Imagine heading into an Orangetheory class only to find no music playing over the speakers. Instead, you spend the next 60 minutes listening to your own heavy breathing as your feet hit the treadmill or you propel yourself forward on the rowing machine.
No matter the number of Splat Points displayed on the board at the end of class, you probably won’t feel like you had a satisfying workout. That’s because music is more than just background noise—it’s a motivator.
“Motivation is the energizing of behavior in pursuit of a goal,” says Dr. Shannon Odell, a neuroscientist on the Orangetheory Medical Advisory Board. So, if your goal is to live a healthy lifestyle, keep up with your kids or be a part of the OTF community, you’ll need those bite-size motivators to get you through each class, like a coach cheering you on, a high-five from a classmate or an upbeat playlist.
National Institutes of Health research has shown that listening to music while working out can improve endurance, sprint and resistance modes. Here, Orangetheory’s experts in neuroscience, exercise psychology and physiology explain how music makes us mentally and physically capable of accomplishing more while exercising.
1. Music makes us happy
Putting on upbeat music can instantaneously shake you out of a bad mood, and Dr. Odell says the science behind this experience is a chemical release of dopamine and endorphins in the brain. What’s more, she says “research has shown that positive-mood states, like the happier we feel during exercise, can actually lead to better exercise performance.” Therefore, an Orangetheory class that incorporates music can supercharge your workout.
2. Hard workouts become deceptively doable
Music can sometimes trick our brains into thinking a challenging workout is easier than we would think it is if we did it in silence. “We have found through research that music can lower perceived exertion, so you can be doing the same amount of work but it won’t feel like you’re working as hard,” says Dr. Brittany Masteller, an Orangetheory Research Scientist.
3. We synchronize our movements to the beat
Have you ever heard a remix during an Orangetheory class that transformed a slow song to have a more upbeat tempo? This isn’t just because of a coach’s personal preferences. Rather, listening to music in a certain tempo range while you’re running, lifting heavy weights or doing any exercise that raises your heart rate can improve both performance and endurance. “Music can help you keep cadence on a treadmill, help you maintain your breathing rate and help you get in a rhythm of things, because even if you’re not doing it consciously, you can match your movements to what you’re hearing,” Dr. Masteller says.
4. Music can mentally transport us
You may notice during a rep in the weight room or an All Out on the treadmill that when you can recite every lyric to a song in your head or recall a summer vacation when you played the track on a loop, that the time of exertion seemingly flies by. “What music can do is allow us to focus on something that is external,” Dr. Masteller says.
The Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology has shown that music can reduce the perception of fatigue and exertion through dissociation and distraction during exercise. “When you get lost in the music or you’re not thinking the workout is as hard as it maybe is, then we’re going to feel more motivation associated with it,” Dr. Odell says.
5. Music helps us commit to consistent movement
Not only can music energize your current workout, but it can also motivate you to continue your future exercise regime. “There have been studies that have looked at how listening to music while you exercise is linked to increased exercise adherence, so those people who incorporate music into their exercise routine are more likely to stick to a workout,” Dr. Odell says.
Whether music increases your mood, distracts you from exertion or simply helps you to set the pace for your workout, the next time you step under the orange lights, take note of how the playlist motivates you to keep going when you’re feeling challenged.