Researchers Say The Right Tempo Boosts Stamina, Energy Efficiency
Looking for a perfect tune for your workout?
Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” has the optimal beat. So does “Gangnam Style” by Psy and Lady Gaga’s “Edge of Glory.”
Research has found that at the right tempo, music can reduce the sense of exertion as well as boost motivation. Costas Karageorghis, deputy head of research at the School of Sport and Education at London’s Brunel University, says the “sweet spot” for workout music is between 125 and 140 beats per minute when people aren’t trying to time their movements to the music. Previously, experts believed that the faster a person exercises, the faster the music tempo should be.
Other new studies have shown that when athletes synchronize their movements to a musical beat, their bodies can handle more exertion: Treadmill walkers had greater stamina and cyclists required less oxygen uptake. And swimmers who listened to music during races finished faster than others who didn’t
“Music can alter emotional and physiological arousal much like a pharmacological stimulant or sedative,” says Dr. Karageorghis, who has worked as a consultant psychologist to music and sports-equipment companies and for Olympic athletes. “It has the capacity to stimulate people even before they go into the gym.”
The benefits of music seem most pronounced during low-to-moderate-intensity exercise—in other words, it’s more effective for recreational exercisers than elite athletes, scientists say. And finding just the right beat isn’t difficult, as a lot of popular music falls within the optimum tempo range and most other musical genres also have music in that range, Dr. Karageorghis says. For classical music buffs, two pieces that work for him are Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, known as the “Eroica” symphony, and Mozart’s Symphony No. 40 in G minor. Other qualities that make music ideal for workouts are motivational sounds and lyrics—think the theme from “Chariots of Fire” with its associated image of men running on the beach.
Sylwia Wiesenberg, owner of Tonique Fitness in New York City, says she keeps tempo in mind when compiling playlists for her two-hour cardio and body-sculpting class. “The hardest part of the class is the first 15 to 20 minutes,” she says. “I use music as my powerful instrument to push people harder,” she says. More