Music has an incredible impact on exercise. Indeed, I am fascinated by some of the studies out there showing how music significantly affects different elements of a workout; motivation, endurance, and persistence to name a few.
So much so that I have written articles on the subject before. For more of an explanation as to the science behind music and exercise, check out this article that I wrote earlier this year.
Since my own personal music tastes are…eclectic to say the least (!), I thought it would be cool to conduct an experiment of my own in an attempt to find the ultimate genre of music for maximising the effectiveness of a workout.
Over the course of a single week, I decided to run a 12km route everyday, listening to a different style of music on each day respectively.
Following each run, I recorded the following 3 subjective measures on a spreadsheet in order to create some sort of ‘ranking system’:
- Endurance Rating out of 10 – based on the consistency of tempo and ability to stimulate your body into ‘Autopilot’
- Speed Rating out of 10 – based on the average bpm of tracks and ability to promote faster speed of running.
- Motivation Rating out of 10- based on personal opinion regarding the music’s ability to motivate and break through the barriers preventing optimal performance (I.e. ‘Hitting The Wall’)
- Overall Rating out of 30
Below, I am going to explain my findings from each day, give a few samples of what was on the musical menu each day, and give my personal verdict on the most effective tunes for running!
DAY 1 – IBIZA DANCE ANTHEMS
Endurance – 6
Speed – 6
Motivation – 7
TOTAL – 19
There were some naughty tunes to open the bidding on day 1, with a belting playlist of house and dance music fuelling the maiden run of my experiment.
I often found myself quietly reminiscing the good old days of student night in P&P while going about my business; one of the many times over the course of the week that I found myself running with a broad smile across my face!
When it came to how effective the tunes were from a performance aspect, they were what I would class as a ‘good balance’ of Speed and Endurance; the largely moderate tempo (flirting between 145-160bpm) coupled with regular, looping beats meant that it was easy to zone out and maintain a moderate pace for the duration of the session.
Overall, a decent start to the week, coming conclusion that dance/house music would be ideal for anyone wanting to keep to a constant pace throughout a workout.
PERFECT FOR: Steady-State / Tempo Training
DAY 2 – 80s CLASSICS
Endurance – 8
Speed – 8
Motivation – 9
TOTAL – 25
Tuesday’s playlist brought some absolute belters to the table, and frequently found myself mouthing the words to those tunes that throw things right back to the Golden Era it Pop Music.
We’re talking timeless tones of MJ, Rick Astley, Huey Lewis, Tina Turner, and many many more!
Not only was Day 2 one of my most enjoyable runs to date, but the constant stream of 80s classics did awesome things to my performance.
Retro synths, fast-paced drum loops, and a sprinkling of iconic sax solos resulted in an easily maintained speed over the majority of the distance (165-180bpm).
Couple this with the fact that you will (or bloody well should…) undoubtedly know each and every lyric, and you will find yourself fuelled with a constant supply of willpower and motivation.
Plus, there’s no way you can’t feel like a badass running your final km to the theme from ‘Rocky’!
PERFECT FOR: Tempo Training & days when you don’t feel like getting out of bed!
DAY 3 – HEAVY ROCK
Endurance – 9
Speed – 5
Motivation – 8
TOTAL – 22
I am a sucker for a filthy guitar solo once in a while. So on Day 3, it was the turn of a playlist I usually reserve for testing days or PB attempts in the gym.
However, I thought I’d take it on the road and give it a crack for running; and it was surprisingly effective!
Although the tempo was, on the whole, slightly slower than the two days prior, the likes of Axl Rose, Skillet, Killswitch, and Evanescence proved themselves as awesome motivators; what’s more is that running to rock is insanely easy due to strong, steady, and regular beat.
PERFECT FOR: steady runs, hill running, or recovery runs
DAY 4 – FEEL-GOOD FUNK
Endurance – 9
Speed – 9
Motivation – 10
TOTAL – 28
Day 4 of was the turn of some upbeat 70s grooves from Herbie Hancock, James Brown, and many more. This playlist was absolutely ‘chocca with double-time beats, funky bass riffs, and ballsy brass sections that take you straight down to New Orleans on Mardi Gras!
‘‘Twas a belter to run to, as the fast-paced grooves and repeated loops made it easy to find a quick, consistent rhythm in my stride. Furthermore the majority of tracks featured a very strong percussion section that lent itself to a regular cadence.
As with day 2, I also finished the run smiling wickedly; the only difference being that I had run the route 1:56 seconds faster!
At the end of the week it was a close one to call, but this playlist served as the most performance-enhancing of the lot! Quick, consistent, and motivational madness…
Defs fancied whipping out the instrument on more than one occasion (my saxophone that guy is….)
PERFECT FOR: Tempo Training, motivational low-points, and PB Attempts.
DAY 5- MASSIVE DRUM N BASS
Endurance – 7
Speed – 9
Motivation – 10
TOTAL – 26
Because who doesn’t love running to some filthy DnB once in a while!
This ended out coming a very close 2nd to the fabulous funk, and the as a more than worthy adversary to the bangers of the day before.
The rapid beats (165-185bpm) served as an effective pacemaker, slotting in well with my cadence for the majority of the run.
Where it fell short of the day before was the frequency of intermittent breaks in each track to allow for brief pauses in-between the madness of the majority. This made it just slightly less effective in trying to maintain a given pace.
HOWEVER, this sort of structure would be ideal for any form of interval training; be it speed intervals, hill intervals, or any style of training where you have periods of work interspersed with rest.
Essential tunes for any situation that calls for concentration, motivation, and tonne of psychological hype!
PERFECT FOR: HIIT, Fartlek, or Weight Training
DAY 6 – NEO-SOUL
Endurance – 9
Speed – 4
Motivation – 4
TOTAL – 17
This one was a wee bit of a stab in the dark, as Neo-soul (also called jazz-hop, trip-hop, or lo-fi) is not traditionally thought of as ‘good workout music’. Quite the opposite, really….
Anyway, I listen to it regularly while studying and often find myself zoning out, so I thought it might be a cool experiment to see if it had a similar effect when running. After all, I tend to find my distance times are better when I get into ‘Autopilot’ within the first km or two.
My theory was somewhat true, in that the strong, repetitive loops and melodies made it easy to find a regular rhythm and cadence; however, most of the tunes lacked the oomph that you need to get you through the sticky parts of a run thar require a bit of grinding.
All in all, not the greatest track list for speed or motivation, but this genre of music may have its place for slower runs, or recovery sessions, where neither speed nor motivation are required too much.
PERFECT FOR: Recovery Runs, Cooldowns & Stretching Sessions
DAY 7 – HIP HOP / RAP
Endurance – 6
Speed – 8
Motivation – 8
The experiment concluded with the only one of the playlists made by my good self: a mix of motivational rap and hip-hop that I normally bash out for weight training sessions in the gym.
It served as a pretty decent soundtrack to run to overall: the rhythmic, often aggressive nature of movement the genre provided ample motivation to power through the gears and crank up the gas a wee bit!
Despite this, it scored slightly lower on the endurance side of things purely because there was quite a large variation in tempos, thus making it harder to hit a more regular pace for the duration of the sessions. This does, however, make this sort of music ideal for interval or fartlek training.
And, as I mentioned previously, there is no-one better to jam out to whilst pumping some iron than Messrs Mathers, West, and Shakur!
PERFECT FOR: Weight Training, Intervals & Fartlek
THE FINAL WORD
I won’t lie to you, the experiment was pretty interesting; considering I usually stick the same playlist on for my daily run, it was nice to branch out and try some new sounds to fuel my daily dose of cardio.
After the experiment, I came to 3 key conclusions:
- There is no single style of music that stands out significantly more than the rest in terms of performance enhancement.
- That said, I personally found ‘Feel-Good Funk’ the most effective genre for long distance, steady-state running taking into consideration the 3 factors by which I chose to measure each playlist.
- Different genres have an array of musical factors (average tempo, consistency of beat, type of ensemble etc.) that lend themselves to individual methods of both cardio and resistance training.
This was, at the end of the day, more of a personal quest than an accurate, scientific experiment. What music fits for your personal preferences and workouts may be entirely different to my own; however, I hope I have identified some of the defining elements of each genre and the impact that it could have on your performance.
Furthermore, the metrics by which I measured each genre’s were entirely subjective, meaning that you shouldn’t take my findings as the final word on the matter.
Ultimately, you need to give it a go yourselves, try some different styles of music yourselves, and discover which serves to motivate you the most and optimise your performance!