Here's One Way to Beef Up Your Workout Playlist, According to Science

You know that feeling when you’re mid-workout, your playlist is on point and you’ve really found your groove? We’re talking about a sweat session where you feel powerful and capable — like a Rocky montage and not at all like your heart is falling out of your butt. Turns out, there may be some science behind why certain music hits different (read: infinitely better) when you’re hitting the gym.

A new study published Frontiers in Psychology this month found that listening to faster, higher tempo music can help reduce the “perceived effort” involved in your exercise and increase the benefits — particularly for endurance exercises and high-intensity exercises.

“We found that listening to high-tempo music while exercising resulted in the highest heart rate and lowest perceived exertion compared with not listening to music,” Professor Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy explained in a statement. “This means that the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness.”

In the study, researchers examined whether the tempo of the music affected how their female volunteers performed while walking on a treadmill and using a leg press. Recording how participants felt about the effort needed to do each exercise and their heart rates while exercising, they noticed that people participating in endurance workouts with high tempo music saw the benefits of perceiving their workouts as easier.

So, if you’re trying to build the perfect workout playlist (though, if we’re being real, some of us are pretty happy to just use Michelle Obama’s forever and ever), it might be a good idea to lay off the chill, sappy or low energy songs (I love my weepy singer songwriter deep cuts as much as the next sad-sack, but save that s–t for cool down) and instead double-down on the faster songs that sustain your hype. It also may explain why a more up-beat, dance-y playlist might be a better call for days when working out seems like an aggressively un-fun and exhausting thing to even attempt.

If you’re itching for more scientific tips to perfect your personal fitness soundtrack, keep an eye out for future research that might go even deeper into how music helps our brains and bodies move. “In the current study, we investigated the effect of music tempo in exercise,” Ardigò said. “But in the future we would also like to study the effects of other music features such as genre, melody, or lyrics, on endurance and high intensity exercise.”

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