Up-Tempo Tunes Boost Exercise Value
New research suggests that listening to fast music when exercising keeps your heart rate up, while reducing fatigue.
I headed to the gym early today for a few hours. I may do a walking warm-up on a treadmill, weight lifting (chest and biceps), aerobic activity, more walking, and stretching. I love Friday morning workouts, mostly because I reward myself with an afternoon nap.
I am blessed to have an iPod, a relic of the past. At the same time, you will typically hear me listening to Mozart sonatas (mostly different versions of pieces I am working on) or Beethoven or Chopin. But not in the gym. There you will find me rocking to Snoop Dogg or Naughty by Nature or Biggie Smalls. Anything with a driving beat.
I do not doubt that music makes my exercise sessions more enjoyable. But is this universal language it associated with a reduction in my sense of effort? Or increase my heart rate? The answer appears to be yes.
A new study in Frontiers in Psychology examines the influence of higher tempi (faster music).
Music tempo and exercise
This small study included nineteen female subjects, ranging in age from twenty-four to thirty-one years. Each regularly engaged in physical activity three to five times per week. The study authors note that a significant percentage worked in physical fitness. Each had undergone at least one year of fitness training.
The researchers created two categories:
- endurance exercise
- high-intensity training (such as weightlifting)
The subjects, for each session, performed a routine four times. For each episode, the researchers created a different music condition. Three of these used pop music, while the fourth included no music. Here are the tempi of the pop songs offered:
- low (90 to 110 beats per minute)
- medium (130 to 150 beats per minute)
- high (170 to 190 beats per minute)
The investigators randomly shuffled the order of the music conditions to create a balanced representation. For the endurance session, subjects walked on a treadmill at 6.5 kilometers per hour for ten minutes to reach a steady exertion state.
The study authors recorded the participants’ heart rates during the exercise, and at the test’s end, they recorded the average and peak heart rate. Subjects reported their perceived level of general fatigue.
For the high-intensity activity, the subjects performed a one-repetition maximum test on a leg press machine. The load increased until the individual could no longer perform ten repetitions, starting with a bodyweight lift, and the researchers charted this maximum load.
The participants again reported their level of general fatigue.
The study results
The sound effects of higher tempo music were most pronounced when the participants were engaging in endurance exercise. Here is how University of Verona (Italy) study author Luca Ardigo put it:
“Listening to high tempo music while exercising leads to the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music.”
In their article, the authors cite clues from previous research that may give us clues about why music has this effect. Repetitive movements seem to be related to the phases between pulse music beats, stimulating a feedback/forward look. Rhythm may be associated with improved execution of actions.
Continuing, they reference studies indicating that “music regulates processes in the autonomic nervous system and can be used to regulate the cardiovascular system with concerning both [heart rate] and blood pressure.”
The study cohort was narrow, including only physically trained, young female adults. How well does music work for males, untrained individuals, older folks, and adolescents? The study authors themselves look forward to investigating the effects of other music elements (such as genre, melody, or lyrics) on exercise.
I’m Dr. Michael Hunter. And now, I am off to re-discover Bach’s Preludes and Fugues for piano. I hope you have a joy- (and music- ) filled weekend!
- Harmon NM. The beat goes on: The effects of music on exercise. IDEA Fitness Journal 2007.
- Todd NP, Lee CS, and O’Boyle DJ. A sensorimotor theory of temporal tracking and beat induction. Psychol Res 2002; 66(1): 26–39.
- Berman R. Up-tempo tunes boost the cardio value of exercise. MedicalNewsToday. 2020.