New Research: Music Helps You Run Faster

by Charlotte on October 3, 2008 · 29 comments

Photo Credit: Natalie Dee

In another edition of research confirming the obvious, a new study has come out to report that “scientifically chosen” music will amp up your workout by – are you ready – 15%! I’m not sure exactly how they arrived at that very precise number but I definitely agree with their findings.

Anyone who has taken Turbo Jennie‘s TurboKick class knows exactly what I am talking about. The right music not only increases endurance but also changes one’s perceived rate of exertion. According to my trusty heartrate monitor I am literally sprinting during the finale but because it’s Pitbull telling to me to (nonsensically) “boom, boom, shake, shake and drop“, I could have a heart attack and still go down punching. Strangely the researchers made no mention of Pitbull and his magic powers in their geeky summary: “The synchronous application of music resulted in much higher endurance while the motivational qualities of the music impacted significantly on the interpretation of fatigue symptoms right up to the point of voluntary exhaustion.” Yeah, what he said.

According to the research team, music selection is critical. So how in the name of little green apples did Queen, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Madonna made the Ultimate Science Playlist?! That stuff might get me moving faster – but only to get me to run to the sound system to change the song. I hate Queen. But more than Queen, I hate The Chemical Brothers, Moby and every other brand of techno they play in spin classes. I have been known to actually plug my ears during the protracted closing shriek of Block Rocking Beat. Yes I know that you are all now singing We Are The Champions and lecturing me in your head about my unsophisticated taste in music. Lecture away but that’s what iPods were invented for.

I must admit I’m dubious of the scientists’ ability to pick a winning track list. Music is so personal. I imagine they are probably picking songs based on their rhythm and beats per minute – a pacing tool of sorts – but there is so much more involved in making music motivational. But perhaps I am more sensitive than most to music? I still have extreme cognitive dissonance during my Hip Hop Class – love the beat, hate the lyrics.

The other thing about motivation is that it changes. When I’m charging up a tough hill in the rain, I need some emo pain – hello My Chemical Romance! When I’m feeling particularly tough I’m all about the AFI or System of a Down. But for a nice after-dinner jog? Joshua Radin. Regina Spektor. The Decemberists. I’m probably the only human being on the planet with a playlist comprised mainly of folk and punk. And I would never inflict that on anyone else.

The thing that most made me giggle about this study was the fact that it was the culmination of twenty years of research. It took them twenty years to decide that music helps you workout better! No wonder they picked Queen and Madonna.

What say you? If someone sold a “scientifically designed workout playlist” (15% more sweat, guaranteed!) would you buy it? What is the number 1 worst song that you think should be banned from every gym in the world??

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Anonymous October 3, 2008 at 4:11 am

“I’m probably the only human being on the planet with a playlist comprised mainly of folk and punk.”
And here I thought I was the only one!


Cara October 3, 2008 at 5:39 am

Back when I was a gym goer, many a moon ago, the songs played through the gym speakers were just atrocious…and so I would spend more time building perfect playlists than I would actually doing any exercise…my very favourite song was New Order’s Blue Monday…the beat was just perfecto for a steady elliptical session…ah, and The Decemberists…a reason to get the iPod out all by themselves!


tokaiangel October 3, 2008 at 7:18 am

You dissed Queen. You said the words “My Chemical Romance” and “punk” in the same paragraph (even if it didn’t refer, the proximity enough was terrifying). Charlotte, can we still be friends?


Musical differences aside, I absolutely agree with you – what spurs you on in the gym is an incredibly personal thing if you care significantly about music in the first place. Like Cara, I devote endless hours hunting down new tracks to keep me going and composing playlists. I like to listen to music I’ve done tribute bands for, or music similar to the band I’m in, simply because (for shame) it brings back happy memories and gives me the same rush as being on stage. And yes, the mental image of myself in a packed stadium wielding a Flying V and playing a hot solo DOES tend to make me forget that my muscles hurt and my lungs hurt and that I might actually want to stop (nb. the stadium thing never happened. YET. There is still time).

I WISH they’d play Block Rockin’ Beats at my Spin class. They’re too busy playing stupid whiny guitar bands (I’d like to pedal AWAY from Oasis though, so maybe it works…)

TA x


Maddie October 3, 2008 at 8:39 am

Me three! My playlist is all folk and punk! (With some girl group & country of a Loretta/Dolly/Tammy for extra smile value)

I keep reading these articles about bpm = faster running, but my attention span is defined by punk/pop and therefore anything much longer than three minutes and I get super-edgy.


Christine October 3, 2008 at 9:05 am

The music blasted at my gym is terrible. Absolutely awful. The worst kind of cheesy techno.

…and yet, I’ve found myself going faster on the cross trainer to match the beat (not so much the treadmill, since I’m still terrified of flying off the end)

So I’m belivin’ it :)


MizFit October 3, 2008 at 10:05 am

Im eclectic.
QUEEN, Pink, Dead Milkmen, Indigo Girls, Run DMC, Sheryl Crow, Macy Gray, Mase…

I found a new site which is all playlists but is still in Beta which I LOVE because it’s only playlists tailored to workouts or taste.


Shivers October 3, 2008 at 11:06 am

I love the hip-hop beats when I'm running. I have a bit of an eclectic mix, but I often find I skip ahead to the nightclub tunes when I need a boost on my morning route. Today I had Flo.Rida, Timbaland, and my faithful running mates: Britney & Rihanna. Judge me if you must but they get my legs moving! :)

I can't think of a worst song, mainly because as you said, music is so personal. I have the sound track to Les Miserables on my ipod, and when I'm trying to keep my pace down it works a treat… :o)


sarahbb October 3, 2008 at 11:24 am

The gym I go to rotates the type of music they play. I have to say that the worst day is the country day. I like some country music, but slow, sad songs really don’t do anything for me at home and especially not at the gym. I was shocked the first time I spent an hour trying to work out with sappy love songs in the background.

I don’t listen to music at the gym at all, though, when I have my ipod. I listen to podcasts. They distract me so much that I sometimes forget what I’m actually doing.


Crabby McSlacker October 3, 2008 at 11:31 am

I am ridiculously eclectic–beat is everything. I have cheesy pop, rock, hip hop, big band, electronic, bluegrass, Celtic, country, classic disco, and even disco-fied classical. Seriously. Moonlight Sonata to a disco beat? I actually have that.

If my iPod fails to function or I forget to bring it with me it is TORTURE getting through a work out.

Yet I know plenty of folks who don’t exercise with music and it never ceases to amaze me.


Charlotte October 3, 2008 at 12:30 pm

Anon – Yay for the freaky people!

Cara – I too love building playlists:)

TA – Do you have any videos of you playing? I would SO love to see it! I bet you are amazing!! And ditto to what you said about Oasis. Blech.

Maddie – I hear you about the attention span, lol!

Christine – “the cheesiest kind of techno” yep, that is def. the worst!

MizFit – Now, see, I love everything on your list. Except Queen. And Run DMC mostly just makes me giggle. Let me know when the site goes live!

Shivers – I have a huge soft spot for musical theater! I don’t run to it but Les Mis is awesome!

SarahBB – oooh! Podcasts! I forgot all about those! They don’t have a beat but the distraction factor is fabulous!!

Crabby – as long as I’ve got a good gym buddy, I can do without my iPod but long runs? Never!!


Becky October 3, 2008 at 12:52 pm

I agree that music can definitely pump you up, but I think everyone gets pumped up to different songs. I love music so it’s almost impossible for me to run without it. It’s essential!


geekgirl October 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm

I’m with TokaiAngel, “My Chemical Romance’ and “punk” need to be moved to separate paragraphs.

I have a weird mix, the Decemberists, Cat Power, Ladytron, and reggae for mellower runs, Lady Sovereign and Beastie Boys for tempo runs, old school punk like The Clash, The Slits and Bad Brains for hill sprints.

I don’t do the gym thing, so other than music they play at races, I’m not forced to listen to anything i don’t like. And i dig it when they play the Rocky theme song at races! Cheesy, but sweet.

And music is totally personal. I like you very much but your playlist scares me (System of a Down…shiver). And some of my techno would drive you nuts (Chemical Bros. “Galvanized”, anyone?)! To each her own earbuds.


tokaiangel October 3, 2008 at 12:53 pm

Desist with this libel of techno! You're all talking about commercial dance/house, which is a different beast. I am a great lover of techno and have never come across it in any gym :0( Charlotte, there is no video evidence unfortunately (shame, I was in AC/DC and Iron Maiden tribute bands, replete with false underarm hair and fake manchest – had to be seen to be believed), but mp3s of my real band available via email on request :0)

Mizfit <3s the Dead Milkmen! I am so impressed.

TA x


Rachel October 3, 2008 at 12:55 pm

Personally, I love good old rock n roll. Yes, it helps make you work harder. Too bad IPODS are banned in marathons- prolly would make everyone run faster but be completely OUT of tune with everything going on around them.


Dr. J October 3, 2008 at 12:57 pm

I don’t know the name of the worst song, but I may have been listening to it yesterday when I turned to a friend and said, “do you have a hammer I could borrow to use on this speaker?” He could relate!

I like “Eye of the Tiger,” from an old Rockey movie, as a pre-workout or entry to the operating room theme :-)


Charlotte October 3, 2008 at 1:03 pm

GeekGirl – Beastie Boys? Really??? ;)

TA – You could be right about me never having heard “good” techno. E-mail me a song link or something! I will certainly check it out on YOUR recommendation. STrangely, I trust you;) And don’t make me ask twice for an .mp3 of your band! I WANT!!!

Rachel – oh I SO heard you about the iPod ban at races. *sob*

Dr. J – Eye of the Tiger. That does not surprise me one single bit! I love you!!


WeightingGame October 3, 2008 at 1:46 pm

Please, please ban “I Will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor. I remember specifically asking the DJ at my Bat Mitzvah to NOT play it. And he did. The masses went wild but I was pissed. 19 years later, I’m still bitter.


Prof. Steven M. Platek October 3, 2008 at 1:50 pm

Hm, Hair Metal for me. Nothing like running to a bit of Poison, Skid Row, Metallica, maybe toss in a lil industrial like Tool or Ministry and I am running. Oh wait I hate running, ugh!

OK, on a completely different note, I would like to dial up The Great Fitness Experiment Request line…. ring, ring, ring, Oh Hello there, I have a request for a future experiment:

Suspension and rope training. Something to the effect of TRX trainer, but don’t waste your money, make one like I did buy purchasing rope from good ol’ Home Depot. It could be fun and at the end of the month your kids have a long rope to play double dutch jump rope on. Do kids even still play that … Anyhow. I have been using my rope/suspension trainer for about 4-5 weeks, I think, and I am loving it. I have not touched the “real” weights in a long time.

You can suspend yourself from the rope to do suspended dips or pull-ups. You can do chest press, back exercises and some really neat and fun new exercises I was doing today. Something like this: grad a weight plate and wrap your rope around it. Then do a lunge so that the weight is behind you and the rope is taught in your hand(s). Now push the weight out as if you were punching something or doing a chest press, repeat on other side. These exercises focus on functional strength, like moving things around the house, beating people up, and the like. They can be modified for various body parts by changing position. For example, if you do the exercise above, but lunge backwards you focus on your back and bis.

Food for thought, although I am sure you have a list longer than my chimpanzee length arms of suggestions for future experiments.

OK, one last thing – 20 years to do research. My god. Let me get this straight – about 6 years to tenure… hmm…

And for goodness sake – you dont like QUEEN. I seriously do not think I can continue to read your blog any longer. Freddie Mercury + Brian May + genius!

Another great post. Thanks.


geekgirl October 3, 2008 at 2:12 pm

Beastie Boys. Totally. :-) LOL!

Oh, and I know I do run faster with music. I had a glorious run the other day with a hip hop and techno…Uh, I mean dance/house, soundtrack. I won’t be joining the elite ranks any time soon, but it was fast for me! Oh, and I always run with one earbud in and one out, so I can hear traffic noises and be safe.


Sagan October 3, 2008 at 2:56 pm

Heh that is pretty funny. I like Queen, but I don’t find it very good to work out to. I prefer Arctic Monkeys for high intensity workouts. Immaculate Machine and the New Pornographers are really nice for dancing type music, and I like something like Josh Ritter when I’m going out for a walk. If I’m feeling a need to listen to music, that is.

But there’s definitely not one certain kind of music for all exercise (or all people)!


Lethological Gourmet October 3, 2008 at 3:00 pm

That’s what I’m always telling people at the gym, especially about spinning! If you go to a spin class and can’t stand it, try a different class, with different music, and it might be better.

I tend to gravitate to alternative and rock music, with a dash of techno, and a dash of pop (I put a list for spin class on my blog on wednesday). Definitely having music I like helps me work harder, sometimes I feel like the music will help move the pedals all on its own.


azusmom October 3, 2008 at 3:30 pm

SO GLAD I’m not the only one who works out to showtunes, lol! (“Scarlet Pimpernel,” anyone?)
The music that inspires me is music that I like, regardless of what I’m doing. It’s pretty eclectic, like everyone else here: Keith Urban, U2, Black-Eyed Peas, O.A.R, 80′s, even disco.
But I must say that, in a group class like spinning or turbo kick, the higher BPMs do get me going more.
I don’t think I’d buy a pre-mix unless it was for a class I was teaching.


Tricia October 3, 2008 at 4:11 pm

I will listen to anything. Except Techno. And my taste is awful. (Think Fergie and the Pussycat Dolls). Mainly because they’re high energy and “girl power”, like the Spice Girls.

But otherwise I’ll take Michael Buble, Dean Martin, and Frank Sinatra. HATE the “thong song”.


Quix October 3, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Uh, obvious much (for the survey)? =) I love that everyone has eclectic taste – it is truly personal what keeps you going and there is no way a set list would work, me thinks. I cannot do podcasts (maybe during strength but a run? no way) though my fiance swears by them.

The times where my mp3 player dies in the middle of a workout, I really have to talk myself out of just going home. I would still be 265 lbs if it wasn’t for a good playlist. My current mix has everything from Digital Espionage (vivaldi with a beat behind it – best song to put on during a really hard interval) to Paramore to Placebo. Anything with a decent beat is good, but oddly some slower songs work out well if they have just the right tempo.


Darcy Franklin October 3, 2008 at 5:14 pm

I don’t listen to music because I tend to run too fast when I do. But learning to run without music has been the greatest. Granted, I need it on the treadmill, but since I prefer outdoors year round, I make my running either social time (run with friends) or I take in the outdoors and what it has to offer.

I agree, music makes you run faster for sure, but it has been known to make me hit the wall during a run!


Erika October 3, 2008 at 5:21 pm

Music always helps me when working out!

I love your new look. I haven’t been able to look at any blogs forever. Looking good, Char!


Deb October 3, 2008 at 11:25 pm

I am still looking for a link to the “scientific play list”.. to comment on madonna,etc.

I have an eclectic mix of mostly rock… that spans from the 60s to present. Gonna hafta search out some of the songs you list because I don’t think I’m familiar with them.

The only standard things I listen to at the gym: Enter the door to Bonnie Riatt’s Let’s Give Them Something To Talk About … and leave to Bob Seger’s STRUT. And I do!


chilerocks October 4, 2008 at 2:57 pm

I totally agree with you Charlotte. For me it’s the Lyrics AND the beat. You can’t like one and hate the other… I’m probably the only person I know who runs to show tunes, but yesterday Big Blonde and Beautiful came on when I was really tired and sure enough I picked up the pace and ended on a fast sprint.

Nike + sells some specially designed playlists through itunes and they are supposed to help you run faster and give you a little personal trainer giving you encouragement in your ear piece. I bought one that is a training ciruit it tells you to run then drop and do 20 pushups, then lunges, etc. It’s o.k. but not like a real gym buddy.


Rebecca December 3, 2008 at 1:56 am

Flogging Molly makes me run faster and harder than just about anything else–and they make me smile while I do it. Go, drunken Irish punks!


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