News / 

University Study Finds Upbeat Songs Set Pace for Better Workout

Save Story
Leer en espaƱol

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


MILWAUKEE - When it comes to exercise, those who march to the fast beat of their own drum are likely to get more out of their workouts.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse reached that conclusion in a study they presented at a recent medical conference in Kansas City, Mo.

They found that people who listen to up-tempo music of their own choosing got significantly more out of their stationary bike workouts. They pedaled faster, produced more power output and their hearts beat faster than when they listened to slow-tempo music or sounds that had no tempo.

"People are going to work about 5 to 15 percent harder when they are listening to up-tempo music," said lead author John Porcari, a UW-La Crosse professor of exercise and sports science. "It shifts their focus. They are caught up in the music, and they work harder."

Working harder also means burning more calories.

While the finding may seem like common sense, it doesn't always work that way in the loud, sweaty world of health clubs.

At UW-La Crosse, cardiac rehab patients often use the same workout facility as members of the football and wrestling teams. Typically, the athletes will tune the sound system to loud, hard rock, which has a predictable impact on the heart patients.

"They'll actually leave without working out because they can't stand the music," Porcari said.

Such situations are not uncommon at health clubs that pipe in music.

Porcari said it's probably a good idea for clubs to allow members to pick their music.

For the study, 20 graduate student volunteers were told to produce their own list of 13 songs ranging from slow to fast tempo. Using MP3 players, the researchers mixed the selections with the "no tempo" sounds of waves crashing.

The volunteers then were told to ride exercise bikes for an hour while they listened to the selections with headphones.

On average, their heart rates increased with the tempo of the music: 133 beats per minute for no tempo; 140 bpm for slow tempo; and 146 bpm for medium and fast tempo.

Power output on the bikes as measured in watts also increased: 111 watts for no tempo; 121 for slow; 127 for medium; and 130 for fast.

In fact, pedaling speed, heart rate and power output increased and decreased with the tempo of the music.

Applying the findings may help dedicated exercisers overcome a common problem: People often think they are working harder than they really are, said Kerry Stewart, an associate professor of medicine and director of the clinical exercise program at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

Typically, people without heart problems may want to work out at 80 percent to 85 percent of their maximum heart rate, he said. But unconsciously they may fall under their target. Maximum heart rate is often computed by subtracting the person's age from 220.

"To the extent that music can push people harder, they'll get a better workout," Stewart said. "The caution is for people with heart problems; they don't want to work too hard."

Stewart said the UW-La Crosse study shows that music can make a substantial difference in how much is accomplished in a workout.

The study, which was presented at the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation annual meeting, is the latest in a continuing look at the effects of music and other distractions on exercisers.

Other studies have showed that music can enhance the mood of exercisers or lower their perception of how hard they are working.

Watching television, however, seems to work in the opposite manner.

A 1996 study of a small group of women found they worked out about 5 percent harder when they weren't watching TV than when they were.


(c) 2003, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

Most recent News stories


Get informative articles and interesting stories delivered to your inbox weekly. Subscribe to the Trending 5.
By subscribing, you acknowledge and agree to's Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.

KSL Weather Forecast