Workout jams: The effect of music on exercise

November 17, 2021 — by Jason Cheng

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I swung open the Los Gatos Swim and Racquet Club gym door to a chaotic scene of weights clanging, unnecessarily loud lifting grunts and worst of all, the most obnoxious music blasting through the gym speakers. As I rummaged through my bag, something was missing: my AirPods. I sighed — I’d have to suffer through an entire workout with deafening gym music.

Music has a significant effect on exercise: Fatigue and exertion depend greatly on whether you’re shrouded in music or sitting in dead silence, giving you an extra pump for hitting that final rep. Not only that, the type of music can influence your energy levels — for example, listening to chill songs is not ideal when you’re working out.

As such, I decided to test my hypothesis that music choice affects exercise by curating several different playlists of a diverse range of genres and playing them through a week of gym sessions. 


No. 1: Electronic Dance Music (EDM)

I started the week off with a bang. I took on the challenge of listening to stereotypically irritating gym music in the form of EDM, broadcasted endlessly to its victims on loudspeakers. 

As I readied myself, I could tell I was in for a long ride. After only 15 minutes of stretching and warming up, the music had burrowed into my head. The soulless, repetitive genre practically dissolved into piercing white noise.

Throughout my workout, I painfully listened to the most indistinguishable songs I had ever heard, and by the time it was over, my body was completely sore — including my ears.

To be fair, EDM actually works for a lot of people, since it supposedly pumps them up and gets them moving. Maybe I’m just an outlier, but I know for a fact that I can’t stand another second of EDM without going crazy.


No. 2: Pop

I’m aware that pop isn’t exactly a genre, but with Spotify’s highly-accessible “Happy Hits!” playlist, I figured I’d give it a shot.

The song choices were astronomically better than those in the previous day’s playlist, although many of the songs were still very basic. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing though; we’re not trying to find the best underground hit here — we’re trying to find the perfect background music for working out.

And essentially, pop music does the job: I’m able to exercise while listening to high-energy music that isn’t repetitive. The playlist contains songs from a variety of genres, ranging from hip-hop to R&B to indie, so it’s great for those with a diverse range of music preferences, including artists such as Doja Cat or Bruno Mars. While some of the songs have been overplayed to oblivion, you can cater towards your preferences by choosing genre-specific pop playlists. 


No. 3: Lo-Fi Beats

I’m not entirely sure why I thought this was a good idea, since the playlist’s name explicitly states, “beats to relax/study to,” but it was for the experiment.

Unfortunately for me, my lo-fi trial didn’t work out (no pun intended). I wouldn’t advise listening to sleepy music while trying to lift heavy weights — it acts as a sort of sedative rather than a pump of energy.

Between sets, I found myself slowly drifting away into the daydream realm, and afterwards, I noticed that I had spent an extra 15 minutes in the gym — not ideal when you’re in a time crunch.


So what’s the final verdict? 

That’s hard to say — everyone has their own preferences when it comes to music. Even so, I’d strongly suggest high-tempo pop, but whatever you choose to listen to, please keep it to yourself: The gym’s already hectic enough without your music blasting out loud for everyone to hear.

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