You know how you feel like you can’t get through a workout unless you have the right song playing, the right beat, or the right mood being elicited from that music? Believe it or not, there is a scientific physiological (characteristic of changes in the body at a cellular level) link from music, and how it can either uplift or suppress your mood. This means that it has the potential to actually make your workout better.
Although most studies on this topic are quite old, it shows that there has been a strong enough link that it does not need to be studied much anymore.
To explain it simply, music can affect physical strength and aerobic fitness (Szmedra and Bacharach, 1998). The easiest explanation for this is that music is actually a natural ergogenic aid (performance enhancer). This causes hormones to be released such as serotonin and epinephrine, which are associated with a sympathetic (fight or flight) response of the body, which will cause a decrease in muscle tension (to help increase your strength- look up the length-tension curve of weightlifting if you’d like to know more about this), and it increases heart rate and respiratory rate. Addionontaly, less lactate is produced, therefore your perceived exertion is lower. In turn, your body will be able to work harder, more efficiently, and for longer, assuming the right music is being played.
If you wanted to test this for yourself, try running for 15 minutes with no music. At this stage, you will begin to tire, as your thoughts get away from you, and you don’t have any external stimuli. After this stage, turn up some upbeat music which follows a similar pace to your running speed, and see the differences. Cool, eh?
Also, in a rehabilitation setting, music has been shown to help with gait re-education as the rhythmic music and percussive pulses help correlate coordination, as it can mediate the beat and allow patients to anticipate the next step, this can be particularly useful for Ataxic or Parkinson’s patients (Rolland et al., 2007). Similarly, it also helps for motor learning for the same reasons, in addition to allowing for a calming ambiance to facilitate concentration.
Beckett, A. (1990). The effects of music on exercise as determined by physiological recovery heart rates and distance. Journal of Music Therapy, 27, 126-136.
Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1997). The psychophysical effects of music in sport and exercise: A review. Journal of Sport Behavior, 20(1), 54.
Rolland, Y., Pillard, F., Klapouszczak, A., Reynish, E., Thomas, D., Andrieu, S., … & Vellas, B. (2007). Exercise Program for Nursing Home Residents with Alzheimer’s Disease: A 1‐Year Randomized, Controlled Trial. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55(2), 158-165.
Särkämö, T., Tervaniemi, M., Laitinen, S., Forsblom, A., Soinila, S., Mikkonen, M., … & Peretz, I. (2008). Music listening enhances cognitive recovery and mood after middle cerebral artery stroke. Brain, 131(3), 866-876.
Steptoe, A., & Cox, S. (1988). Acute effects of aerobic exercise on mood.Health Psychology, 7(4), 329.
Szmedra, L., & Bacharach, D. W. (1998). Effect of music on perceived exertion, plasma lactate, norepinephrine and cardiovascular hemodynamics during treadmill running. International journal of sports medicine, 19(01), 32-37.