May 11, 2016AllPro Sports Training

Why Does Music Help Drive Exercise?

Listen up.

No seriously, before you read this podcast, go into your iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Prime music library and cue up the song that you know is going to get you amped. Hopefully, I’ve just helped you change your mood and emotional state before reading.

(I think I learned that our retention is better when our mood is positive, maybe, I can’t remember)

Now to the real content! Music is an amazingly powerful addition to any workout. Almost everyone has a playlist, album or radio station that they love to crank up when they’re getting ready to exercise. But why is that? There’s been a tremendous amount of research performed by a man by the name of Costas Karageorghis, a sport psychologist out of London.

After more than 20 years of research, what’s his opinion? “Music has the capacity to act as a legal stimulant or sedative and can enhance both pre-task and in-task affect”.

Basically, music is a drug that can increase performance. If two cyclists were dueling it out on the Tour de France and one was listening to his training playlist, he’d have a competitive edge over the other (doping aside).

Psychologists like to talk about the circumplex model of emotion. There are four different directions you can go and a mixture of emotions in between. Here it is below:


So here’s the circumplex model in action. You wake up, 5:30am and you’re somewhere between pleasant and deactivated, relaxed. As you roll out of bed and realize the day ahead of you, maybe you shift left and now you’re just sleepy. But, now it’s workout time and the fight or flight response takes you into an immediate state of arousal. What can help make sure you’re on the pleasant side of arousal? Music. That playlist kicks in, the beat drops and now, we’re ready to kick this workout in the face, guns a’blazin.

This is the goal of music during a workout, stay in the upper right hand corner as long as possible. Now, work and life stresses, intensity of the workout, creativity of the workout can override the positive effects of music but I want to point out that those are all external motivators. Music acts an internal motivator. How motivated are you assuming all external motivators are positive in nature.

Why though? Well, Karageorghis proposes four mechanisms:

  1. Rhythm (tempo and accentuation) – does the beat promote a response? Some activities like cycling or running can be timed with cadence but an upbeat tempo (suggested 120-140) can help inspire arousal as well.
  2. Melody and harmony – basically this is the mood of the song; happy and bright inspires more than dark and somber.
  3. Cultural impact – People in different socioeconomic classes, different races, different nationalities can all respond to the same music in a different way
  4. Association – Don’t lie to me and don’t lie to yourself. When you hear the Rocky theme song, you get amped, and you want to get active. That song is ‘branded’ with physical activity.

#1 and #2 are the most important with #3 and #4 being significantly less important. All music has rhythm, melody and harmony but our own personal factors decide whether the music is functional or not. For me, listening to Rihanna is not functional, it does not elicit an aroused, pleasant state…it might even be deactivated and unpleasant. Chevelle, however, gets me amped and ready to go.

Well, I’d like a shooting star to come across the page with sparkles behind it and the logo “The More You Know” to appear because that was basically the point of this blog. Music is a legal drug you can use during your workouts to inspire improved performance. I’ll probably revisit this topic later once I’ve researched the topic extensively but for now, here’s a list of songs that some of our staff and athletes love (some have explicit content, beware):

The Motherload (Mastodon) – Myself, for leg day

Big Rings (Drake and Future) – Daryl, for Crossfit

Wake Up (Rage Against The Machine) – John, for weightlifting

X Gon’ Give It To Ya (DMX) – football player

New Divide (Linkin Park) – Amy, for weightlifting

Bath Salts (Highly Suspect) – Alex, for any workout

Black Skinhead (Kanye West) – field hockey player

Work (Rihanna) – Brittany, for running

Panda (Desiigner) – Chris, for any workout

Sexy Back (Justin Timberlake) – David, for cycling


I’d love to hear your guy’s song and for what type of workout. This blog will find itself on facebook somewhere so you’ll be able to post out there! Thanks,



  • Interactive effects of video, priming, and music on emotions and the needs underlying intrinsic motivation.2014;G. Loizou, C.I. Karageorghis, D.T. Bishop; Psychology of Sport and Exercise; 2014;15;611-619
  • Development and initial validation of an instrument to assess the motivational qualities of music in exercise and sport: the Brunel Music Rating Inventory. C. I. Karageorghis, P. C. Terry and A. M. Lane; Journal of Sports Sciences; 1999; 17;9;713-24