When it comes to the music you choose to listen to while working out, chances are it’s not classical. The thought of popping on classical music while you run, walk or lift weights probably seems laughable. As The Conversation points out, workout music is usually used to “dull the pain, raise the spirits and possibly make time pass a little faster”.
Music plays a large role in exercise, with scientists pinpointing how the “dissociative effects” of music actually help to distract your mind from fatigue. In fact, researchers have found that music can “reduce exercise consciousness – essentially, the parts of the brain that communicate fatigue – [which] communicate less when music is playing”.
So, why is classical music preferable to listen to while exercising over say, rap, pop or rock music? Well, some experts point to classical music’s ability to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while also helping to increase endurance levels during exercise.
“Energetic but not overly-fast classical music can be ideal in the gym,” says neuroscientist Jack Lewis. “Not only does upbeat music increase speed, strength and endurance, but the relaxing qualities of classical music appear to reduce heart rate, blood pressure and lower perceived exertion, at the same time.”
Research also suggests that a particular number of beats per minute (bpm) used within music can actually help improve exercise performance — especially when matched to the phase of your workout. To harness this quality, Lewis recommends listening to a piece like Beethoven’s Symphony No. 4, fourth movement, as once it gets going, is set to roughly 140-144 bpm, which, according to Glamour, should match the mid-point of your workout heart rate perfectly.
One particular study published in 2008 looked at how music tempo affected sprint rowing performance. Using slow and fast movements from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 in A major (op. 92), psychologist Mária Rendi found that both kinds of music resulted in faster sprint times compared to when no music was used, with the faster tempo (at 144 bpm) leading to a 2% improvement in performance. The slower music saw a 0.6% improvement.
In order to capitalise on this information, matching the stage of your workout and energy expenditure with certain classical music seems to produce the best result. With this in mind, Luke Howard from the Brunel University London has compiled a classical music playlist that slowly builds in beats per minutes — perfectly matching each stage of your workout.