Have you ever noticed how you catch yourself humming a song you heard at a party the night before or how you mindlessly tap your foot to music on the radio even if you arenít really listening? Music definitely has a way of getting under our skin. Scientists believe this is because we all have an inner rhythm that responds automatically to the beat of the music we hear.
The first sound a fetus hears is its mother’s heartbeat and breathing pattern. We learn to move in sync with our environment through a sort of neurological pacemaker that links our central nervous system to external rhythms. There is a saying among group exercise instructors that “music is the master,” meaning it controls the motivation, speed, and intensity of the class. If the music is uplifting, invigorating and catchy, students will be inspired and motivated to workout. If itís dragging, no matter how skilled the instructor, the class will be affected.
Science is affirming these observations with experiments on how music positively or negatively influences our workouts, whether exercise classes, lifting weights, running or walking. If you want to make the most of your exercise time, choose the right kind of music to work out to. For example, slow relaxing music is excellent for stretching and mind-body formats like yoga, Pilates, and tai chi but not for strength training. A study that compared stimulating music, sedate music and silence while measuring grip strength found that the slow music had a weakening effect on the participants. They were stronger when they listened to energetic music or no music at all.
However, not all kinds of vigorous music will work in your favor when you are pumping iron. Heavy metal music with an anapestic beat, which is a disruptive rhythm with extreme swings, can throw off your movement and tense up your body. The best music for weightlifting seems to be dynamic music with even rhythmical phrases and a steady beat.
This is also the best type of music for aerobic exercise. In an experiment done with college students who voiced a preference for hard rock, it was the softer rock music that made them work out longer on a treadmill and feel better about the workout afterward. Music can relieve the mental stress and boredom of long endurance workouts. Research participants who listened to music as they pedaled on stationary bikes worked out 27 percent longer compared to when they did it in silence. This is why many people use a portable music source while walking or cycling.
If you listen to music during your outdoor workouts, be sure to keep the volume low because it is dangerous if you cannot hear the cars speeding by beside you. Also, be aware that the speed of the music you choose will dictate the speed at which you walk or cycle because your body will automatically respond to the beat of the music. You can buy music that is made specifically for walking or cycling at websites like powermusic.com, workoutmusic.com, and aerobicsmusic.com.
Group exercise music speed plays a big role in injury prevention. For example, step aerobics music that is too fast can negatively affect the biomechanics of the whole body eventually causing problems in the lower back, knees, and heels. The same goes for kickboxing except the shoulders and elbows are also compromised. The music should be fast enough to challenge the class participants but not so fast that proper alignment and execution are sacrificed. Step aerobics should be done to the speed of 124 to 130 beats per minute while kickboxing is safe between 135 to 145 beats per minute.
Group exercise music can also damage your hearing if it is played too loud. Hearing loss doesnít happen overnight. It is seldom painful and it is cumulative. So you may be going deaf without realizing it. IDEA, the International Association for Fitness Professionals, says that the music volume should be kept below 90 decibels and the instructorís voice below 100 decibels.
According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), normal conversation ranges from 60 to 70 decibels, an alarm clock going off two feet from your ear is about 80 decibels, a chainsaw in 100, and a jet plane takeoff or a rock concert may reach 120. Both IDEA and ASHA recommend using a sound level meter in group exercise rooms to monitor the decibel level.
Since most fitness centers do not own a sound level meter, here is a practical way to tell if the music is too loud. Before going to the class, set a radio at the lowest volume possible while still understanding the words being said. After the class, check to see if you can still understand the words at that volume. If you cannot, you are probably damaging your hearing. Inform your gym that the music is too loud or use earplugs while attending the class.