Behind the psychology of the most effective workout tunes
Can’t work out without your iPod? You’re not alone. According to experts, “music is a type of legal performance enhancing drug,” says Costas Karageorghis from Brunel University in London.
ScientificAmerican.com reports that music distracts from pain and fatigue, elevates your mood, increases endurance, and reduces perceived effort. However creating the perfect playlist may not be as simple as it seems. Experts agree you have to take into account the memories and emotions that are associated with the song.
Recently, researches have investigated new ways to motivate people through their ears, from a device that selects songs based on a runner’s heart rate to an app that guides listeners through a post apocalyptic world on an escape from zombies.
Researchers have examined the relationship between music and exercise since the early 1900s. In 1911, American investigator Leonard Ayres studied cyclists and found that they pedaled faster while a band was playing than when it was silent. Since then, researches have conducted many studies finding a few overlapping conclusions.
The two most important aspects of workout music are “tempo or speed and rhythm response,” which basically means how much a song makes you want to dance.
According to Scientific American, “what type of music excites the instinct to synchronize your movements with the music varies from culture to culture, and from person to person. To make some broad generalizations, fast songs with strong beats are particularly stimulating, so they fill most people's workout playlists.” For example, in a recent survey of 184 college students, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (27.7 percent), rock (24 percent) and pop (20.3 percent).
However it is not just the type of music that is best for a workout, but also how the music encourages people to keep going. Distraction plays a role when the physical fatigue sets in and the body realizes it needs a break, instead however music competes with the physiological feedback for the brain’s conscious attention. In the same regard, music can change one’s perception of their own effort during a workout, and as a result you keep exercising.
"Given that exercise is often tiresome, boring and arduous, anything that relieves those negative feelings would be welcome," Karageorghis explains. “The benefits of distraction are most pronounced during low- to moderate-intensity exercise. When up against high-intensity exercise, music loses its power to override the physical feelings of tiredness, but it can still change the way people respond to that fatigue. The right music elevates mood and persuades people to ride out waves of exhaustion, rather than giving up.”
Also, if people strongly indentify with the singer’s emotions or perspective the song becomes more motivational for them. For instance, listening to a dramatic song from your favorite musical will help you directly connect with that character.
In addition, some game designers are introducing new ways for people to escape into fictional worlds while running. In 2012, the online game company Six to Start released the immersive running game, “Zombies, Run!” in the form of a Smartphone app that “narrates the listener's quest to survive the zombie apocalypse.”
"We are almost hardwired to appreciate music aesthetically," Karageorghis says. “People's emotional response to music is visceral, and is, in part, ingrained in some of the oldest regions of the brain.” In addition, music and movement are particularly entwined in the brain, so even if someone is sitting completely still, listening to enjoyable music will increase their electrical activity within the brain.
Many experts agree that over time our brains have evolved to associate the expectation that “where there is music there is movement.” So next time you want to create the perfect playlist, make something personal with high tempo, rhythm response, and motivational songs that relate directly to you.
For the full story go to Scientificamerican.com.