Can Music Make You Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger?

The research says yes!

I remember being told that music can enhance exercise performance, but until now I have never really examined the link. So this morning I put back on my research hat (I’ll post a picture of this soon) and trawled some databases to find out more.

I personally find music to be quite beneficial when exercising. It helps me focus during resistance training, and can decrease the tendency to waste time talking between sets (which still happens a lot). But one opinion doesn’t make a case, so I read what the experts were saying...

What does the research say?

The best article I found was ‘Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis’ (Karageorghis and Priest, 2011). Click here for the link to part one. This article is a review of previous research into the connection between music and exercise, where single studies had found varied results. 

The research is quite interesting although the findings did not contain anything too surprising. What I appreciated was the simple explanations of the link between music and its impact on exercise. The research basically states that music appears useful for improving performance in self-paced exercise, such as running, cycling or gym activities.

Exactly how music is beneficial for improving performance has been theorised as follows.

  • Increases motivation and enhances mood.
  • Association with important moments in life, which can trigger a positive (or negative) emotional response.
  • Decreases rate of perceived exertion and delays fatigue.

The first two points are fairly similar, and revolve around creating a good headspace to exercise. If you don’t like exercising or consider it to be a burden, adding some music that you enjoy can help mitigate these feelings allowing you to persevere. 

The decreased rate of perceived exertion and delayed fatigue was reportedly caused by distraction. If you can take the focus away from sore muscles or heavy breathing, you might be able to push out a few more reps or another two minutes on the bike. This was demonstrated by motivational music increasing treadmill endurance by 15% compared to the control (no music). 


So if music is so good for exercise, why don’t athletes wear Beats by Dre during the 100m final?

While the music is beneficial to self-paced and closed environments, this does not appear to translate to competition and sports.

In these settings music can become a distraction causing athletes to miss key auditory cues, leading to poor performance or skill execution.

This makes sense. It would be hard to hear the starters gun (a rather important auditory cue) when you have Call Me Maybe/Turn Down for What pumping in your ears!


What about before exercise?

This depends on the individual and the exercise. Some athletes may like to listen to music as it helps them block out distractions and focus on their event. Be wary though, music that over arouses the athlete (in the auditory sense) can lead to increased agitation and nerves, which can cause performance deterioration.



Music can be beneficial for performance in self-paced and closed-environment exercise. Elite athletes are unlikely to benefit from the addition of music during competition, but may find it beneficial during training or prior to their event.

If you are struggling for some motivation during exercise, try adding some music or a new playlist to your workout and see how you respond. Check out my top-5 gym tracks below for some ideas!


Fitz's Five Gym Beats.

Here are my five favourite gym songs on my iPod right now!

5. Feels Like - Peking Duck. This has a nice constant beat with a good breakdown. Perfect for pushing out those high rep sets or even cardio (mostly those high-rep sets).


4. Butterfly - Crazytown. I don't do tonnes of cardio, but when I do this song will be featuring. My biggest issue with playing this song is resisting the temptation to rap/sing along.


3. 99 Problems - Jay Z. No matter how tired I am on the way to the gym, Jay Z will get me there. I like playing this on the drive to the gym, where the large beat combines with my pre-workout coffee to get my head in the game.


2. Last Train - Tiesto, Firebeatz, Ladyhawke. A recent addition to my playlist, but has been a very solid performer over the last few months. Might even sneak into the number one place if it gets a few more PB's during the rest of the year!


1. Levels - Avicii. If you have ever trained with me, you would have heard me play this song on any big set. This is my go to song, and has probably been playing for 80% or more of the PB's I have ever hit in the gym. I also request this on the dancefloor when I need to lift, proving the ergogenic effects of Avicii are not just limited to the gym!