How Music Motivates
Whether you're running on a treadmill, lifting 200 pounds of iron in the gym or sitting with your left foot over your right shoulder in a yoga studio, chances are, you're listening to music.
In addition to making workouts more enjoyable, music can motivate you to push yourself to your limit and distract you from dwelling on how physically uncomfortable you are. According to Costas Karageorghis and David-Lee Priest, sports psychologists who published their work on music in sport and exercise, synchronizing movements to music, especially repetitive movements, could also boost work levels.
Although music tastes vary widely, people often crave music that fits the tone of their workout — more strenuous, repetitive exercises call for stronger, faster tempos, and more fluid motions require melodic, slower beats.
The ideal workout playlist to suit as many people as possible would need to be as eclectic as possible, said Daniel Czech, a sports psychology professor at Georgia Southern University who has studied music's influence on exercise. His research has shown that songs that evoke memories, both good and bad, are particularly effective at increasing arousal levels. Good memories can lift a runner's spirits as he sprints the last mile of his run, and bad memories can push the runner to move even faster in an attempt to move past that memory, Czech said.
Arousal levels change depending on how the body responds to the music's rhythm. One bodybuilder may need a faster beat than another to reach her optimal level of arousal or peak performance, Czech said, although typically, the bodybuilder will need a faster beat than a yogi. Too many beats per minute can also cause overarousal for more technique-oriented workouts, like Pilates, affecting concentration and performance, Czech said. However, rapid beats can work well for repetitive exercises such as cycling and running, he added.
MORE: Best Fitness Trackers for Running, Swimming and Training
A study commissioned by Spotify found that more than 60 percent of runners say music — especially by female artists — helps them run faster and longer, and more than 75 percent of runners rely on music for their workouts. Spotify also identified playlist boredom as an issue for about one-third of survey participants and mismatched tempos as annoying for more than one-third of participants.
To help you get the most out of your workouts, we've put together several Spotify playlists that include a variety of songs from different genres and decades. Go and grab that gym bag, because you won't be able to sit still.
Best Playlist for Cardio
Cardio workouts are vigorous activities that burn more than 7 calories per minute and include a number of exercises, such as running, cycling, dancing and weight training, according to guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Heartbeats vary with workout intensity. Vigorous exercises often cause people's heart rates to jump to about 70 to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate, and moderate exercise results in about 50 to 70 percent of their maximum heart rate, according to the CDC. To determine your maximum heart rate, subtract your age from 220.
For example, a 35-year-old in the middle of a vigorous workout will likely achieve a heart rate between 130 and 157 beats per minute, and during a moderate activity, a 50-year-old's heart will beat between 85 and 119 times per minute, according to the CDC.
LISTEN: STREAM CARDIO PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
If you're an exerciser who wants to raise your heart rate to 120 beats per minute, you should choose music with a tempo in the range of 80 to 130 beats per minute, according to Karageorghis and Priest, and most people will likely want music between 120 and 140 beats per minute during their workouts.
The first song on the playlist, "Work It Out" by Netsky, starts at a slower 86 beats per minute but ramps up to some faster, more intense choruses. The next couple of songs, "Light It Up (feat. Nyla & Fuse ODG) – Remix" by Major Lazer, and "Overdose" by Ciara have just less than 110 beats per minute. The farther down the list the song is, the quicker its tempo is. The vast middle section of the list's songs are in the 120- to 140-beats-per-minute range.
Music's motivational powers can also help during interval training, which alternates bursts of intense activity with periods of lighter activity, said Matthew Stork, a graduate student studying kinesiology, and his co-authors who published their findings on music's effect on interval exercise. Music not only makes the intense interval more enjoyable, but it can also keep people coming back for more. Interval trainers can jump between songs toward the beginning of the list and songs toward the end of the list, depending on their interval.
Best Playlist for Lifting Weights
The best weight-lifting songs pump adrenaline into the weight lifter's veins. Our playlist includes heavy-metal music, such as "Down with the Sickness" by Disturbed, and electronic dance music, like "Febreze" by Jack U.
LISTEN: STREAM WEIGHTLIFTING PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
Both tracks inspire with their lyrics and motivate with their heavy beats. Dance music is also a good choice for lifters because its fast, rhythmical beats can get people in the right psyche for lifting and help motivate them to stick it out.
Best Playlist for Yoga and Pilates
The yoga playlist begins with meditation songs that have soothing instrumental notes and deep chanting. The elongated notes help relax and bring awareness to the body to prepare it to practice yoga. The next group of songs on the playlist has a more upbeat tempo and positive lyrics, like "Better Place," by Rachel Platten, and "Feeling Good," by Nina Simone — both yoga and Pilates movements can be choreographed to the music's tempo.
LISTEN: STREAM YOGA PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
Synchronizing movements to music can boost motivation to work harder over a longer period of time, said Peter Terry and Costas Karageorghis, sports psychologists who published their work on the psychophysical effects of music in exercise.
The playlist also includes instrumental songs, such as those by The Piano Guys, who meld popular hits with famous concertos, like their "Hello/Lacrimosa," by Adele and Mozart, respectively. Farther down the list are smooth jazz songs, like "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)" by the John Coltrane Quartet, and slow R&B songs, like "At Your Best (You Are Love)," by Aaliyah. More upbeat songs litter the end of the playlist, including "King of Anything," by Sara Bareilles, and "Ships in the Night," by Mat Kearney.
Best Playlist for Dance
Dance music's upbeat rhythm can work for lifting, general cardio, and cardio dance classes like high-energy ballet barre classes, jazzercise and kickboxing, among others.
LISTEN: STREAM DANCE PLAYLIST ON SPOTIFY
The dance playlist includes pop songs that reference dancing or working out, like the remix of "Too Cool to Dance" by Eden xo and "Work This Body" by Walk the Moon. The songs have upbeat lyrics that will keep you moving throughout the entire class and repetitive beats that work well for choreography.
Best Podcasts for Working Out
If music doesn't suit your mood, Spotify has many different podcasts, too. Here are some of the most fascinating ones that will keep the focus away from your burning thighs.
1. BBC World News
The BBC releases daily episodes on current events from around the globe. Learn what the pope has been up to, what's going on in the Middle East and other news.
Subscribe: BBC World News Podcast (opens in new tab)
2. Popular Mechanics
The Popular Mechanics podcast is officially called “The Most Useful Podcast Ever," and it goes into depth on diverse and useful topics, like how to drive in windy conditions and why you should adopt astronomy as a hobby.
Subscribe: Popular Mechanics Podcast (opens in new tab)
3. Science Friday
The episodes are relevant to current events, like the spread of the Zika virus, and answer science questions you didn't even know you had.
Subscribe: Science Friday Podcast (opens in new tab)
4. So That Happened
The Huffington Post talks politics on its podcast, with interviews with public figures on topics like the Flint, Michigan, water crisis, gun control and the presidential debates.
Subscribe: So That Happened Podcast (opens in new tab)
5. Slate's The Gist
Mike Pesca discusses topics in the news, with episodes like "Is Marijuana Making You Stupid?" and "Obama Did What?"
Subscribe: Slate's The Gist Podcast (opens in new tab)
6. Slate's Audio Book Club
Want a critic's perspective on "Fifty Shades of Grey," by E.L. James or "The Martian" by Andy Weir? Curious about the enduring popularity of 200-year-old literature, like Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice"? Want to go in depth on new releases, like "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee? This is the podcast for you.
Subscribe: Slate's Audio Book Club (opens in new tab)
7. Women of the Hour
Lena Dunham and BuzzFeed talk life, friendships, body image, women's health and relationships with different women in the media. Emma Stone, Zadie Smith, Janet Mock and Miranda July, among other women, chat with Dunham on her podcast.
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8. Audibles NFL Podcast
Sports Illustrated experts talk wild-card surprises, the Super Bowl and Peyton Manning's legacy. They also answer social media questions, so you can directly participate in conversations.
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9. Ben Greenfield Fitness
Health and fitness expert Ben Greenfield offers his advice on how to build endurance and how to test your fat-burning efficiency.
Subscribe: Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast (opens in new tab)
The podcast is run by HowStuffWorks.com and explains how satellites work, how the industrial revolution worked, how Tinder works and how experts use DNA evidence to solve crimes, among many other topics.
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