Take a look around the gym, and what does almost everyone have in common? If you said a pair of headphones in their ears, then you are correct. It’s no surprise: we love working out to music. Whether jazz, pop, or hip-hop, we feel that a good playlist helps us get through the discomfort of a grueling workout.
Research has shown that during cardiovascular exercise in particular, the tempo of the music plays a large role in keeping us pumped up, with scientists marking the ideal beats per minute (bpm) around 130. Until recently, the discussion had not progressed further.
A research team from the University of Ghent in Belgium, led by Dr. Mark Leman, decided to see how musical samples from different genres – all controlled at a tempo of 130 bpm – influenced the quality of a thirty-second walk. Since tempo dictates how frequently we take a step, one would assume the same distance would be covered in each half-minute trial whether we listened to classical music or techno.
In order to create a benchmark reading of distance covered, Leman first instructed participants to walk for thirty seconds listening to a metronome set to 130 bpm, without any music playing. After this control trial, over fifty selections of music were played, and distances varied dramatically. While the number of steps taken was identical, certain genres increased stride length, which increased how far people walked.
So what type of music inspires our inner gazelle? In terms of complexity, Leman found that the less complex the music, the more vigorously we move when listening to it. Music with just one or two dominant notes in between the beats encouraged the longest strides. Participants were asked to rank selections on various characteristics using binary adjectives (good/bad, slow/fast) and Leman saw that music described as bad, aggressive, loud, fast and/or stuttering had the largest positive effect on stride length.
In a nutshell: techno. Indeed, samples pop and techno consistently produced the largest positive deviation from the benchmark distance.
It’s worth noting that these results are only applicable for walking – most likely running as well – so you shouldn’t feel the need to change your whole workout playlist. Listen to your favorites while you do your bench presses and crunches. Next time you walk around the block, though, try some dubstep. Who knows, you may find yourself back at home before you know it.