The Beat Goes On: The Effects of Music on Exercise

By: Nicole M. Harmon and Len Kravitz, PhD

Find the Article Here: The Beat Goes On: The Effects Of Music On Exercise

A review of the research on the ergogenic and psychophysical impact of music tempo, type and timing in an exercise program. 


Music is a must-have for so many who exercise and if you ask many of them their reason for listening, their response will mostly likely be personal but vague. Playing music is often a second thought in many gyms, rehab centers or health communities, but that does not mean the significance is trivial. I often think of the ways many of us are impacted by music during activity, and what significance music selection may have. Harmon & Kravitz provide an interesting overview of some of the foundational studies regarding music, music selection and its ergogenic effects on exercise.

Facts from the Article:

  • Szabo and colleagues (1999) found that the participants listening to slow music that was then hurried after reaching 70% Max HR completed a slightly higher exercise workload than the participants in other groups. The authors stated this study suggests that music may temporarily distract exercisers from some of the body’s internal cues typically associated with tiredness
  • The intensity of a workout, measured by max HR, VO2 max, or RPE, can influence the extent of an ergogenic effect of music. Typically, music can act as a motivator, and in some studies it has shown to increase efficiency. However, motivational stimulus may be less effective at higher intensities.
  • Evidence from Karageorghis, Drew & Terry 1996 suggests that music type may impact strength measures. Stimulating music (>130bpm) was correlated to higher grip strength scores than sedative music (<100bpm), and sedative music correlated to lower strength scores than white noise.
  • In a study performed by Crust in 2004, participants were exposed to either music or white noise for varying intervals during an endurance test. It was found that subjects who were exposed to music during the entirety of the test performed significantly better than those exposed to music for portions. Furthermore, Crust notes that self-selected music was important to utilize as it best portrays real-life effects, and that all study groups exposed to music performed longer endurance times than the white noise groups.
  • Szmedra and Bacharach (1998) performed a study comparing effects of classical music and no music on exercise “stress indicators” during treadmill running. Music not only led exercisers to have a lower RPE but also influenced the metabolic (acidosis) and hemodynamic (heart rate and blood pressure) components of the exercise session, suggesting music may limit some of the uncomfortable sensations associated with exercise.


Although this article does also include insight on the effects of music on improving motor control and gait training, much of the supporting evidence has since been updated or researched further and sharing the findings of music and external cueing may best be saved for another research rundown article. Harmon and Kravitz do highlight some great work from studies supporting the use of music in exercise and related activities. They conclude that there are four central hypotheses explaining music’s facilitation of exercise performance: a reduction in the feeling of fatigue; an increase in levels of psychological arousal; a physiological relaxation response, and improved motor coordination. Personally, moving or exercising is usually better with music compared to no music. I look forward to diving deeper into some more recent research to discover what physiological processes occur with varying music implementation.

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