Have you experienced that moment of horror when you arrive at the gym and realized you forgot to bring your MP3 player or headphones?

Let’s face it: a workout without music is boring, bland and anything but motivating.

This may explain why buildings where people gather to exercise and play sports are typically trembling with bass. But, did you know there is a scientific reason why fitness centers, aerobic classes and sports complexes blast loud, upbeat music from their speakers?

Humans will naturally follow a tempo.

According to Ph.D. Carl Foster, Ph.D. John Pocari and Mark Anders, conductors of an exercise research study sponsored by the American Council of Exercise, it was first noted that human beings were responsive to beats and tempos in 300 B.C. Foster explains “ You go all the way to back to rowers on the Roman Galleys[.] The guy is sitting there beating on his drum and he drives the basic rhythm of the rowing.”

Because of our basic instinct to synchronize, humans will move to the tempo, or beats per minute, of the sounds around them.

The beat is not the only aspect of music that complements exercise. Music has an “arousal” factor, according to Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D. When you hear that amazing beat or feel that booming bass, it is hard to just sit still. You feel the urge to move or dance.

Music is a great distraction as well. Dentists use this tactic every day. Next time you have a seat in a dentist chair, notice the music playing in the background. It helps to keep your mind on the rhythm and beat of a song rather than the fact that there are metal instruments or drills in your mouth. The right music can distract you from the burning in your calves while running or the strain in your biceps while lifting weights.

Once you have learned the scientific and historical facts concerning exercise and tempo, you can now mold your fitness routines around the music in which you listen.

The rule of thumb is to build your workout playlist around songs that have BPM that are equal to the heart rate in which you would like to achieve.

For example, the song Eye of the Tiger, made popular by the movie Rocky, contains 111 BPM. This is your target heart rate when this song plays during a jog or an aerobics class.

BPM of Songs from the Billboard Top 10 (Week of Nov. 8, 2014)

  1. Shake It Off – Taylor Swift                                        160 bpm
  2. All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor                    143 bpm
  3. Habits (Stay High) – The Chainsmokers                    128 bpm
  4. Bang Bang- Jessie J, Ariana Grande, Nicki Minaj      149 bpm
  5. Animals – Maroon 5                                                   95 bpm
  6. Black Widow – Iggy Azalea, Rita Ora                        164 bpm
  7. Don’t Tell ‘Em – Jeremih, YG                                   122 bpm
  8. Hot Boy – Bobby Shmurda                                        84 bpm
  9. Take Me to Church- Hozier                                       128 bpm
  10. Stay With Me- Sam Smith                                          87 bpm


All BPM counts were found on www.songbpm.com. On that website, you can type in an artist or song and it will give you the duration of the song as well as the BPM.

Karageorghis made an interesting comparison when he said “music is like the legal drug for athletes.” Rather you are an athlete, avid runner, lover of aerobics classes or just a gym rat, the music you choose to listen to as you exercise will influence the intensity of workout, amount of calories you burn and ultimately, the results you will achieve.