How to Use Music as an Exercise Motivator

Fighting through the hardest part of a workout is one of the toughest challenges faced when focused on your fitness. When it feels like you don’t have the energy or that pushing through is just too hard, instead of giving up, opt for a song. That’s right, a song.

It turns out music can help alter your mood, and those qualities can be used towards improving your exercise, according to researchers at Brunel University in London. A song can help reduce perceived exertion, increase perceived endurance and improve overall exercise effects.

As someone on a new running routine, (read more on Tips for the Beginning Runner) I need every ounce of help I can get to keep my energy up, and I’ve found using music is one way to help with that. So how exactly does it work?

The science is based around the beats per minute (BPM) of a song and syncing the BMP with your exercise pace to help keep your own personal tempo up. Songs that are in a range of 120-140 BPM work best for workouts, and by arranging the songs to increase in speed—similar to that in a workout plan that includes peaks and plateaus—you can build up your energy with the music.

Apps such as Tempo Run and RockMyRun, among others, can help to create playlists for you, but arranging it on your own isn’t tough either. or Song BPM are both websites with information on the BPM of numerous songs, and also has a number of playlists to take inspiration from, too.

If there is a song that isn’t listed, measuring it yourself is completely doable. Just play the song for 30 seconds, count the number of beats you hear and then multiply that by two. Just be sure to keep your songs between the 120-140 BPM range to best reap the benefits of paired music.

Even if you don’t want to craft an entire playlist—I prefer to have a few songs within the range on shuffle—you still can optimize the use of what I like to call a “power song.” Paired with the beats per minute, a song with a positive, uplifting or motivational message can also give you a boost of energy. This is especially true with a song you really love, as we associate positive emotions with happy memories, according to researchers at Brunel College.

If you have a favorite song with a BPM between 120-140 and a message that gets you pumped, play it during the toughest part of your workout and it can help push you through it.

Here are three songs I love to run to and their BPM to help get you started with your own playlist.

Beginning of your workout: “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5 at 128 BPM.

Middle of your workout: “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons at 136 BPM—this is also my power song.

Peak of your workout: “Applause” by Lady Gaga at 140 BPM.

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