Should You Exercise to Music?

Do you listen to music when you exercise? When I first started running, the MP3 player was just starting to become popular. Soon after the iPod released the nano, the music revoultion took over the fitness scence. Could you imagine exercising without music? Or do you avoid plugging in your headphones? In today’s post we will look at the pro’s and cons of exercising to music.

Side note- My undergraduate dissertation was titled “The effect of music tempo on perceived and physical exertion in distance runners” so it’s safe to say I’ve done some reading on the topic!

Motivation or Distraction?

Have you noticed that most gyms have music playing loudly in the background? Is this to keep members motivated or is it a distraction? Listening to music when exercising is used both for motivational and distraction purposes. Using the cardio machines at the gym can be a boring activity for some people, so listening to music makes it bearable. I can relate to this and I would tend to agree with them. Everyone is different, so it’s hard to explain the reasons why people listen to music when working out.


With the likes of iTunes and Spotify, music has become easily accesible on-the-go. There is no limit to workout playlists, whcih include everything from opera to techno. Lets look closer at the positive effects music has and the not so positive effects.


In my dissertation study, I recruited 16 runners, varying from elites to novices. VO2 (the running economy), RPE (rate of perceived exertion) and heart rate values were recorded for each runner. All runners ran at an easy pace, with different music tempos. Interestingly, when the low tempo music was played (120bpm), runners values for each of the three measurements were lower. In simple terms, the runners were running more efficiently and with less effort at the same pace with music, than without music. Research in the area has shown similar results. Distraction or relaxation could be the reason for the findings. I think it’s more to do with music tempo, matching the stride frequency at an easy pace. Music has the power to change your mood state instantly. I know personally when I’ve been dreading a workout, I play a Spotify playlist and I’m ready to go. Music can be a great tool to use even before you workout to increase your readiness and mood levels.

The Down Sides

In the study, I also played high tempo music (160+bpm) to the runners. The results were the polar opposite of the low tempo findngs. Runner’s heart rates increased, as well as running economy and perceived effort. They were running the same pace throughout the test. The results are likely to be related to the fast music, tricking the body into thinking it’s working harder than it is.

The other thing about listening to music is that it can distract you from outside stimulus. For example, you mighn’t hear traffic or other external noise. It also can distract you from your effort and how your body is feeling during exercise. If you want to zone out for your workouts, it’s the perfect motivational tool.

Top tip:

High tempo music is best for intense workouts, where you want to keep the energy high, like weightlifiting or sprinting.

Low tempo music is better for aerobic or easy continous activities.

You should try listening to music, during workouts, if you’re the following type of person:

  1. You lack motivation for working out, it’s the only way you can complete a workout.
  2. You train on your own most of the time.
  3. You’re an athlete and want some distraction from the boredom or intensity of a workout.

If you compete in any sport, you might want to give music a skip for harder workouts. This is to get you accustomed to a performance setting with potentially no music.

Listening to music when exercising is a personal preference, there is no right or wrong approach. Why don’t you give it a try and see where it takes you.

I’d love to hear your own personal experiences with music while exercising.

Thank you for reading,

Until next time,

Steve 🙂

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