.