High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a time-expedient way to work out. This sweaty and often challenging workout structure offers benefits that moderate-intensity aerobic workouts do not. Studies show that HIIT training can improve aerobic fitness capacity, as measured by V02max, and can do so as much as moderate-intensity training. Plus, high-intensity aerobic exercise taps into anaerobic energy pathways, making these pathways more efficient. So, HIIT can make you a better athlete, especially if you play a sport that requires sprinting or jumping.
Plus, HIIT training is a fat burner. In fact, a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that 12 weeks of high-intensity interval training led to similar changes in body composition and aerobic capacity as moderate intensity training but in half the time. It’s a short, effective but challenging way to train.
Despite its many benefits, high-intensity interval training is demanding. When you alternate intense intervals with periods of partial recovery, your body fatigues quickly. If you do it correctly, you won’t be able to sustain this type of workout for an hour, as you can moderate-intensity exercise. It takes motivation to push through those active intervals! However, a new study shows that the right music could be the key to helping you blast through a tough HIIT workout and optimize the benefits.
Music and High-Intensity Interval Training
Can the right music improve HIIT training performance? A new study carried out by researchers at Brunel University London and Stork suggests that it can. This study shows the importance music plays in maximizing motivation and boosting success with HIIT training and exercise in general. For the study, researchers gathered together some of the fast-paced songs that British adults had rated highest in terms of how much they found them motivating. Then, they put the tunes to the test.
For the meat of the study, 24 healthy subjects did an intense high-intensity workout. The participants did 20 seconds of maximal sprints followed by a short rest to allow them to partially recover. They then repeated the 20-second sprints three more times. In total, the workout lasted 10 minutes, including the warm-up and cool-down. During separate sessions, the participants did the workout under different background conditions. During one session, they listened to fast-paced, motivational tunes. During another session, a podcast that lacked music. Finally, they did the same workout with no sound in the background.
The results? Not only did the upbeat music make the high-intensity workout more enjoyable, but it also boosted the participants’ peak power generation and heart rate. So, adding fast-paced music may make a high-intensity workout more pleasant and help you push harder and get more benefits.
How Music Enhances Exercise Performance & HIIT Training
Music might be motivating and pleasant to play in the background, but how might it boost exercise performance during high-intensity interval training? Humans are wired to synchronize their movements and internal rhythms to music. That’s the reason dancing is so popular! We unconsciously alter our movements during exercise to sync with the music playing in the background. For that reason, you want fast-paced, upbeat music to maximize your performance. You wouldn’t want to play slow love songs when you’re doing HIIT training!
Another way music helps is by diverting attention away from how hard your heart is pumping, how quickly you’re breathing, and how much you’re sweating. When you’re aware of these things and how hard you’re working, there’s an unconscious tendency to slow down as a protective mechanism. Music is a good distracter, so you are less aware of how hard you’re pushing your body.
Also, fast-paced music increases attention and arousal. This puts your sympathetic, or fight-and-flight nervous system, on high alert and psychs you up for action. You might notice that you feel more energized when fast, upbeat tunes are playing the background. There’s a reason the music is always so loud in aerobic studios.
Does Motivating Music Boost Performance with Strength Exercise?
You might also wonder whether music impacts strength-training performance. There is some evidence that it does. In one study, participants listened to different types of music before undergoing a test to measure their grip strength. In one trial, the music was upbeat and had a fast tempo. In another, the subjects listened to slow, “meditative” tunes. In the third trial, they listened to white noise. When the researchers tested their grip strength, they performed better after listening to the upbeat music with a fast tempo than the meditative tunes or the white noise.
Another study found that women who listened to upbeat music during strength training could isometrically hold a 2.4-pound weight in front of their body longer than when they listened to white noise. The distraction factor is likely at work here. The music distracts the mind from the perception of how the weight feels and how the muscle is getting more fatigued.
The Bottom Line
There is some evidence that motivating music with a fast tempo can boost performance during high-intensity interval exercise and, possibly, strength training. It can also make a workout feel easier and more enjoyable. That’s important since you’re more likely to stay motivated if a workout feels less grueling, yet still offers benefits. For HIIT training, choose music with a fast tempo and that has a motivating, upbeat tone to it. Your playlist matters! In contrast, if you’re doing yoga or gentle stretching, choose music with a slow tempo and tunes that have a calming effect.
So, adjust your playlist according to the type of exercise you’ll be doing and try to match the tempo of the music to your movements.
· Study 1. Zhang, H., Tong, T. K., Qui, W. et al. (2017). Comparable effects of high-intensity interval training and prolonged continuous exercise training on abdominal visceral fat reduction in obese women, Journal of Diabetes Research.
· Eurekalert.org. “UBC research shows upbeat music can sweeten tough exercise”
· Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 39, 3, 220-225.
· IDEA Health and Fitness Association. “The Beat Goes On: The Effects of Music on Exercise”
· Welch, J. M., Kellner, K. A., Laroche, N. C., MacCormick, M. J., MacLean, K. F., & Hemeon, J. A. (2008). Motivational music during resistance training improves strength endurance. ACSM 55th Annual Meeting Indianapolis
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