Pump up the jam: how music impacts exercise performance

Female runner is pretending to play the guitar while listening to her favorite song

Have you ever been on a run and suddenly your favorite song started playing? Chances are it gave you an extra boost.

UAB School of Education Associate Professor Christopher Ballmann, Ph.D., has shown through his research why music can have a positive – or sometimes negative – impact on exercise routines or athletic performance. Ballmann, who has developed an entire line of research addressing the impact of music preference on exercise performance, seeks to understand both the physiological and psychological effects at the crossroads of music and exercise.

“I see music as medicine, and in combination with exercise, it results in profound health benefits,” Ballmann said. “It is well-documented that music alters physiological processes, stress responses, and motivation and can increase brain activation. My group has shown music can alter how hard muscle contracts, resists fatigue, and increases effort. Many of our findings show that it changes performance and has immense applications to improvements in health.”

Harder, better, faster, stronger

The impact of changing tempo on exercise performance depends on the nature of the physical activity, Ballmann says. For exercises with a rhythmic component, such as running or weightlifting with repetitions, changing the tempo can lead people to synchronize their movements with the beat. This synchronization often enhances the overall experience and effectiveness of the exercise routine.

In certain situations, however – especially during maximal sprinting – varied tempos may not yield significant benefits. “It could potentially hinder performance as the focus shifts from synchronization to achieving maximum speed,” Ballmann said, adding that a tempo of 120 beats per minute is considered ideal in his studies.

Sounds good to me

When it comes to genres of music and exercise, Ballmann says it depends on the individual’s taste.

“Our research has shown that music must be personalized to be effective,” Ballmann said. “We have data showing that, if you listen to music you do not like, it can actually make your performance worse. To get the most out of your training, I recommend picking songs that you enjoy or distract you from discomfort during exercise. Some people even prefer podcasts as a source of distraction, which is something my lab is currently investigating.”

Whether it is a podcast or headbanger, Ballmann says no music or song can be effectively applied to every type of exercise or single individual. “The bottom line is that we have shown time and time again that choosing your own music and playlist is an easy and effective way to improve motivation and exercise performance,” he said.

Context matters

Tailoring a workout playlist might be the key to unlocking one’s full exercise potential, Ballmann said, emphasizing the significance of context in choosing the right tunes for physical activity.

“For intense sessions demanding maximal effort, a tailored selection that perfectly aligns with the difficulty level is crucial,” Ballmann said. “However, for more casual activity – like a jog around the block – a general playlist might suffice, offering a pleasant distraction and motivational boost.”

Ballmann suggests that such variety not only enhances the workout experience but also introduces the opportunity to discover new music, adding a harmonious touch to the fitness routine. Ultimately, whether someone is striving for peak performance or embracing a more laid-back approach to exercise, the context-driven playlist could be the playlist for success.

By using this site you agree to our Privacy Policy.