We now have an unlimited selection of music to choose from. So, what will actually help you exercise?

Different Music for Different Environments

Have you ever been in an elevator and heard the slow, soothing music?

It’s even a joke when some slow song comes on how it “Sounds like elevator music.” You’re stuffed in a small space with people you probably don’t know. I would want to play something that calms them down.

Grocery stores and smart businesses play slow, calming music. They want you to shop. The more you look around and walk slowly, the more you are considering each and every product. Hopefully, in that consideration, you find something that works for you or a loved one, and you purchase it.

If I were in charge of elevators or grocery stores or shopping malls, I would look into the statistics, what studies were done and what the outcomes were. And then I would play music appropriate to that type of activity.

These examples are of the same type. The music is intended to calm, soothe and slow you down.

It all comes down to one word.



Tempo is defined as the speed at which music is played. It comes from the Latin word for time.

The speed at which music is played determines how it affects us. Based on what I have read, if the tempo is slower than our heart rate, the song will calm us down. If it is faster, we’ll tend to get more excited.

Now, these studies aren’t perfect because maybe it’s fast but the person doesn’t like it. Or maybe it is slow but they’ve got some really nice memories associated with it – or a song just similar to it.

So let’s take the fluff away and just have a steady beat. That beat can be relatively slow or relatively fast. You’ll get excited for that faster tempo. You will work harder with that going.

This is why, in a spinning class (cycling), the music is always soooooooooo fast! Maybe on a cool down track or for 30 seconds when you’re resting, the music will let up. But then, when it is time to kick it into high gear, the beat picks up.

How Loud Should the Music Be?

This depends on your environment.

If you’re cycling or running by cars or traffic, please don’t have your headphones very loud, if on at all. This is a safety concern and you should think with it.

If you’re working with a trainer or with a group, don’t put your headphones on, it just makes it weird.

I hold a somewhat extreme idea that even when people are around, it is rude to put your headphones on. This idea comes from seeing the motivation to work hard when pushed by your peers. It completely trumps any aid that music will give you.

Those studies on music and tempo were just studies and not real life. In real life, if you’ve got a person in front of you pushing you to work harder, you’ll work harder. You can throw the studies out the door at that point.

Yes, high-tempo music should be playing in the background as opposed to something that puts you to sleep. But the major factor is the person next to you.

That is why I don’t think that it really needs to be loud. It can be background music if there’s a social aspect to the gym.

I try to stay away from gyms where everyone is packed in and no one talks to each other.

It must be a quirk of mine, I like to interact with people.

Listening to Music Can Help You Keep Pace

Now, on a long run or on a workout where you need to keep a certain pace, it can be very helpful to have a reminder in your ear as to how fast to kick your feet.

Here’s a drill:

Try this out on a treadmill. If you’re trying to set a pace for an 8-minute mile, then set the speed of the treadmill at that pace. Then scan through your music on shuffle to see what music matches your pace best. Make a playlist out of that and then you can either stay on the treadmill or hit the streets.

At one point I had a regular run. I had a handful of songs that would play during that run and I knew that when I got to the last song the run was over. Once you match up a song with a specific running route, you can start to work out your own pace and it becomes fun.

Just food for thought.

The Motivation Factor

Now, I’ve covered the tempo, so let’s talk motivation.

You know how, every now and then, you’ll find a song that you absolutely love? I remember at one point in high school I loved working out to that song by P.O.D. titled Alive. It was high-tempo and the words “I feel so alive” just kept me going strong.

I’ve had other songs that got me going Incubus – Anna Molly, Slipknot – Wait and Bleed, all sorts of good ones of all genres.

Find out what you like and use it. Sometimes a little motivation helps get you over that “hump” and gets you in the gym. Make it your gym song or your gym soundtrack.


If you find music that really gets you emotionally involved, use it.

I’ve seen people who are otherwise just bored throughout their days go completely berserk when they’ve got the right song on. I’ve spent 20 years in gyms, this is an easily observable phenomenon.

I’ve tried all sorts of ways of motivating people in that time. I’ve tried being nice, being mean, cheerleading, being completely neutral, adding in a rewards system, adding in penalties systems, and playing with what was on the stereo.

An immediate boost is always “What’s playing on the stereo.”

If you get that right, you’ll be able to get a bit more out of yourself or your clients.

Tricks of the trade, my friend.

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