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Using music to maximise your workout

by Alasdair McClintock on Friday 4 August 2017


It’s no secret that music and working out go hand-in-hand. Can you imagine walking into a gym without music? 

It would be an eerie thing to just hear the grunts, clanging of weights and outbursts of encouragement from trainers, while you try and motivate yourself to go that extra mile on the treadmill. Chances are you’d give up and go home. 

So, we know it works for us, but why does it work for us and how can we maximise its effectiveness?

The preeminent scholar on the matter is Dr Costas Karageorghis, of Brunel University in London.

Let’s call him Dr K.  

Dr K wrote that music could be considered "a type of legal performance-enhancing drug." He has found that it not only works as a great distraction against the pain and fatigue associated with exercise, but also as motivation to help you push through. 

You probably knew that already, but he also has some good tips on what to look for when choosing your workout playlist:

•      Match your music with the activity and the mental state you want to achieve. 
•      Tempo and rhythm should match your desired rate of movement. 
•      Avoid music that changes time signatures half way through, or where the emphasis is on the off-beat.
•      The more intense the exercise the faster the music. 
•      Positive, affirmative lyrics are proven to boost motivation.
•      Use music that reminds you of a positive time in your life. 
•      Try upping the tempo when you’re looking to reach new fitness targets.

All good tips and the consistent thread throughout? Tempo and rhythm. 

Finding the right musical rhythm is key to your workout. Just like in dancing, which itself is a great form of exercise. 

Here are some of our suggestions to get you moving in time:


Long distance or short? 

If you’re just trying to punch out a quick 4km, you’ll want something fast and fun. If you like a bit of grunge, try Alex Lahey, “Every Day’s the Weekend,” or perhaps an old favourite like Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love.” 

If you’re going the distance, there’s no use going too hard too early. Most marathon runners know when they start to struggle in a run. Once you’ve worked out where you begin to lag, prime your playlist with a song that really inspires you. Something positive, that puts you in a happy space. When in doubt, you could even go with “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, just don’t get too carried away! 


Cycling is like running, but if you’re on the road, perhaps it’s better not to listen to anything. You know, cars and all. 

But at the gym, you’re definitely going to need something to keep you going. 

Cycling is all about bursts of energy intertwined with resting periods, so why not aim for longer jams with great crescendos? 

Or build a playlist around BPM (beats-per-minute) and tailor it to your targets. Don’t know where to start? Go to SongBPM and suss out your favourites. 


Dr K says that fast, loud rhythmical music, that is percussive and bass-driven is best for psyching yourself up before weight training. So, if you’re chasing that personal best, you can’t go wrong with Kanye West’s “Black Skinhead” or anything by “A.B. Original.”  

If you’re after a more chilled session, try something groovy and uplifting instead. Dan Sultan’s new album “Killer” has a great groove to it, or Meg Mac’s “Low Blows” has so much grunt, it’ll fit right in as you pound out those curls. 

What music do you like to work out to? Let us know in the comments below.

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