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Music in gyms - the science of exercise BPM

Updated: Oct 1, 2020

Music and exercise go hand in hand, but do people’s wildly different musical tastes mean gym chains have a near-impossible task when it comes to providing music? Should they even bother at all?

Let's take a look at the science behind exercise music and why it is still an essential part of the package for leisure providers.

With most people carrying thousands of music tracks in their pockets now – or millions with a streaming service, is there any point in gyms offering their own music choices?

For many, exercise music is deeply personal and what one person will find motivating, another will find irritating and it will throw them right off their stride.

For that reason, eyebrows were raised when, a couple of years ago, scientists compiled a list of the best examples of exercise music. These tracks, supposedly, hit the right sweet spot between BPM and popularity on streaming services.

Eyebrows were raised even further when it emerged that the list of the so-called ‘best’ exercise tracks included songs by Jessie J, Kesha and Lady Gaga and Katy Perry.

It seems reasonable that anybody whose exercise playlist begins with the theme from Rocky and ends with AC/DC might not want to pump iron to Little Mix.

Despite these different tastes, music is still a vital part of the leisure club offering, and gyms would be a very different place without music for their customers.

The science behind exercise music is fascinating to us at My Music Solutions, because we work with large leisure chains to reduce, and manage, their music licence fees with PRS for Music and PPL; as well as the soon to be introduced MPLC licence dealing with movie studio and TV production company content broadcast via television.

To MMS’s clients, some of the biggest players in the health and leisure industry, there’s no way they could go without music in their establishments, because music plays such a huge role in generating the right atmosphere.

Here is the MMS guide to how exercise can be assisted by the right music:

The distraction is critical

The British Association of Sports And Exercise Sciences calls the best exercise music a combination of “encouragement, affective enhancement, distraction, and stimulation.” In other words, mindless pop really might not be the answer if you don't find yourself captivated by its message or distracted by its beat. Sorry, Kesha.

This also means the right music and the right BPM can give you the perfect distraction so you don’t notice the burn! Finding the right tunes can help people push through their pain threshold.

BPM can boost the body’s rhythm

It is claimed that our bodies seem to want to respond to the music we hear. Even if we're not jogging or moving in exact time to the beat, the idea of repeated, interesting, rapid rhythms inspires our efforts.

Good workout music, according to Scientific American, utilises a phenomenon called rhythm response, which is a measure of how much a song makes us want to move to its tempo and beat. The body, it seems, likes to move its respiration rate and heart beat roughly in line with the high-tempo music it's exposed to.

Scientists don’t necessarily agree on which BPM range is best for exercise. Some say 75 to 65 beats per minute (bpm) is ideal, so you’d do roughly two strides per beat if you were running. A lot of hip hop and rap songs fit into that bpm range.

Others scientists, however, believe a much faster rate is preferable: 120 bpm, is apparently the perfect foot-tapping rhythm, and is therefore inclined to get us moving far more.

The handy site SongBPM will tell you exactly how many bpm a song has.

Music should vary with exercise

Getting the right timing on your music and matching it to your exercise regime is actually pretty critical to your performance. Pop music, apparently, is best for warm-ups and warm-downs, while dance music, with its higher bpms, is more suitable to high-intensity workouts like strength training than it is for running, which requires a slower set of movements. And anything with an uneven tempo needs to be avoided, because your body will get confused.

Music helps beat energy waste

If you want to exercise efficiently, a well-chosen playlist may be the key to tricking your body into making sure it doesn't waste anything. A study of cyclists showed that those who cycled in time to music actually used seven percent less oxygen than those who went with their own rhythm — and it's a discovery found across the board. Your motivational music actually makes your body work both harder and more efficiently.

145 Beats Per Minute May Be The Highest You Can Go

It may be tempting to think that the sky's the limit as far as beats per minute and their impact on your exercise potential. However, there are limits. Scientific American's collection of studies on the subject indicates that there's what's called a "ceiling effect" once you hit 145 bpm. Any songs faster than that aren't going to make you work any faster or any harder; that's your body's natural inspirational threshold.

If you’re a gym operator and want to leave the workouts to your members, let My Music Solutions undertake a free review of your music licensing needs. We’ll make sure you only ever pay for the music you use and can even help with historical discrepancies.

PRS for Music ‘audits’ are a speciality, and we know the sector has been targeted in recent years. Even if yours is complete, it is vital that you know this has been carried out correctly and you were given the correct advice. We can help with that.

Music licensing can represent a significant cost to gyms and leisure clubs – which may be something we can help with, having saved £1.4m for the sector in the past 3 years.

Visit to have a chat with us - we'll put your licence fees through their paces.

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