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Friday, June 10, 2011

How to Make the Best Workout Playlist

The Science:
It's no surprise that fast-paced music is a good and popular exercise companion, but a study published last year discovered a direct correlation between fast-paced music and athletic performance! Volunteers in the study were given popular music to listen to while riding a stationary bicycle.  For the first ride, the music was played as-is.  In subsequent rides, some volunteers received the same music slowed down by 10% and others received music sped up by 10%.  The riders were not informed of the change, yet their performance changed nonetheless:

When the tempo slowed, so did their pedaling and their entire affect. Their heart rates fell. Their mileage dropped. They reported that they didn't like the music much. On the other hand, when the tempo of the songs was upped 10 percent, the men covered more miles in the same period of time, produced more power with each pedal stroke and increased their pedal cadences. Their heart rates rose. They reported enjoying the music  (the same music) about 36 percent more than when it was slowed. But, paradoxically, they did not find the workout easier. Their sense of how hard they were working rose 2.4 percent. The up-tempo music didn't mask the discomfort of the exercise. But it seemed to motivate them to push themselves. As the researchers wrote, when "the music was played faster, the participants chose to accept, and even prefer, a greater degree of effort."

So to sum that up fast paced music can fool you into being in a highly motivated state of mind while slower paced music can actually discourage you from putting in the extra effort!  For those people that find it hard to get motivation, or lack a partner to help elevate motivational levels, music is a great alternative to keep you moving for that extra step or rep.

Choosing the Music:

You want fast-paced music on your playlist, but some songs may be deceptive.  As we've previously saw, the best exercise music should be between 120-140 (beats per minute).  So how do you calculate the BPM of a song? Well, there's always the old fashioned way: counting!
How to Create the Ultimate Exercise PlaylistHowever, there is software to help you out. Both BPM Calculator(Windows) and BPM Assistant (Mac OS X) let you tap along with the song to calculate its BPM...
Once you've calculated the BPM of a song, you can generally store it in the ID3 tag of the music file.  For example, getting info on a song in iTunes will let you enter the BPM.  Using iTunes as an example, you can then sort your music by BPM and choose the songs you want that fall into the 120-140 BPM range.

Getting the Tracks in Order:

When thinking about the order of the tracks in my exercise playlist, I'm reminded of that Nike+ app.  On the iPod, it lets you assign a high-tempo "power song" to your run and start it when you're coming close to the finish.  The idea is that it'll help motivate you to push through the remainder of your run and give you the motivation for a little extra speed.
This is the concept to think about when you plan your playlist.  If you're running steady on a treadmill, building your songs by BPM is an easy option.  That way you'll end up on the fastest song and, in theory, pace yourself to gain speed as you gain distance.  If you're dealing with varied incline and might want that additional motivation when you're hitting a hill (or greater resistance on the treadmill/stationary bike/elliptical/etc.) you may want to time the high BPM songs for those moments instead.  Think about your run and when you need those "power songs" so you can build a playlist that fits your workout best.
Alternatively, weight lifters have a bit of an advantage here.  When weight lifting you are forced to take periodic rests that can span 60 seconds.  Weightlifters can use this rest time to jump tracks to a "power song" if they want to up their tempo for that final set.  Although the high-tempo songs may not make you lift faster, it may help you control your progression of weight and lifting time.  For example, if you are on your first set you most likely have a goal of 10 reps, a 120 BPM song may be best to pace yourself to last through those 10 reps.  However, if you up the weight in each set you find yourself needing more power for lower reps on that 3rd set. This could call for a "power song" of 145 BPM to help get over that motivational-mental block and bang out that extra rep!


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