As anyone who works out knows, getting in the zone can all come down to the right workout music, be it playlists or songs on repeat. After all, if you aren’t vibing with the tunes being pumped through the gym’s speakers, how are you supposed to dig deep and hit new heights?
There’s science behind all of this. Researchers have found that the right tunes tap into our brains, actually blocking the sense of effort – and our desire to give in – which is pretty handy. But, this only works with low-to-moderate intensity exercise, which sadly doesn’t cover your attempts at a one rep max.
Costas Karageorghis, Professor of Sport and Exercise Psychology at Brunel University London – and author of Applying Music in Exercise and Sport – has studied the relationship between music and workout, and found that below our max threshold, music can help us feel more positive (up to 15 percent happier), and more energetic.” Music seems to touch the affective centres of the brain and thus can help us to feel better, even when we’re under duress,” he said.
According to recent data from Spotify, the most popular workout songs include: Eminem’s ‘Til I Collapse’; Kanye West’s ‘Stronger’, and ‘Head Shoulders Knees & Toes’ by Ofenbach (feat. Norma Jean Martine). All aptly-named gym songs.
But, when it comes to professional athletes, what are they jamming on a regular basis, and what can we learn from them?
Why music helps
“Music is really important, it’s able to take me into a different mental state that I need when training,” says Billy Major, one of Team GB’s leading slalom skiers. “As a professional athlete, doing more than two workouts a day it can be quite hard mentally to get for every session and find the right motivation. Music really kicks things off me and gets me in the right mindset.”
“Music feels like a workout partner,” adds Rotimi Odukoya, founder of bouldering company Climbxr. “The right track can give you the extra motivation to push through. A good slow jam can help you find that extra length during mobility training. I often use a track as a gauge of how long I rest between sets.”
Sam James, a rugby player with Sale Sharks (and ambassador for spabreaks.com) agrees that the right music can help boost energy to help him push through a hard set.
Tempo is important
Karageorghis points to tempo as being a key motivator, with tunes between 160-180bpm motivating us for a final push, while songs of around 140bpm and upwards are ideal for steady-state workouts, recovery exercises, or cooling down.
Like Spotify’s go-to tunes, Karageorghis also explains that lyrical content can be a key motivator. “Lyrics can have an empowering effect,” he says. “There is an abundance of positive affirmations that can be found in musical lyrics (e.g., “keep on running”, “work your body”, “I like to move it”, “work hard play hard”, etc.).”
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