top of page


MUSIC HAS THE ABILITY to influence multiple aspects of our lives, because music affects our nervous system and our emotions.

From celebration and joy through sadness and contemplation. Music can motivate us to move and keep moving and then soothe us to sleep at the end of the day.

From running on a treadmill to cycling up a long hill or pushing through a circuit, music has an enormous impact on exercise performance. Of course, personal preference and enjoyment of a music style are paramount when it comes to choice.

My friend Dawn is well-known among her many spin class followers for her fabulous and funky play lists!


The central nervous system is highly sensitive to musical cues.

Sub-conscious and conscious areas of the brain are all impacted by music. Emotional response, coordination, planning and execution of movement all interact.

The autonomic nervous system can be used to regulate the cardiovascular system via heart rate and blood pressure.

Music can be considered a useful tool in regulating the intensity of physiological arousal and subjective experience as a means of increasing physical activity and exercise compliance. What keeps you moving and gets you back there the next day?

When it comes to exercise, music has the capacity to shift focus away from feelings of discomfort and fatigue. Music has the ability to distract us from pain and fatigue and lift our moods! Some studies have shown that music for low and moderate intensity exercise is very effective, but music for high intensity (eg. leg press or squats)training is less effective at diverting attention away from discomfort, however, participants all experienced more positive moods when listening to music, regardless of the intensity.

High intensity training (using explosive effort) seems to be characterised by an all-out approach that is powered primarily by metabolic pathways through muscular stimulation without the use of oxygen. This anaerobic pathway requires less decision-making processes compared to endurance exercise which is generally longer duration, resulting in more mental fatigue and external distractions. Pumping out heavy reps during squats requires intense short-term focus, no distraction needed!

Several studies have investigated the effects on endurance performance (walking, running, cycling)when the pace and tempo of the music matches that of the activity. Dancers have been doing this for years!

Terry et al.(2012) tested synchronous music effects on treadmill running using elite triathletes. Time to exhaustion was 18.1 and 19.7% longer when running in time to motivational and neutral music, respectively, compared to running with no music.

Motivational music typically has a fast tempo (>120 bpm), a strong rhythm, inspirational lyrics, and an uplifting harmony, which all tend to increase energy and encourage action. There's nothing like a great song to keep you moving!

In contrast, neutral or asynchronous music (ie background music) does not have these characteristics but is not considered demotivational.

Dr Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University London has studied music tempo and exercise performance for many years and found that a mixed tempo playlist may have a greater motivational impact than a purely fast tempo. Exposure to high tempo music over an extended endurance exercise session may result in negative motivational consequences such as boredom and irritation. Fast and very fast tempo music may be a better fit for a high intensity, shorter duration workout, such as a hard power and strength session.

A 2011 study showed that in order to achieve the best performance for cycling (calculated measuring exercise intensity through heart rate) playing music at a tempo of between 125 and 140 beats per minute seemed to produce the best results.

Depending on your pace and choice of exercise, different tempos produce different results. It's personal, so 'play' around until you perfect your workout music.

Its important to note that Karageororghis and Priest (2012) also highlighted that trained athletes are less influenced by music and tempo than recreational athletes. This is possibly due to the practice and conditioning athletes have in diverting their attention away from pain and fatigue in any situation. Elite athletes are accustomed to pushing through that pain and discomfort barrier.


A popular example, Pump It by The Black Eyed Peas has a tempo of 154 bpm.

* SLOW 90 -100 bpm

* MEDIUM 115 -120 bpm

* FAST 135 - 140 bpm

* VERY FAST 155 -160 bpm

Get your headphones on, get outside or into the gym, and 'pump it!'


bottom of page