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The Magic of Music on Exercise

September 3, 2020

Have you ever wondered why high-energy fitness classes use loud music with fast tempos? Or puzzled over why cameras catch Olympic athletes preparing for competition while wearing headphones? Music is a powerful tool that can make us feel a wide range of emotions including happiness, sadness, reflectiveness, anger, and calmness. However, did you know music has the power to influence exercise? You may have heard “music improves performance,” but the reasons for that may not have been clear. Here are five reasons why music can add a little magic to exercise.

1. Dissociation

Music has the ability to divert the mind’s attention away from sensations of fatigue. This results in a lower perception of effort and improved positive mood state. When listening to music during low and moderate-intensity exercise, emotions of ability and happiness increase while tension, depression, and anger decrease. While this “magical” quality is not as effective during high-intensity exercise, it still improves the experience and makes difficult training more fun.

2. Arousal Regulation

Music alters emotional and physiological arousal. This allows it to work either as a stimulant to “psych up,” the mind, or a sedative to help it “calm down.” This arousal regulation creates an optimal mindset for exercise. The physiological response to music’s rhythm affects emotions. These alterations, when combined with some form of imagery, can further improve performance.

3. Synchronization

Synchronization of music paired with repetitive exercise is associated with increased levels of work output. Music tempo has the ability to regulate movement, which can result in prolonged performance. It also allows for improved efficiency, which further improves endurance. Research also shows that music provides temporal cues that have the potential to make energy use more efficient.

4. Acquisition of Motor Skills

Purposefully selected music can have a positive effect on bodily movement. There is currently little research on why this enhancement actually occurs, but three possible explanations exist. First, music can move the body through movement patterns, providing a visual representation of the sound. Second, lyrics have the power to reinforce essential aspects of technique. Third, listening to music while moving can make the process of learning more fun, leading to increased motivation to master the activity.

5. Attainment of Flow

Flow is the ultimate level of intrinsic motivation, defined as a mental state of being completely immersed in an activity. For example, when walking your attention would be focused on the movements of your body, the work of your muscles, the force of your breath, and the feel of your feet on the ground. You are living the moment and fully experiencing the activity. Music has been found to have an effect on this motivational state resulting in improved performance by triggering emotions and perceptions associated with flow. Through these same mechanisms, music is also able to help decrease anxiety related to the activity as well as improve self-confidence.

With a better understanding of why music works, the next natural question is, “How can I use music most effectively to improve my exercise experience and performance?” While all music can have this effect, several variables can help music to do its best work. Some of these include music genre, tempo, lyrics, and personal associations.

At the Diet Health & Well-Being fitness sessions, music is played during every group fitness class and is on in the gym space throughout the day. The fitness staff chooses specific music stations or genres the clients enjoy for in the gym and classes. When planning exercise classes the pace or beats per minute should also be appropriate for the exercises of the class. This allows the movements to become synchronous to the beats to help with the efficiency of the movement. When asked why music is played in a gym some would say, “That is how it always is,” however, now you know the true reason behind why this is such a vital component to exercise.


  • Ball, P. (n.d.). The Music Instinct. Retrieved from
  • Cherry, K. (2018, November 18). Achieve the ‘Flow’ Mindset to Get the Job Done. Retrieved from
  • Karageorghis, C., & Priest, D. (2008, July 7). Music in Sport and Exercise: An Update on
    Research and Application. Retrieved from
  • Music. (2019). Retrieved from


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