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The Effect of Music on Mind and Body During Exercise (Written By Siobhan Milner)

Updated: Feb 14

We often play music during our boot camps, and we know there’s more than a few of you out there who never run without your iPod.

In fact, there’s evidence that listening to music while you exercise could help you get through the workout by reducing how difficult you perceive the work to be, and can even increase your muscular endurance.

Music can make exercise seem easier for us by taking our attention away from how tired we feel during low-moderate exercise (1,2,3,4), and while it might not make high intensity exercise feel easier, it has been found to make exercisers enjoy hard exercise more! (1)

I’m sure we already know that music makes us feel good – that’s why so many of us also choose to listen to it in the car, when we’re with friends, or when we’re just feeling blue.

Interestingly, music has been found to have a ‘psychobiological’ effect during exercise (4). That is, a psychological effect that then affects the way our physical body functions. In a study conducted on treadmill running, runners were found not only to perceive exercise as easier, but their heart rate, blood pressure, and even exercise lactate was also lower than when they exercised without music (4). The researchers hypothesised that this might have been due to the relaxing effect of the music, decreasing muscular tension and therefore increasing blood flow, lactate clearance, and decreasing lactate production in the working muscle (4).

If you’re a racer or team sport athlete, you might be familiar with using music as a way to amp yourself up and get ‘in the zone’ before a competition. But music can also be used if you get the pre-race jitters to help calm yourself down (1).

Even more useful can be thinking about the tempo of the music you exercise to. Have a target running stride rate? Try and find a song with the same tempo as your target cadence, and see your legs synchronise with what you hear (1). Haile Gebrslassie, an Ethiopian distance runner, found his perfect cadence with The Scatman! (1)

A lot of us already use music, but these studies suggest we might want to think about the way in which we use it, and can we use it to better our sport and exercise performances and experiences? If you’re racing, you might want to think about whether your music is helping you get in the zone, or actually getting you over-hyped, and whether or not your tempo selection is right for your cadence. If you struggle with exercise adherence, you’ll want to pick some songs you know automatically make you want to move or put you in a good mood. As Dr. Costas Karageorghis puts it, “Music is like a legal drug for athletes.” (5)


(1) Karageorghis, C., & Priest, D. (2008). Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on Research and Application. Refereed Sports Journal.

(2) Karageorghis, C. I., & Terry, P. C. (1999). Affective and psychophysical responses to asynchronous music during submaximal treadmill running. Proceedings of the 1999 European College of Sport Science Congress, Italy, 218.

(3) Nethery, V. M. (2002). Competition between internal and external sources of information during exercise: Influence on RPE and the impact of the exercise load. Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 42, 172–178.

(4) Szmedra, L., & Bacharach, D. W. (1998). Effect of music on perceived exertion, plasma lactate, norepinephrine and cardiovascular hemodynamics during treadmill running. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 19, 32–37.

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