MUSIC: A Legal Drug for Athletes

A professor specializing in music and exercise once said, “Music is like a legal drug for athletes” and I have to agree – the right music can be more powerful than crack.

When I think of the movie ‘Rocky’, I hear the theme song and picture Sylvester Stallone training, running, fighting and winning. It is probably one of the most popular workout songs of all time.

I recently attended a gym while traveling. As I was touring the club, I felt really uncomfortable. The gym was very quiet and everyone seemed awkward. Then I realized what was wrong – not only was the music kinda ‘blah’, but the music was turned down so low you could barely hear it. Without music there was no energy, without energy there was no excitement, and without excitement there was very little motivation.

The end result was the worst workout of my life. It was so quiet I was aware of my own breath, so I didn’t push myself as hard as I normally would. I was so bored and sluggish, I cut my workout short. I left the gym and went straight to an electronics store to purchase a set of headphones. The next day I went back to the gym and had one of the best workouts I ever had. By the end of my workout, I felt like running out the door with my hands in the air, singing the Rocky theme song.

Why Music Matters

Everyone at our gym knows I take our music very seriously. I tease that I am “DJ Magic Bonnie” on a mission to pump up the tunes – and everyone’s heart rate. Although everyone has different musical tastes, there is a scientific reason behind the music we play in our gym. Studies upon studies have proven that certain types of music gives gym goers an advantage. The sound level, the beat, the style – it all can make or break your workout.

1. The Beat – The stronger the beat, the more likely you are to follow it. This is why aerobics instructors around the globe use music set at a specific beat per minute. Music keeps the group together, as well as gives people an ideal pace to follow for the optimum workout. Even if you don’t choose to follow the beat, it’s proven that a strong beat has the ability to increase your heart rate, boost your energy, and arouse the mind. Although music doesn’t change what you feel while working out, it can change how you feel. Research shows music distracts listeners and makes hard training seem more fun. If working out feels fun, then you’re more likely to keep coming back!

2. The Pace – One analysis indicated listening to sedentary music significantly decreased muscle strength. I’m sure very few people want to workout to Roberta Flack’s “Killing Me Softly”, but if you do, just know Roberta will be killing your workout too. In addition to power, researchers found people have a natural response to follow a strong beat. The faster the tempo, the faster their own pace – resulting in a more intense workout. Romans used this principle with their rowers on ancient Roman ships. A man would beat a drum to set a pace for all the rowers to follow. Research consistently shows that the synchronization of music with repetitive exercise is associated with increased levels of work output and increase endurance up to 15%.

3. The Words – Music has the unique ability to alter emotion with it’s words. Different types of music can stem a different response. This is why the type of music chosen for exercise is so important. I even believe, the music you choose while you are on the way to the gym can help you get psyched for your workout. One of the greatest examples of this type of preparation is in sports, like UFC. The majority of UFC fighters come out to powerful high-energy songs with a message like Kimbo Slice‘s entrance song of choice, ‘All I Do is Win‘ by DJ Khaled. The words, sung by hip hop heavy hitters, including Ludacris and Snoop Dog, send an intimidating message to the opponent while boosting the fighter’s own mood before he steps foot into the cage.

4. The Style – Although upbeat music can psych you up for a big fight, the opposite effect can also happen. A certain style of music can help you calm down, which is especially helpful for people who are anxious, or need to focus, prior to a game or performance. A good example of this is Yoshihiro Akiyama‘s entrance song, “Time to Say Good-Bye” by Andrea Bocelli and Sarah Brightmans. I always wondered why he would choose this operatic slow song, until I took a closer look. Not only does this song scream “I am calm, cool and collected”, the actual sad feeling of the song sends a message too. As Bleacher Report’s Scott Harris said, “it has an ‘I’m sorry, I’m about to either kill you or die trying’ feel”.

Bottom line, don’t underestimate the power of purposeful music.

Music is like is a legal drug for athletes,” says Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education, one of the world’s leading authorities on music and exercise. People often ask me what supplements I take, but maybe the questions people should be asking is “what music do you listen to?”


Music Motivational Tips

1. Turn the music on. Turn your music on before you even put your tennis shoes on. If you are sluggish, see how you feel as soon as you turn on some good tunes while getting ready. Watch your mood change. If you can change your mood, you can change your mind. 

2. Crank it up. Crank up high-energy music while you are driving to the gym. By the time you get there, you will be so energized, nothing will stop you from having a great workout!

3. Buy good headphones. If you don’t like the music your gym plays, or you like to run outside, buying a good pair of headphones is as important as buying a good pair of shoes. Not only will you have great workouts, but headphones say “I’m serious and don’t want to be interrupted”, which will increase your overall intensity.

4. Search for fitness music that shows beats per minute. To give you an idea of pace, ACE (American Counsel on Exercise) suggests the following beats per minute based on sport: Walking: 137–139 bpm, Running: approx. 147–169 bpm and Cycling: approx. 135–170 bpm. The higher the beats per minute, the higher intensity – even when weight training.

5. Save your tunes for the gym. If you play your workout music outside of exercise, you may lose a little magic. By saving your music for your workouts, the music will stay fresh and exciting – just like your workouts should be!

My Favorite Workout Music of 2012: 

#1 DJ Special Ed: High energy club hits mixed by local DJ mixing mastermind, DJ Special Ed, also owner of Class Act Entertainment, provides music for  my personal ipod, as well as all our club events. Like his facebook page and you can download his custom mixes free or book him for your next event. DJ Special Ed is not your typical DJ – he knows how to entertain a crowd and his music can make your party a Grammy-worthy hit itself!

#2 Motion Traxx,“the music that moves you”. This DJ offers a podcast of music custom-mixed specifically for training and set to specific beats per minute. Originally designed for runners, Deekron “The Fitness DJ” mixes a variety of music for different workouts including spinning, walking, interval training, marathons, treadmill workouts and even boot camp. You will hear Motion Traxx in most of our BCx Boot Camp videos.

Owner of Lift Vero and motivational "pfitness, pfood and pfaith" blogger in Vero Beach, Florida.

One Comment

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: