Listening to music while you work out is motivational and can even keep you exercising longer.
Music is a lot of things: It’s restorative, motivational, moving and educational. There are endless ways we use music to get through our days, whether listening to a sad song on repeat or hitting play on an upbeat tune.
According to Ronna Kaplan, a music therapist and adjunct music therapy faculty at Cleveland State University, “music is positive in many ways for mental health, it can be used across the lifespan” for many different situations.
One of those ways is during exercise. It can be a crucial element in enhancing your workout. Here’s how:
Your body’s movement naturally matches a song’s rhythm, which can help you stick to a specific pace.
There’s a reason your foot starts tapping or your shoulders start moving as soon as a song comes on. According to Joy Allen, the chair of music therapy and director of the music and health institute at Berklee College of Music in Boston, this is because of rhythmic entrainment, which is an “unconscious reaction — that’s what we call the entrainment.”
“Our body’s going to [move] in time with that sound or that rhythm,” she said.
So, when it comes to exercise, your body automatically falls in line with the tempo of the music “because of the way that our brains are connected with rhythm,” Allen said.
When picking music for a workout, like when going for a walk or run, for example, you’ll want to choose a tempo that is close to your natural stride. “Go [with] what seems comfortable for you and play around with different songs,” she said.
You can use music to increase your pace, too.
If you’re looking for an added challenge, pick a song with a pace that is a little quicker than your average running or walking stride, this should help you move faster throughout your workout.
You can start with a song with a slower tempo and gradually increase your speed by picking songs with faster beats, which is ideal if you’re looking to improve your walking or running pace, according to Kaplan.
“It primes the person to an outside cue,” she said. It “helps your muscles activate in their walking pattern.”
Music can help distract you from boredom during a workout.
How often has someone walked into the gym, realized they forgot their headphones, and then had a not-so-great workout — or even left the gym altogether? Allen pointed out this is a common occurrence: There is a major reason why music is integral to so many people’s workouts.
The music you listen to during a workout helps with motivation, and there are several things behind that motivation.
First, you probably want to hear your favorite song on your exercise playlist, which may keep you going for longer. Second, if you put on music that’s unexpected (like if you put on reggaeton instead of your regular pop soundtrack), you will be interested in hearing what comes next in the song, which may also keep you moving longer than usual.
“If you’re always listening to the same stuff, sometimes that’s great [but] sometimes we have fatigue from it — we know what to expect and what’s coming, so it can be a little less motivating,” Allen said.
And music is distracting.
No one wants to focus on their tough workout as they’re in it. If anything, they want to not think about it. As you sing along to lyrics or are reminded of music-induced memories, songs let your mind wander throughout an exercise regimen, so you don’t have to stand (or sit) there and think about how hard your workout is.
Music keeps you from getting bored during a workout, too, which can happen when you’re doing something kind of mundane like walking on a treadmill, Allen noted. Music activates the brain by giving your mind something else to think about.
“It captures your attention... ‘oh, here’s something I’m listening to,’ so I’m not attending to what could be an uncomfortable experience with the exercise, it gives me something else to focus on,” Allen said.
You’ll reap even more benefits when you pick your music.
According to Kaplan, when someone chooses the music they’re listening to, they’ll have better results, whether working out or doing something like meditation.
A recent study led by the Department of Kinesiology at Samford University in Alabama stated, “if the music played over the speakers is not preferred by the individual giving effort, performance may suffer. Thus, coaches and athletes should consider individual music preferences when attempting to optimize performance and training.”
This further speaks to the motivation you feel when working out to music you enjoy.
Additionally, Kaplan said you might notice you’re in a better mood when working out to music you select, which may make you feel like you enjoyed your workout more. And that’s a win-win.
This may mean you’ll be more likely to work out again that week, which is a great way to hit your fitness goals.
Need some headphones? Check out this list of recommended picks.
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JLab Go Air Pop wireless earbuds
Amazon rating: 4.5 out of 5
With over 32 hours of total listening time (including the charge from the earbuds and the charging case) and a dual connect feature that lets you listen to both at the same time or one by itself, these earbuds are an affordable option. They come in slate blue, black, lilac, red and teal. The earbuds come with three tip sizes so you can find the one that fits snugly in your ear. They're water-resistant, so you can safely use them at the gym. And like the rest of the earbuds on this list, they're Bluetooth-enabled.
Promising review: "I have tried multiple brands of earbuds and these are my favorite! They were affordable, came in lavender color and the battery has been charged once in the several weeks I have owned them for and they are still going strong! 10/10 recommend." — Destiny G.
Tozo T6 wireless earbuds
Amazon rating: 4.4 out of 5
For a pair of wireless earbuds that apparently can survive being accidentally washed in the washing machine, look to the Tozo T6 earbuds. They come in six colors: black, blue, green, white, champagne and rose gold. They're compatible with iOS, Windows and Android. Listening time lasts for over six hours from a single charge and 30 hours total with the charging case.
Promising review: "I use these headphones for work and they are great from a sound and mic perspective. A couple days ago I was wearing the buds and instead of putting them in the case, I put them in my pants pocket and forgot. I put these through the washer and dryer. When I found out what had happened I thought it was a lost cause and was ready to buy a new set, but I popped them back into the case and they lite up, charged, and worked like nothing happened!" — Althaber's
Jabra Elite 7 Pro wireless earbuds
Amazon rating: 4.3 out of 5
My physical therapist uses these, and he's always talking about how great they are — and anything with the physical therapist stamp of approval must be worth checking out. They come in gold beige and titanium black. The active noise-cancellation feature uses the microphones and speakers to reduce outside noise around you so you can immerse yourself in your music (or video call, or whatever you're listening to). You can get up to eight hours of listening on the earbuds and up to 30 hours total with the charging case. The Bluetooth multipoint feature lets you connect to two devices at once, and they're compatible with iOS and Android.
Promising review: "I have been using these earbuds for a couple of weeks now and I love them~ My husband needs hearing aids but is unable to get them at the moment. He keeps the volume on the big screen in the living room at max volume (100%) and I can hear it loud and clear in my bedroom. But when I am wearing these earbuds and turn on the noise cancelling feature I can't hear it at all!!! So I can listen to music or even watch something on my tablet in near peace and quiet~ I would definitely recommend these earbuds on the noise cancelling feature alone!" — Crystal J.
Beats Fit Pro wireless earbuds
Amazon rating: 4.5 out 5
These Beats earbuds come with three soft silicone eartip options so you can find the right size for your ear, as well as universal wingtips that flex to fit your ear and stay put. Choose from black, white, sage gray or stone purple. You'll also love the spatial audio feature that provides rich sound thanks to head tracking, which adjusts the music's levels as you turn your head. They're compatible with iOS and Android. The earbuds provide six hours of charge, while the case holds 18 hours.
Promising review: "I was super hesitant to purchase these as I haven’t had much luck with bud style headphones fitting my ears properly, but these are great! Having the different tip options was nice, the sound quality is what you expect from Beats, and the battery life is excellent!" — Kristen Pinnick
Sony WF-1000XM4 wireless earbuds
Amazon rating: 4.4 out of 5
With advanced noise-cancellation and enhanced sound quality, these highly rated earbuds from Sony deserve a spot in your ears. They come with a charging case that holds up to 16 hours of charge power, in addition to the eight hours the earbuds themselves hold, meaning you can get a whole day's worth of listening. And if you're looking for a pair of earbuds for the gym, look no further. These are water-resistant so they won't get ruined by sweat. They're compatible with iOS and Android. You can get them in silver or black.
Promising review: "OMG, these are absolutely wonderful! I have a set of Air Pod Pros, and these blows them completely out of the water. Having never had wireless earbuds before, I thought the air pods were terrific. After seeing the reviews for the Sony's, I decided to give them a try to compare myself. NO CONTEST! If you want superior sound with lots of available bass when needed, then these are the ones to get. Well worth the money." — Keith A. Goodnough