Can Music Make High-Intensity Interval Training More Effective?

Can Music Make High-Intensity Interval Training More Effective?

High-intensity interval training has changed the way we think about exercise. Decades ago, the prototypical way to get a cardiovascular workout was to walk briskly, run, or cycle. If you were stuck indoors, you could jump on an elliptical machine or rowing machine for 30 minutes to boost your heart rate and derive the benefits of cardiovascular training. These days, there’s a better way – high-intensity interval training.

No doubt, you’re familiar with the structure of a high-intensity or HIIT routine. You exercise hard for a pre-determined period of time, recover, and then repeat the sequence a certain number of times. For example, you might train at a high intensity for 30 seconds and then recover for a minute before repeating. The beauty of HIIT is the intense nature that such an approach offers means you don’t have to exercise as long or as often. In fact, research shows as few as three 10-minute high-intensity interval training sessions per week delivers benefits. For the time-strapped individual, HIIT training might be the ONLY way to work out.

What high-intensity workouts lack in length, they make up for in intensity. For HIIT training to be effective, the active intervals have to be challenging. In general, the intensity of the active intervals should be at least 80% or more of your maximum heart rate, meaning they feel hard or very hard. During the rest intervals, you scale back the intensity to 40% to 50% of maximal heart rate to allow your body to recover enough to work hard again during the next interval. High-intensity interval training is no walk in the park. It challenges your body in a way it may not be accustomed to. But, in turn, HIIT training can:


·       Improve aerobic AND anaerobic energy systems

·       Lower blood pressure

·       Improve insulin sensitivity and decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes

·       Offer cardiovascular benefits while preserving muscle mass

·       Improve blood lipid parameters

·       Help with loss of visceral abdominal fat

·       Aid in weight loss and weight control

·       Build your fitness level quickly and with less time expenditure


All in all, high-intensity interval training heightens the metabolic demands on your body, making it more conducive to fat loss than steady-state aerobic exercise that your body easily adapts to. Plus, you get a boost in calorie burn after the workout is over and this is known as EPOC or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. You’re probably familiar with the concept of oxygen debt and that’s what EPOC is – the additional oxygen your body expends to help your body get back to its pre-exercise state. Your breathing has to return to normal, core body temperature has to drop, your heart rate must slow, muscle glycogen has to be resynthesized, muscle and tissues have to be repaired, etc. All of this takes oxygen and consumes energy. That means more post-exercise calorie burn. That’s one of the pay-offs for the hard work.

Crank Up the Music Tunes?

Now that you know how hard a HIIT workout can be, is there a way to make it FEEL a little easier? After all, the less unpleasant an activity is, the more likely you are to stick with it. A study carried out at McMaster University suggests that cranking up some tunes can make a high-intensity workout more enjoyable.

In the study, researchers asked twenty, young women and men to take part in two sessions of sprint interval training. In one session, they listened to music as they sprinted, while in the second, they didn’t. What they found was the participants who listened to music had a more positive attitude toward their HIIT sessions. Although music didn’t change the perceived effort of the workout – they still felt tough – the music made the participants want to work harder and continue doing HIIT sessions in the future.

In many ways, these results aren’t surprising. How many runners and cyclists do you see listening to tunes while they work out? Studies also show that music reduces the perceived effort of exercise, helps reign in fatigue, and can even improve endurance during moderate-intensity exercise. Research shows that for low and moderate-intensity exercise, music has an ergogenic effect, improving exercise performance

Plus, you’ll likely to have a more favorable attitude toward exercise if you listen to something you enjoy. Some studies show that athletes perform better when listening to music. While the current study didn’t show an improvement in performance or that music reduced the perception of exertion, it did conclude that music, during HIIT training, is motivating and makes the workout more enjoyable.

While listening to music during a HIIT routine might make it more pleasant, this study didn’t indicate it improved performance. However, some studies show that music DOES enhance performance for some types of moderate-intensity exercise. In one study, cyclists cycling at sub-maximal effort improved their distance by as much as 2.1% and the distances covered improved as the tempo of the music was increased.

However, for high-intensity interval training, making the workout more enjoyable is benefit enough. When you’re pushing yourself beyond your lactate threshold and experiencing burning muscles and fatigue, music can distract you from those sensations and help you get through it.

Does the type of music matter? If you’re doing a fast-paced workout, a dirge or lullaby won’t be as motivating as an upbeat tune with a rapid tempo. Select music that syncs with the pace that you’re working. Tunes that you enjoy will likely motivate you more than ones you dislike, yet almost any music is better than silence since you count the seconds until the interval ends unless you have a distractor.

The Bottom Line

Even the most motivating, upbeat music won’t make a high-intensity interval workout feel easy but playing tunes in the background could make your HIIT experience more tolerable. Take advantage of it!



Journal of Sports Sciences. “Listening to music during sprint interval exercise: The impact on exercise attitudes and intentions” October 15, 2016.
Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2010 Aug;20(4):662-9. doi: 10.1111/j.1600-0838.2009.00948.x. Epub 2009 Sep 28.
J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Jun; 27(6): 1709–1712. Published online 2015 Jun 30. doi: 10.1589/jpts.27.1709.
Science Daily. “Music may help make high-intensity interval training viable option for the average person” October 2016.


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High-Intensity Interval Training: How Intense Does It Have to Be?

Can High-Intensity Interval Training Revitalize Aging Cells?

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