New research shows that upbeat music can make a rigorous workout seem less tough, even for people who are insufficiently active.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) — brief, repeated bouts of intense exercise separated by periods of rest — has been shown to improve physical health over several weeks of training. But it can be perceived as grueling for many people, especially those who are less active, said Dr. Matthew Stork, a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus.
“While HIIT is time-efficient and can elicit meaningful health benefits among adults who are insufficiently active, one major drawback is that people may find it to be unpleasant,” he said. “As a result, this has the potential to discourage continued participation.”
Previous research led by Stork and UBC Okanagan’s Kathleen Martin Ginis examined the effects of music during HIIT with active people.
The new study tested the effects of music with participants who were insufficiently active. Researchers say they used a more rigorous music selection process and created a HIIT regimen that is more practical for less-active adults.
The study took place at Brunel University London, where Stork worked with Professor Costas Karageorghis, a world-renowned researcher who studies the effects music has on sport and exercise.
Stork first gathered a panel of British adults to rate the motivational qualities of 16 fast-tempo songs. The three songs with the highest motivational ratings were used for the study, he reports.
“Music is typically used as a dissociative strategy,” he said. “This means that it can draw your attention away from the body’s physiological responses to exercise, such as increased heart rate or sore muscles. But with high-intensity exercise, it seems that music is most effective when it has a fast tempo and is highly motivational.”
In the next step of the study, a separate group of 24 participants completed what is referred to as the “one-minute workout” — three 20-second all-out sprints, totaling 60 seconds of hard work. A short rest separated the sprints, for a total exercise period of 10 minutes, including a warm-up and cool-down.
Participants completed these HIIT sessions under three different conditions: With motivational music, no audio, or a podcast that was devoid of music.
Participants reported greater enjoyment of HIIT with motivational music. They also had elevated heart rates and exhibited peak power in the session with music compared to the no-audio and podcast sessions, the study discovered.
“The more I look into this, the more I am surprised,” Stork says. “We believed that motivational music would help people enjoy the exercise more, but we were surprised about the elevated heart rate. That was a novel finding.”
Stork believes the elevated heart rates may be explained by a phenomenon called “entrainment.”
“Humans have an innate tendency to alter the frequency of their biological rhythms toward that of musical rhythms,” he said. “In this case, the fast-tempo music may have increased people’s heart rate during the exercise. It’s incredible how powerful music can be.”
Stork’s research indicates that for people who are insufficiently active, music can help them work harder physically during HIIT, as well as help them enjoy the exercise more.
And because motivational music has the power to enhance people’s HIIT workouts, it may ultimately give people an extra boost to try HIIT again in the future, he says.
“Music can be a practical strategy to help insufficiently active people get more out of their HIIT workouts and may even encourage continued participation,” he concluded.
The study was published in the Psychology of Sport and Exercise.