Armed with an unrelenting power to transform any sleepy session into one where you can crush multiple PBs, finding the right workout music — especially when partnered with headphones like these — is crucial to any exercise regime that you plan on sticking to. Not only will your go-to playlist make you feel like a badass, it could improve your body on a cellular level too. More on that later...
If you've arrived here looking for the hardest, toughest, get-your-ass-to-the-gym workout playlists to rep out to, we've got those down below, from Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's go-to Spotify set and Ryan Reynolds' trainer's undeniably high-tempo lifting playlist. But first, it's a good idea to understand how the tunes filtering through your headphones are impacting your big lifts and, by choosing the right tunes, will even improve your gains and get you quicker to your goals. So listen up.
Workout Music and... Endurance
One of the most recent studies on the topic, with findings published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, found that high-tempo music — 170bpm and above — had the power to lower the perceived effort during a workout and even increase cardiovascular benefits of exercise, specifically running, cycling and walking.
"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," said study author Professor Luca P. Ardigò of the University of Verona in Italy. A Samford University concurs these findings, with researching unearthing that the right workout music can add an additional 1.7 reps — call it two total reps — during a workout. Which, you'll agree, is particularly handy when your last working set feels like one rep too many.
Workout Music and... Building Muscle
On the flipside, listening to calmer music could have a potent effect on your muscle recovery, as a Brunel University study proved earlier this year. The research, primarily focusing on fighting the muscle-eroding, stress-induced hormone coristol, involved participants cycling intensively for a short period, then using headphones playing "reverse" tunes during a gentle 30-minute recovery ride.
This brought the subjects' heart rates down and averted the cortisol spike that often comes after a heavy workout. Avoiding this spike is crucial to aiding muscle growth, and it doesn't have to be a ten-hour long loop of whale sounds, either — any chillout playlist on Spotify, Amazon or YouTube will do the job.
Alternatively, add these instantly calming cool-down tracks to the end of your workout playlist and have a moment to yourself once you've re-racked your weights. (Continued below)
Workout Music and... Running
Obviously, the right workout music can mute the pain of any mid-run pangs. That'll come as zero surprise to any semi-serious runner. But there's some interesting science behind utilising music to make sure your run hits all the right notes.
It's a fair assumption that most runners use a music app (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music) to unleash their go-to playlist. Adding video to this audio, however, could be the key to making your 5K or 10K run a double-platinum effort. Such were the findings from the University of Portsmouth, who found that test subjects watching music videos ran faster during the last 15 minutes of a test, compared to those sticking to the aural experience with their headphones. Interestingly, this equated to 251 extra metres in their run — a quarter of a kilometre. Of course, these findings are only applicable when using a treadmill — we can't advocate holding your smartphone aloft at your local park run.
“Video and music may primarily be of use to noncompetitive, recreational gym users, who are more likely to select ‘dissociative attentional’ strategies to elongate or tolerate a high-intensity exercise workload,” said a University spokesperson of the study.
Workout Music and...Lifting Weights
Shifting tin and listening to music go together like chest and arms, helping you grind out an extra rep or two. But can hitting shuffle on your gym playlist really help you lift more weight, or is it just placebo? Well, if a Samford University study is anything to go by, 'Gym Gainz Vol.2' could be your best spotter yet.
In the study, researchers used 12 men with weight training experience and put them through a test on the bench press. Of the 12 participants, each listened to a preferred playlist or non-preferred music.
To gauge the effectiveness of the playlist, each participant had to perform as many reps as possible within 75 per cent of their one-rep max. Once the study concluded, it was found that the participants who opted for their preferred playlist had a higher number of bench press reps, while boasting a higher rep velocity and more powerful lifts.
Workout Music and... Motivation
If you fall on the latter side of loving or hating exercise, workout music can transform how you view your time spent in the gym or pounding the pavements. Researchers at Brunel University proved this in a 2018 study, which looked specifically at how the brain responds to music during exercise, by using electroencephalography (EEG).
"The brain mechanisms that underlie the psychological effects of auditory stimuli during physical activity are hitherto under-researched; particularly so in ecologically valid settings," explained the study co-author Marcelo Bigliassi.
"The EEG technology facilitated measurement during an ecologically valid outdoor task, so we could finally explore the brain mechanisms that underlie the effects of music during real-life exercise situations."
Using 24 study participants, the researchers asked them to walk 400 metres on an outdoor track under three conditions: listen to six minutes of the song 'Happy' by Pharrell Williams, listening to a spoken word podcast or listening to nothing at all. During the walk, each participant had his/her brainwaves measured using EEG and reported back on their feelings of alertness and fatigue.
The results found that listening to music led to a 28 per cent and a 13 per cent increase in the enjoyment of the exercise, compared respectively to those listening to nothing.
"We showed that music has the potential to increase beta waves and elicit a more positive emotional state," said Bigliassi of the study, which found that the increase in beta waves in the frontal and prefrontal regions of the cerebral cortex aided the participants' efforts on the track. "This can be capitalised upon during other forms of exercise and render a given activity more pleasurable."
Now that the science is out the way, let's get to the sweeter stuff... (Continued below)
The Rock's Workout Music
Starting with Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's go-to gym playlist, full of workout music to pump you up, this Spotify set is loaded with songs to get you hyped. Plus, there's a motivational speech from the man himself.
Spotify Workout Music
Unsurprisingly, one of the world's most-used music streaming services is loaded with workout music to get you laced up. The playlist, above, is the perfect starting point.
High Performance Workout Music
For this playlist, Amazon teamed up with a group of music scientists (best job ever?) at the University of Osnabrück to engineer the ultimate gym motivation and workout music playlist. Kendrick Lamar, AC/DC, Post Malone and Beck all feature on the 60 song playlist will get you in the mood to exercise.
It's based on an established science, a University rep told Men's Health US, saying: "Current scientific studies show that specific musical patterns of a composition (such as a strong rhythm structure) can motivate, especially for anaerobic exercise."
"On the other hand, a diverse variety of song choices within a playlist plays a critical role."
Bobby Strom's Workout Music
Having trained Ryan Reynolds, Benecio Del Toro, Scarlett Johansson and more, Strom's workout playlist is a riff-tastic nine song set, perfect for a 40-minute workout.
Bobby Maximus' 'Deadlifts and Slow Jamz' Workout Music
"When I used to work with a sports psychologist, he used to talk to me about how anger is a really negative emotion," says Bobby Maximus, author of The Maximus Body. In a workout, anger can be dangerous and it can lead to injury. So follow Maximus' lead and slow the tempo down with his lifting playlist.
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