Does Music Make Your Workout Easier?

New research says listening to tunes while working out provides more benefits than previously thought.

Actively listening to music while exercising can motivate you to workout harder, but also make the workout less exhausting. Photograph via Shutterstock.

I never run with music.

Shocking, I know. “Don’t you get bored?” people always ask me. “I’d die without my music.”

Okay, let’s all calm down.

My argument? I hate running with earphones, or anything that will distract me while I’m in the zone. Even a stray hair can send me into a tailspin.

But new research suggests my music-dependent friends might be onto something. While music has often been used as a distraction from that last mile of a long run, researchers in Germany hypothesized that listening to music may actually make a workout easier.

To test the hypothesis, researchers had 63 men and women who were non-musicians use three different fitness machines. These particular machines—a rower, a stomach trainer, and a stepper—were equipped to create simple electronic dance music when in use.

The participants—all non-professional athletes—could choose which machine they wanted to use and were told to “use the fitness machines in a way that you are physiologically comfortable with.”

In some cases, participants passively listened to music while working out. Another group actively created music when using a specific machine. A third group was instructed to perform isometric exercises while passively listening to music: “Hold a variety of positions of your choice on the machine for 10 seconds, interspersed with brief rests of 1 to 5 seconds.”

The participants were measured for oxygen consumption and force, and filled out questionnaires on their perceived sense of exertion.

The researchers discovered that when using the fitness machines that created music, participants reported significantly decreased exertion than when listening passively. They also used more force, or did more work, when creating music.

Also noteworthy: Those who created music while exercising consumed less oxygen, despite using more force. The researchers suspect that the relaxing effect of music contributed to reducing muscle tension and improved blood flow to the working muscles.

The results prove that listening to music doesn’t just provide a distraction, researchers wrote. In fact, music helps reduce exercisers’ perceived effort to get through the workout, even while providing the motivation to use more force.

In other words, “Making music makes physical exertion less exhausting,” said scientist Tom Fritz.

The full study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.