Studies show that the rhythmic speed of your music influences your athletic performance. Here's how to use that information to create the ultimate playlist for your workout.
Original photo by Laisie Tu
While it's no surprise that fast-paced music is a good and popular exercise companion, a study published last year discovered a direct correlation between fast-paced music and athletic performance. Volunteers in the study were given popular music to listen to while riding a stationary bicycle. For the first ride, the music was played as-is. In subsequent rides, the some volunteers received music slowed down by 10 per cent and others received music sped up by 10 per cent. The riders were not informed of the change, yet their performance changed nonetheless:
When the tempo slowed, so did their pedaling and their entire affect. Their heart rates fell. Their mileage dropped. They reported that they didn't like the music much. On the other hand, when the tempo of the songs was upped 10 percent, the men covered more miles in the same period of time, produced more power with each pedal stroke and increased their pedal cadences. Their heart rates rose. They reported enjoying the music - the same music - about 36 percent more than when it was slowed. But, paradoxically, they did not find the workout easier. Their sense of how hard they were working rose 2.4 percent. The up-tempo music didn't mask the discomfort of the exercise. But it seemed to motivate them to push themselves. As the researchers wrote, when "the music was played faster, the participants chose to accept, and even prefer, a greater degree of effort."
Choosing the Music
You want fast-paced music on your playlist, but some songs may be deceptive. As we've previously discovered, the best exercise music should be between 120-140 (beats per minute). The question is, how do you calculate the BPM of a song? Well, there's always the old-fashioned way: counting.
Once you've calculated the BPM of a song, you can generally store it in the ID3 tag of the music file. For example, getting info on a song in iTunes will let you enter the BPM. Using iTunes as an example, you can then sort your music by BPM and choose the songs you want that fall into the 120-140 BPM range.
Getting the Tracks in Order
When thinking about the order of the tracks in my exercise playlist, I'm reminded of Nike+. On the iPod, it lets you can assign a high-tempo "power song" to your run and start it when you're coming close to the finish. The idea is that it'll help motivate you to push through the remainder of your run and eek out a little extra speed.
This is the concept to think about when you plan your playlist. If you're running steady on a treadmill, building your songs by BPM is an easy option. That way you'll end up on the fastest song and, in theory, pace yourself to gain speed as you gain distance. If you're dealing with varied incline and might want that additional motivation when you're hitting a hill (or greater resistance on the treadmill/stationary bike/elliptical/etc) you may want to time the high BPM songs for those moments instead. Think about your run and when you need those "power songs" so you can build a playlist that fits your workout best.
Got any tips for building the perfect workout playlist? Let's hear 'em in the comments!
Phys Ed: Does Music Make You Exercise Harder? [New York Times]