When it’s time to hit the treadmill, not any tunes will do. A slow jam won’t get you through that third mile, and smooth jazz isn’t going to kick that kickboxing workout up a notch. This isn’t just a matter of personal preference, either. There’s science behind it: the right music can make your body work harder than it would otherwise. The New York Times Well Blog writes:
But the scientists have found one signal that does seem effectively to override the body’s strong pull toward its preferred ways of moving: a strongly rhythmic beat. When Dr. Donelan and his colleagues fitted runners or walkers with headphones tuned to a metronome, they found that they could increase or decrease volunteers’ step frequency, even if that frequency was faster or slower than a person’s preferred step pattern. They would also maintain that pace for as long as the metronomic rhythm continued unaltered. The volunteers aligned their movement to the beat.
The nice thing, the Times writes, about using music to push the pace, is that your body’s natural pace isn’t going to give you the best workout. In fact, your body doesn’t really want to be working out. It wants to conserve energy. It wants to fall into its natural rhythm. You, on the other hand, want it to work harder, to burn more calories or get into shape. You can push it without music, but having a song to override your normal pace will certainly help.
Those same scientists are trying to cash in on their work. They’ve launched an iPhone app that “produces magical running experiences.” Or so they say:
Imagine flying down the trail at exactly the speed you want, with every beat of every playlist song synchronized to your footfalls. It feels like your favorite band is right there with you, timing their kick drum to drive you faster and further. When we use it, we always get “Cruise Control Moments” – irrepressible smiles that stretch from ear to ear, outbursts of singing, and even some high-fiving of random dog walkers. Yeah, you can look a little goofy, but it sure feels great.
More from Smithsonian.com: