Why Music Motivates a Workout

Music and Workouts

Sara Thompson, MSc, Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education, Human Physiology Research Unit, University of Toronto

In recent FTG articles, we’ve discussed how sprint training can help prevent and treat ailments that are prevalent in the aging population, such as osteoporosis, type 2 diabetes, and cognitive decline. While this is valuable information, it might be easier in theory than in practice. How realistic is it for someone to hop on a bike or treadmill and sprint as hard as they can? Sprint workouts can reduce the time needed to elicit the same benefits as endurance training. However, the workouts themselves can be quite vigorous and intimidating. So how can someone become motivated?

Music and Workouts

In a recent paper, Stork and colleagues investigated the effects of listening to self-selected music on high intensity interval training (2014). Specifically, the researchers were looking to determine if music can affect performance, task motivation, perceived exertion and enjoyment. To do this, Stork and colleagues had a group of young adults perform a standard interval training session of 30-second all-out sprints on a bike. These were separated by four minutes of rest, once with music and once without music.

Greater performance was observed when participants listened to music, versus having no music while they exercised. Participants had a higher peak power, as well as mean power over the course of the 30-second sprint. There were no differences between conditions for perceived exertion or motivation. However, participants had greater enjoyment during the music training session.

These researchers observed that using music during a high-intensity interval workout improved performance, measured as greater power output throughout the 30-second sprints. While improved performance is significant, the most noteworthy finding is that the participants actually enjoyed this training session more. This finding is very promising as it might help to encourage individuals to partake in sprint training, as well as improve adherence!

Music and Workouts

Cooldown and Active Recovery

One component of training that we haven’t yet covered is the cooldown, or recovery, following exercise. Passive recovery happens when the individual simply stops exercising following a workout. In contrast, active recovery consists of submaximal exercise. Active recovery is extremely important, particularly following high-intensity training. Exercising at a high intensity leads to the production of the metabolic by-product lactic acid. Lactic acid then breaks down into lactate and hydrogen. This can reduce muscle contractility, and is one reason for the muscle “burn” one feels during exercise. It is well known that active recovery improves lactate clearance through increased blood flow and the removal of metabolites (Dodd et al., 1984). This not only helps one recovery faster from the workout but also decreases the time to recovery for subsequent workouts.

Music and Active Recovery

While music has been shown to improve performance and enjoyment of sprint training (Stork et al., 2014), there is also evidence that music might also be beneficial during active recovery. Eliakim and colleagues (2012) discovered that individuals who listened to motivational music during recovery following high-intensity exercise had a greater step count. This resulted in greater lactate clearance over the 15 minutes. Listening to music also decreased individuals’ perceived exertion during recovery.

Music appears to improve individuals’ performance during high-intensity exercise, and even more importantly improves enjoyment! Individuals should play around with what works for them. If someone is doing interval sessions, they can try creating a playlist that alternates between fast and slow songs. When they hear the fast song, they will know to start sprinting. Using music during active recovery can also help with recovery and get the individual ready for their next workout. The most important thing to remember is if people are enjoying the exercise they’ll be able to stay motivated and adhere to the program!


Dodd, S., Powers, S. K., Callender, T., & Brooks, E. (1984). Blood lactate disappearance at various intensities of recovery exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology, 57, 1462–1465.

Eliakim, M., Bodner, E., Eliakim, A., Nemet, D., & Meckel, Y. (2012). Effect of Motivational Music on Lactate Levels During Recovery from Intense Exercise. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 26(1), 80-86.

Stork, J. J., Kwan, J., Gibala, M. J., & Martin Binis, K.A. (2014). Music Enhances Performance and Perceived Enjoyment of Sprint Interval Exercise. Medicine & Science in Sports and Exercise, [Epub ahead of print].You Might Like:

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