Menus Subscribe Search
workout-music

(PHOTO: RAISMAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Musical Feedback Makes Workouts Feel Easier

• October 14, 2013 • 12:00 PM

(PHOTO: RAISMAN/SHUTTERSTOCK)

Exercise is less exhausting when you’re inspired by a musical soundtrack that mirrors the effort you are expending.

Do you listen to music while working out? Good idea: It can be an effective way to shift your focus from the discomfort that arises from strenuous exercise.

However, newly published research suggests it can play a much bigger role than mere distraction. Under certain conditions, music apparently helps your body use oxygen more efficiently, allowing you to get through a rigorous workout without feeling so exhausted.

This effect appears to be limited to circumstances where the music directly mirrors what you’re doing on the treadmill or training floor. But if these results are confirmed, entrepreneurs will no doubt be rushing products to the market that provide such feedback.

If music can make “physically taxing group activities” less exhausting, it may have evolved as a useful tool to facilitate the completion of essential societal projects.

The study, just posted online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by a research team led by Thomas Hans Fritz of the University of Ghent and the Max Planck Institute. It featured 63 participants (mean age 28) who took part in two sets of a strenuous physical workout using three fitness machines: a tower, a stomach trainer, and a stepper. Afterwards, some of them took part in a separate regimen of isometric exercise.

All did their workout while listening to “rather simplistic electronic dance music” on portable devices. But for one set of exercises, they plugged into a musical feedback technology the researchers call “jymmin.” That’s a cross between “jammin’” and “gym.”

OK, the name needs work, but the technology is pretty cool. The music it plays reflects the wearer’s exertion level at any given moment. For example, when they were using the tower, “no sound except some very deep bass frequencies” was audible when they were not exerting force.

But as the weights were pulled, “the bass line and the beat would blend in their higher frequency spectrum,” the researchers report. Then, by triggering a synthesizer, “a simple melody on a software synthesizer could be created by moving the weights in the top range of displacement.”

This immediate musical response to their physical exertion had a positive effect on the exercisers. Although those listening to a standard musical soundtrack and those on this high-tech musical feedback look expended roughly the same amount of total force, the “perceived sense of exertion was significantly lower” for the latter group.

In other words, they did the same amount of work, but the effort didn’t feel as strenuous. The same result was found for the 22 participants who did the isometric exercises: They, too, reported their workout was less exhausting than when they performed the same regimen listening to a standard soundtrack.

Even more strikingly, the exercisers’ oxygen consumption was lower when they were receiving the musical feedback. “It thus rather appears that participants were able to apply a comparable amount of force using less oxygen,” the researchers write.

So why does this musical feedback allow us to work more efficiently? “We believe that the effects may be due to a greater proportion of emotional motor control due to musical ecstasy during the musical feedback condition,” Fritz wrote in an e-mail message.

He and his colleagues (who can be contacted at info@jymmin.com) suspect another factor is “the calming effect of music, leading to reduced muscle tension and more efficient oxygenation.”

In addition, they write, “the musical feedback may have provided the participants with ‘virtual goals.’” Perhaps the fact they could manipulate the soundtrack by pushing themselves just a bit harder “enabled them to regulate and monitor the extent and timing of their movements more effectively.”

This is not only potentially good news for fitness buffs: It also provides intriguing evidence regarding the origins of music. If music can make “physically taxing group activities” less exhausting, the researchers speculate, it may have evolved as a useful tool to facilitate the completion of essential societal projects.

In other words, singing “I’ve Been Workin’ on the Railroad” all the live-long day just might have made it easier to hammer in those last few spikes. And the satisfaction you feel when music signals your effort is paying off may inspire you to work that much harder.

Tom Jacobs
Staff writer Tom Jacobs is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years experience at daily newspapers. He has served as a staff writer for The Los Angeles Daily News and the Santa Barbara News-Press. His work has also appeared in The Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, and Ventura County Star.

More From Tom Jacobs

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

July 23 • 2:00 PM

We Need to Start Tracking Patient Harm and Medical Mistakes Now

Top patient-safety experts call on Congress to step in and, among other steps, give the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention wider responsibility for measuring medical mistakes.


July 23 • 12:19 PM

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.


July 23 • 12:00 PM

Why Do We Love the ‘Kim Kardashian: Hollywood’ Game?

It’s easy enough to turn yourself into a virtual celebrity, complete with fame and mansions—but it will likely cost you.


July 23 • 11:49 AM

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.


July 23 • 10:00 AM

Outing the Death-Drug Distributors

Calling all hackers: It’s time to go Assange on capital punishment.


July 23 • 8:00 AM

The Surprising Appeal of Products That Require Effort to Use

New research finds they enable consumers to re-establish a feeling that they’re in control of their lives.



July 23 • 6:00 AM

How the Other Half Lifts: What Your Workout Says About Your Social Class

Why can’t triathletes and weightlifters get along?


July 23 • 5:02 AM

Battle of the Public Intellectuals: Edward Glaeser vs. Richard Florida

On gentrification and housing costs.


July 23 • 4:00 AM

Our Fear of Immigrants

Why did a group of fourth graders rally in support of an undocumented classmate while the citizens of Murrieta, California, tried to stop immigrant children from entering their town?


July 22 • 4:00 PM

Can Meditation Really Slow Aging?

Is there real science in the spiritualism of meditation? Jo Marchant meets a Nobel Prize-winner who thinks so.



July 22 • 2:00 PM

The Alabama Judge Who Refuses to Let Desegregation Orders Go Ignored

A federal judge in Alabama says a local school board has failed to meet legal mandate to integrate.


July 22 • 12:00 PM

On the Destinations of Species

It’s almost always easier to cross international borders if you’re something other than human.


July 22 • 10:51 AM

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.


July 22 • 10:47 AM

Irrational Choice Theory: The LeBron James Migration From Miami to Cleveland

Return migrants to Cleveland have been coming home in large numbers for quite some time. It makes perfect sense.


July 22 • 9:32 AM

This Time, Scalia Was Right

President Obama’s recess appointments were wrong and, worse, dangerous.


July 22 • 8:00 AM

On Vegas Strip, Blackjack Rule Change Is Sleight of Hand

Casino operators are changing blackjack payouts to give the house an even greater advantage. Is this a sign that Vegas is on its way back from the recession, or that the Strip’s biggest players are trying to squeeze some more cash out of visitors before the well runs dry?


July 22 • 6:00 AM

Label Me Confused

How the words on a bag of food create more questions than answers.


July 22 • 5:07 AM

Doubly Victimized: The Shocking Prevalence of Violence Against Homeless Women

An especially vulnerable population is surveyed by researchers.


July 22 • 4:00 AM

New Evidence That Blacks Are Aging Faster Than Whites

A large study finds American blacks are, biologically, three years older than their white chronological counterparts.



July 21 • 4:00 PM

Do You Have to Learn How to Get High?

All drugs are socially constructed.


July 21 • 2:14 PM

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.


July 21 • 2:00 PM

Why Are Obstetricians Among the Top Billers for Group Psychotherapy in Illinois?

Illinois leads the country in group psychotherapy sessions in Medicare, and some top billers aren’t mental health specialists. The state’s Medicaid program has cracked down, but federal officials have not.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

How a CEO’s Fiery Battle Speeches Can Shape Ethical Behavior

CEO war speech might inspire ethical decisions internally and unethical ones among competing companies.

Modern Technology Still Doesn’t Protect Americans From Deadly Landslides

No landslide monitoring or warning systems are being used to protect vulnerable communities.

The Link Between Carbs, Gut Microbes, and Colon Cancer

Reduced carb intake among mice protected them from colon cancer.

The New Weapon Against Disease-Spreading Insects Is Big Data

Computer models that pinpoint the likely locations of mosquitoes and tsetse flies are helping officials target vector control efforts.

People Are Clueless About Placebos

Doctors know that sometimes the best medicine is no medicine at all. But how do patients feel about getting duped into recovery?

The Big One

Today, the United States produces less than two percent of the clothing purchased by Americans. In 1990, it produced nearly 50 percent. July/August 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.