Why do athletes often listen to music while doing their workouts?

An integral part of our daily lives, music is also an important part of any physical activity.

In April 2016, men’s magazine GQ ran an article on the effects of music on athletic performance, mentioning among other things that listening to music is not allowed during professional races.

Music has always accompanied physical exertion.

It is proven that music helps improve performance while reducing a sense of effort and tuning out disagreeable sensations such as tiredness, boredom or pain that often accompany physical activities.

Whatever the sport you are practising, the benefits of music include improved performance, reduced stress and better concentration to help you attain your fitness goals.

Do you need to up your cardio training, but cold weather makes it hard to keep up your motivation?

The right workout playlist will help boost your morale and get through the difficult parts of your workout routines.

From heavy metal to punk to hip hop to rap to dubstep, passing by jazz, swing, disco, classical music or electro/techno, there are so many different types of music that’s it’s hard to choose what to listen to!

Whether you are listening to Spotify on your iPod while working out alone on your treadmill, exercising for weight loss at home with your favourite jams over the sound system or taking Zumba lessons with a personal trainer - Superprof presents the ideal playlists to keep up your momentum during seemingly endless training sessions.

No headphones for professional runners
Professional sports competitions usually ban music players to set all athletes on an equal footing. Photo credit: acase1968 on Visual Hunt

Some Tips for Listening to Music While Working Out

Of course, you shouldn’t do just anything anyhow anywhen.

You should always take some preliminary precautions, no matter what you’re doing.

Some recommendations for listening to music while exercising

Here are some tips for preparing yourself before you go off and exercise to your new workout playlist:

  • Make sure your MP3-player has headphones adapted to jogging. Earbuds offer a compact, lightweight and volume-efficient solution. Choose durable earbuds that are moisture-resistant (against sweat!) and remain firmly fastened in place - whether they hook around your ears or are fastened with bands going behind your head. Jogging earbuds are good for a lot of other sports (such as aerobic workouts) though not all (we wouldn’t recommend them for gymnastics).
  • Secure your player with an armband. These sleeves hold your player while sitting comfortably around your biceps, keeping your electronics safe. This helps avoid distractions - such as the fear of losing it. Make sure the armband is adapted to your iPod or other music player or else is a one-size-fits-all.
  • Choose music with a distinct rhythm and tempo adapted to the sports you practise.
  • Be sure to adjust the volume to avoid damage to your eardrums and to remain aware of your surroundings, especially if you are exercising outside or at the gym. If you can’t hear the ambient sounds of your environment, lower the volume. It’s important for your safety to be aware of what is going on around you to avoid injury.
  • Don’t try to move with the music. Though music is a wonderful motivational tool, trying to stay in tempo might encourage you to make rapid movements and cause injury, especially if you’re not paying attention to your posture.

Whether you are doing interval training, lifting, a cardio workout, training for a marathon or exercising for better abs, the right music mix will up your workout motivation and help you to achieve your fitness goals.

Just rev up iTunes, pick your workout music and get pumping. You will soon see how energizing the right music mix can be. It can distract from burning muscles, improve your endurance, help you keep motivated and keep pushing further and inspire you to burn those calories with a passion.

Choosing the Best Music to Workout to

Before running to the gym and pumping iron, you might want to know that scientific studies have proven that music has a beneficial effect on the human body - influencing hormone production, muscle relaxation and general well-being.

Making a music playlist before you next exercise is a good way to make sure your body is getting all the help it can.

We are constantly wondering how to firm our thighs, lose weight, achieve a flat stomach, overthrow depression, frustration or timidity, or bolster our self-confidence.

The right music genre will motivate you to keep training.

You don’t need to run the London marathon to achieve a zen state of mind. You just need to know how to get out of your comfort zone.

Listening to music while warming up can help you empty your mind so you can better focus on your repetitions.

So before you start your Crossfit training, pilates, cycling tour or bodybuilding program, take some time to set up a workout music playlist.

What kind of music for the best workout?

Can you listen to relaxing songs or jazzy music while doing sports?

This may seem incompatible, but studies have proven that all music is beneficial to sports.

Different styles of music will produce different effects:

  • A 1991 study by two American scientists (Copeland and Franks) suggests that less upbeat music with a slower tempo reduces physical excitement and slows your heartbeat. This is good for endurance exercises and accelerates the recuperation period. Use slower music to warm up, cool down, stretch or practise your Thai boxing kicks.
  • According to a study at the Trent University of Nottingham in 1999, music with more beats per minute and a greater intensity will get you to forget your tiredness and improves your physical capabilities.

Nothing like your favourite film soundtrack or something by Zedd when you go for a run.

Music helps you think positive thoughts as soon as you get out of bed in the morning.

So it’s important to listen to music when you’re trying to stay fit, even if you’re only taking a brisk walk on your way to work.

Here are some tips for choosing the best workout songs to keep you motivated:

  • If you are doing a high-intensity workout, opt for faster beats - hard rock, rock, pop, electronic music, klezmer or Balkan traditional music
  • For a gentler exercise routine - cycling, skipping rope, pilates - listen to more steady, lyrical music with a good rhythm (classical, flamenco or jazz).
  • For yoga, stretching or meditation, choose slow, ethereal music such as chant, Native American or Australian music or lyrical modern Celtic.

Where to Find the Right Workout Music

You don’t have to buy or download music to read music files on your MP3 player.

Web 2.0 and music streaming now offer the opportunity to listen to music for free, with various apps such as:

  • Digital radio
  • Soundcloud
  • Spotify
  • Groovemp3
  • YouTube

Before you start to work out, you can compose your own running music playlist that will play across all platforms with SoundsGood.

And if you have trouble remembering that perfect remix you hear at a friend’s, the Shazam app recognises any music played from any platform and can tell you its title.

Workout Playlists for Rhythmic Exercising, Muscle Building and Fitness: Playing Hip-Hop Music to Workout to

Pumping iron on the bench press and doing fitness workouts means giving the most of yourself during hard physical workouts.

Whether you are dancing in a Zumba class or taking home fitness lessons with a certified home or online personal trainer, music will help you go the extra mile, pick you up when you get tired and push through the pain.

Muscling exercises can be gruelling, whether you are doing crunches or sprints.

This is where music comes in.

It allows athletes to create a bubble in which they can concentrate entirely on their effort and channel all their energy into precise movements.

In terms of keeping you focused and motivated, it can sometimes even replace a personal trainer, gym instructor or fitness coach.

Music is a true energiser: listening to a song will help you combat pain and work harder.

Workout music for weight training.
Even weight training benefits from a motivating and rhythmic workout playlist. Photo credit: CherryPoint on Visual hunt

But what running music will get your heart pumping faster and your feet hitting the pavement?

Hip-hop songs!

Rap or hip-hop makes for good muscle workout songs because it has a good rhythm and tempo that will let you simply zone out. Rather than focusing on your breathing or your straining muscles, you will be listening to the music.

To help you out, here is a little hip-hop playlist with inspirational pieces to motivate you and make you pick up the pace.

The Superprof fitness and Weightlifting workout music mix with 10 rap and hip-hop songs to get you to work harder:

  • 50 Cent, "I’ll Whip Ya Head Boy"
  • Beyoncé, “Partition”
  • Kanye West, “Stronger”
  • Jay-Z, Kanye West, Nicki Minaj, Rick Ross and Bon Iver, “Monster”
  • Mark Ronson feat Bruno Mars, "Uptown Funk"
  • Method Man & Redman, "Da Rockwilder"
  • Snoop Dogg, "What’s my name"
  • Eminem, “Bezerk” or “Till I Collapse”
  • The Fugees, "Ready or not"
  • Jay-Z “Big Pimpin’”

Of course, there are many more hip-hop songs with a good rhythm out there, for example by Rich Homie Quan.

Rhythmic Synth Music For Cardio and Running

While weight training and fitness usually require an intense effort over a short time, running and cardio training needs a lot of endurance and long-term physical effort.

Does running while listening to music modify our performance?

Yes. But it depends on the music.

Best running music playlist
Make sure your jogging music is not too loud - you need to hear bicycles and cars coming! Photo credit: Ed Yourdon on VisualHunt

A British study on 24 candidates asked to run until they were exhausted showed interesting results:

Those who listened to fast, rhythmic music during the exercise had better physical and cardiac results. They could run longer than the others without feeling fatigue or pain.

The explanation is simple. Music you enjoy stimulates neurotransmitters, chemicals factories in the brain that will produce more of the serotonin and dopamine necessary for physical effort and also creating a sensation of pleasure.

The organism also produces more endorphins, meaning you feel better and less stressed after a bout of exercise.

More than just endurance, a runner listening to tunes will see improvement in his or her:

  • Speed
  • Coordination
  • Willingness to go that extra mile
  • Running rhythm
  • Motivation

To help attain these objectives, electro music is a good choice for your running songs.

Here are our 10 best running songs:

  • Tourist, "Run"
  • Parov Stelar, "Clap your hands", "Booty Swing"
  • Caravan Palace, "Sucy", "Lone Digger"
  • Chinese Man, "I’ve got that tune"
  • Roudoudou, "Peace and tranquillity to earth"
  • Ratatat, "Loud Pipes"
  • Metronomy, "The Look"
  • Kungs, "Don’t you know"
  • Fatboy Slim, "Praise You",
  • Daft Punk, "Get Lucky".

For running, its the rhythm of the melody that makes the difference.

If you prefer rock, think of Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones.

If you are more into pop, listen to upbeat songs by Beyoncé, the most listened-to artist by female runners!

Calming Music for Yoga and Meditation

There is no need to go into detail about the virtues of yoga.

More and more people - even professional athletes - practice yoga in addition to their main sport in order to:

  • Lose weight
  • Get back into shape
  • Sculpt their body
  • Focus their mind

Whether you are practising yoga alone or with a personal trainer, music often plays an essential part in yoga sessions.

It is widely recognised that playing zen instrumental music during yoga sessions improve the benefits for mind and body.

Music also lets you experience something in a certain ambience.

For example, Swing is better for a gentle physical activity like soft gymnastics, yoga or relaxation than hard rock, heavy metal or rap.

Personal trainers suggest instrumental music during yoga or stretching sessions to:

  • Calm the participants
  • Deal with stress
  • Improve concentration
  • Effect specific movements in synch with the music.

The sounds and vibrations of the music will inspire the participants and improve the harmonisation of their movements.

Nevertheless, you shouldn’t listen to just any music: it should be soft, calming and pleasant to the ear.

Next, to the traditional instrumentals and Sanskrit chant music, we particularly enjoy the didgeridoo, a hollow wooden wind instrument played by the Aborigines, with a deep, harmonious sound.

The most famous didgeridoo player is Mark Atkins. His powerful music will touch even the most hardened soul.

Purists will tell you that soothing instrumental music is the only kind for yoga and meditation.

But some trainers might opt for more modern tunes with vocals, in styles ranging from pop to reggae.

Loreena McKennitt or Enya, for example, might give your meditation session a whole different atmosphere and take you on a mental journey to someplace new.

Here is a sedate playlist for a more meditative mood:

  • Pink Floyd, "Shine on your crazy diamonds", "Breathe"
  • Django Reinhardt, "Minor Swing", "Daphné", "Nuages", "Tears"
  • Charlie Parker, "Take Five"
  • Yann Tiersen, "Comptine d’un Autre été ", "Summer 78", "Le Moulin"
  • Paco de Lucia, "Entre dos aguas", "Rio ancho"
  • Emir Kusturica, "Ederlezi"
  • Buena Vista Social Club (et Compay Segundo), "Chan chan", "El cuarto de tula", "De camino a la vereda", "Dos Gardenias",  "Veinte anos", "Orgullecida",
  • Pink Martini, "Je ne veux pas travailler"
  • Cesaria Evora, "Besame mucho"
  • Louis Armstrong et Ella Fitzgerald, "Can’t anyone explain"
  • Richard Galliano, "Chat Pître", "Laurita", "Libertango"

Can You Train Without Music?

Throughout this article, we have extolled the benefits of listening to music while doing physical activity. Whether trainers, professional athletes, sports scientists or neuroscientists, everyone agrees on the virtues of exercising to music. It allows you to:

  • Tune out the rest of the world and channel your energy
  • Focus on your objectives
  • Affirm your mental state and ignore pain and tiredness, for example when stretching after an exercise session
  • Stay motivated and keep up a fighting spirit
  • Learn to ignore other people’s looks (for the shy ones)
  • Harmonise your movements
  • And much, much more.

These benefits allow athletes to improve their performance and develop their physical capabilities more quickly.

But do note that the choice of music during an intense physical effort will depend largely on taste and a personal reaction to a particular song or style of music.

While exercising, avoid any music that evokes painful or sad memories. It will only make you falter in your rhythm and lose concentration.

Aerobic exercise uses music to motivate.
There's a reason Aerobics classes are traditionally done to music. Photo credit: akahawkeyefan on VisualHunt.com

Here is a simple test you can do yourself:

  • 1st day: run a predetermined distance or do a series of predetermined exercises without music, and time yourself
  • 2nd day: run the same distance and do the same exercises with music, and compare the two results.

Guess which one will be faster?

The Ultimate Fitness Music Playlist

Of course, everyone has their favourite fitness music - some will like David Guetta, others Rihanna, Katie Perry or Taylor Swift, still more will rock to Linkin Park. Gospel has a swing to it that can help with weight training or Cross-fit.
Here is our own best workout music for most exercise genres, to keep you rocking while you work out, with beloved rock tunes from the 80s and classic motivational songs:

  1. "Eye of the Tiger" from the soundtrack of Rocky II
  2. "Final Countdown" by Europe
  3. "No Pain No Gain" by Scorpions
  4. "Everybody Dance Now" by C+C Music Factory
  5. "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns n’ Roses
  6. "We Will Rock You" by Queen
  7. "Wild Women Do" by Natalie Cole
  8. "Hooked on a feeling" by Blue Swede
  9. "Rebel Yell" by Billy Idol
  10. "Beverly Hills Cop Theme" from the Beverly Hills Cop Soundtrack

So load your iTunes and press play for a better workout.

Don't forget to track your fitness progress.

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