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The Best Music for Workouts, According to Experts

The right songs and perfect beats hold the key to a more effective workout.

Tips & Ideas Wednesday, June 15, 2022

As Nordic skiers transition from winter to summer workouts, it can be hard to find a groove—but adding music to your workout can help you set a perfect pace, push harder, and find your joy. 

Here's what you need to know about adding music to your exercise routines. 

Music helps you go harder.

In 2012, a groundbreaking study turned the psychology community on its ear—research by Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world's leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, revealed that the combined effects of music on mood, perceived effort and pain were profound enough to compare music to a "type of legal performance-enhancing drug."

The Journal of Sports Exercise Psychology found that motivational music helped exercisers push through fatigue, and an American Council on Exercise article states that music can significantly increase endurance during a workout—up to 15 percent in some cases. 

Music helps you keep pace. 

There is a pacing sweet spot for workout tunes (particularly running and cardio workouts) according to science: The range between 120 and 140 beats per minute (BPM).  Most commercial dance music and many rock songs are in or near that range, such as: 

  • Womanizer/Britney Spears 
  • Viva la Vida/Coldplay
  • Mumford and Sons/Little Lion Man
  • Michael Jackson/Beat It
  • Somebody Told Me/The Killers

You can DIY your own playlist, or download a smartphone app like to help you match tempos to your workout pace.

Music boosts your mood. 

You know that soaring joy you feel when your favorite band takes the stage at Red Rocks, or a particular piece of music moves you to tears or gives you chills? Various studies have confirmed that music can release dopamine, our body's feel-good chemical, in two main places in the brain, the dorsal and ventral striatum. These areas light up when we listen to a favorite song and flood us with feelings of well-being. That feel-good feeling creates a positive reward (aka runner's high) that can help keep us inspired to lace up and hit the trails or the gym.

As you shift into your dryland workouts and cross-training for summer, don't forget to charge your phone and pack your earbuds—you'll be on your way to a happier workout and boosted performance. 

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