Workout music: give me the beat boys

NEW YORK Mon Jun 14, 2010 4:57pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Rock, hip hop or R&B, if it has a pounding tempo music can really rock your cardio workout.

Fitness experts say boosted by that backbeat you might not even notice that you're working harder.

"Higher tempo certainly seems to drive the intensity of exercise performance," said Dr. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise (ACE).

"The faster the beat, the higher the intensity," he explained. "Listening to smooth jazz would not do it."

Bryant said preliminary results of an ACE-commissioned study on how music affects exercise performance suggest that under the influence of a strong beat, exercisers will actually work harder than they think they do.

"Individuals listened to different types of music, even comedy routines," he said of the study, conducted by the University of Wisconsin La Crosse. "They found that upbeat music listeners rated the intensity of their exercise lower than it actually was."

He added that recognizing the music seems to have the most impact, and if people select their own music they would exercise even harder.

The study, which is due to be published this fall, notes that the subjects, who were college students, thought exercising to music was less stressful.

But not all cardio workouts get into the groove. Bryant said bicycling was the most beat-driven, followed by running. Walking was tone deaf.

"With walking, music didn't seem to make that much difference," he said. "That makes sense. If you walk it's your own normal pace."

Bianca Kosoy, creative director for Equinox fitness centers, says her company uses computer models to select workout music.

"It has to be up tempo, which we define as 130 beats per minute," Kosoy explained. "Our selection is based on a music algorithm and streamlined centrally to our locations."

Kosoy said the computer tries to match songs that feel similar in tempo.

"Classics, hip hop, R&B have the lowest weighting. There are about 600 songs, and every month we take a percentage of them out."

Kosoy said another factor is client comments.

"We had music from the 60s but overall feedback was negative," she said.

A milder faux pas involved Sade in the women's locker room.

"I love Sade but mellow isn't necessarily the right thing for the locker room, where we want a more ambient feel we like to call ultra-lounge."

At the Crunch fitness chain, the beat goes on, also relentlessly upbeat.

"It's never a slow song," said Marc Santa Maria, Crunch's regional group fitness director. "Even if a song is traditionally slow, like Beyonce's ‘Halo,' they'll re-mix it."

Santa Maria agrees that the beat can ramp up the workout.

"I know from teaching classes that when it's the right music, I'll realize I'm matching the rhythm of the song," he said. "I'm working hard without even wanting to."

Santa Maria said it's not just the cardio folks who are pumped up by the music.

"For weightlifters, it's huge. A testosterone-driven song, with a big base and a rock singer's voice just makes you lift the weights with more gusto."

He said some think the playlist suffers from too much Britney Spears.

"One general manager was so tired of hearing girly songs, he pleaded to me: ‘I need a guy song.' "