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Let the Music Move You: How Music Affects Your Workout

If you have had a chance to look at the class descriptions of the different group fitness workouts I offer, you're likely to notice a common thread--music:

  • MixxedFit® - "combines explosive dance movements with bodyweight toning . . . play all genres of music"

  • Fight Club™ - "takes cardio kickboxing moves and syncs them to the beat of popular music"

  • Beat Camp™ - "comprised of challenge songs"

  • Get Pumped™ - "synced to the beat of the music . . . feels like dancing with dumbbells"

  • Barresque™ - "inspired by barre and dance . . . each song focuses on a different part of the body"

  • Zumba® - "interval-style, calorie-burning dance party"

The use of music as an integral part of my workouts is no accident. Scientific studies confirm that the use of music has a significant impact on not only your mental state during a workout, but also your physical performance. According to a study cited in an article by the National Center for Health Research, this is particularly true if the music is synchronized with your workout. Sound familiar?

The same article goes on to state that the best tempo for cycling is 125-140 bpm (beats per minute), while the preferred tempo for improved performance while running on the treadmill is 123-131 bpm. The reason for the difference in optimal temp in different exercises? The differing ability to synchronize movements (pedaling, pace) to the beat. You may be interested to note that the average bpm of this month's Fight Club™ playlist, excluding warm-up and cool-down, is 133 bpm: right in that ideal range. If a high bpm is good, wouldn't an even higher bpm be better? Not really. If the beat is too fast, then you may struggle to keep up and be unable to sync your moves to the music. You may also burn out too quickly. That's why my playlists typically alternate higher intensity and lower intensity songs. Scientific American cites research that says that, while some people prefer faster music, there is essentially a ceiling effect at 145 bpm. You may get an emotional boost from the faster jams, but your performance won't really increase beyond that threshold.

Interestingly, studies show music to enhance performance even among elite athletes. Costas Karageorghis of London's Brunel University, leading researcher in the interplay between music and performance and an expert in the psychology of exercise music, goes so far as to say that one could consider music to be "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug." In fact, in 2007, USA Track & Field, the national governing body for distance racing, banned athletes from using portable music players not only for safety reasons, but "to prevent runners from having a competitive edge."

I definitely find music to be a determining factor in my own running performance. Before a race, I've been known to create a playlist with the optimal bpm for my desired race pace. Too slow, and I won't achieve my goal. Too fast, and I'll burn out long before I've gone the distance.

I think we all know inherently the effects of music on mood; it's interesting to see that music, and particularly movement synchronized to music, has a real impact on physical performance in exercise. Music is a driving force in all of my workouts, whether it's a solo workout or I'm developing a new group fitness class or playlist. Come check us out and see how the right music for the right moves can affect your enjoyment of the workout and the physical benefit you receive from it.

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