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We know music is powerful, but what exactly makes it so compelling during exercise? Does it change us physically, or is it all in our head?

08 Oct 2020

You lock your locker, tie your laces, and walk out to the gym floor while sticking your trusty earbuds in, and are transported to the sonic world of inspiration and motivation, ready to tap into that magical reserve of power and energy. In a word, you’re pumped.

The treadmill says you’ve reached your mark, but the beats of a new song just came on and you can feel a surge of energy, like a magnet pulling you towards another few minutes and a sense of awe that you can go on so easily.

alfway through your reps, you feel the weight is too much, but you know the chorus of your favourite jam is about to kick in, and you go into a different mode, mustering the spirit to crush the illusion of your limitations. 

Is this all really possible through the power of a few notes and beats? Can a pleasant melody really transform powerhouses of potential into viable vitality? Well the research seems to back it up. 
A study carried out (Karageorghis and Priest, 2012 Parts I & II) in a review of several other studies on the effects of music, found that listening to music during exercise and athletic activity: 

  • Delayed fatigue (and lessened perception of fatigue) 
  • Increased physical capacity or endurance (during low- to moderate-level intensity exercise). 
  • Improved energy efficiency
  • Improved performance of simple tasks (ergogenic or work-enhancing). 

Music seems to have a positive effect on us when exercising. Although the exact characteristics, whether it’s the tempo or rhythm that changes our mood, or if for personal reasons, like memories of a certain time, play a more important role in that change being a positive one, are not precisely measured yet.  

A fascinating finding on the other hand, however, was that music may be detrimental for exercisers working at high levels of intensity. The idea behind this is that we could become distracted, making it more difficult for our bodies to achieve what we intend. These findings could be explained by competitive athletes who tend to work at higher intensity levels, and are motivated by the desire to perform well, which requires focus on the specifics of training, by minimising all distractions. 

At the end of the day, it’s always going to be a personal choice, and how you feel when you play ‘your’ music. A Beethoven symphony might propel one person into the next gear, while someone else may need the latest top hit to drive their excitement, and get in a passionate state to move. 

There are a couple of important things to mention about listening to music while exercising, the foremost being to make sure you take care of your ears, and not to listen at too high a volume which can cause damage. This is especially true in areas that are already relatively noisy, causing you to increase your own volume even more. The second point, while perhaps obvious, is to reassess whether you really need your headphones when running in public spaces like on the road or on the street, where your safety and that of others are an issue. Having all your senses at your disposal may be crucial at any moment.  

Rest assured, the music playlists in group exercise classes and throughout every Fitness First centre are constantly rotated and refreshed, keeping your workouts happy and upbeat, and inspiring you to have fun while you bring your fitness further.  Have a look at the group exercise classes we offer, than are centered around the choreography of movement through music.


  • Costas I. Karageorghis & David-Lee Priest (2012): Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part I), International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5:1, 44-66  
  • Costas I. Karageorghis & David-Lee Priest (2012): Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part II), International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5:1, 67-84  
  • F. Lindgren & A. Axelsson (1988): The influence of physical exercise on susceptibility to noise-induced temporary threshold shift, Scandinavian Audiology, 17, 11-17.