Motivation and emotion/Book/2022/Motivational music and exercise

Motivational music:
What effect can music have on motivation to exercise?


Figure 1. Music can help one keep to a rhythm during their exercise as well as help calm down and relax them after exercise.

As we go through life we have to constantly keep an eye on our body and the state of it as the healthier our way of life, the lower our chances of health complications become. One might be healthier by watching the food and drink they intake, others might take care to protect themselves from outside elements, meanwhile other people get healthy through exercising in a variety of ways. Exercising is a great way to burn fat, grow muscle mass, increase maximum stamina, and protect against diseases like Parkinson's (Zigmond & Smeyne, 2013). Some people however, find that it can be difficult to exercise due to the effort required to begin exercising, resulting in a lack of motivation for the task.

At a base level motivation is a force whether internal or external, that drives one to perform an action. These motivations can be as simple as "eat food to not get hungry" or as complex as "I need more money for food, therefore I need to do well at my job so that I can get a promotion so I can get more money to buy food". Motivations aren't just limited to food or water or other survival instincts, some are for entertainment or enjoyment, while others are for physical or mental health reasons. Problem is that not everyone is so easily motivated as some people do require a push from external forces to start performing a certain task[grammar?]. Motivation is not exactly easy to quantify as motivation varies drastically depending on the person, the expected payoff, the task in question, and the urgency of the task (Pessiglione, et al. 2007). So why would someone want to exercise in the first place? For some it would be to get healthier. Other people might want to exercise for fun or just to relax and escape their daily concerns, while for others it might be so they can look more pleasing to others and/or themselves.

This chapter looks into the various ways music interacts with exercise and aims to give more insight into how or if music helps motivate others into exercising or if it helps either during exercise or afterwards. Music helps motivate us in more indirect ways by speeding up internal bodily processes. While it does help us get into a better mood, take our focus away from other stimuli or pressing matters in our lives, it is not able to push us past our physical limits. It is important to note that different musical genres have different effects based on the genre and the person listening.

How does music affect motivation while exercising?Edit

Exercise is any physical activity that results in the training of a person's strength or stamina or possibly both. Active exercise tends to require a lot of commitment and hard work and is usually done for people to feel better about themselves or to become healthier[factual?]. For some it is easy to get into a routine and going for their daily exercise, for others it is either a chore or something they don't feel the need to do. In this case, extra motivation is needed in order to push oneself to exercise.

Physical pros and effects on the brainEdit

Figure 2. Cardio exercise including bike riding/racing puts pressure on heart rate, breathing and stamina.

Listening to music while exercising affects the output of certain aspects of your body. It is important to understand the physiological effects music can have on the brain whilst listening to music in general in order to understand why our body reacts in certain ways to music. Even when exercise is not involved, most people will at one point or another find themselves doing a small movement to any music they listen to, particularly if it is music the individual finds enjoyable. Whatever the movement, it is irrelevant as the movement can be anything as long as it is in time to the music. This movement is a direct response from the brain firing off neural impulses in time with the stimulation (Bengtsson, et al. 2009).

The brain is comprised of multiple sections, each section is responsible for different roles when certain stimuli are presented to a person. When it comes to music, the two hemispheres of the brain perform different roles to allow us to process different aspects of the music. The right side of the brain focuses on tonal patterns, whereas the left side is more focused on rhythms (Pessoa) and is best at helping retain information on melodies[factual?]. This is but a gross oversimplification of what is actually taking place inside the brain. In order of interaction, the ears, brainstem, thalamus, and auditory cortex all play vital roles in the processing of music (Andrade & Bhattacharya, 2003). The Amygdala is a part of the brain strongly associated with processing stimuli and arousal (Kim, 2013). While typically associated with the fear response, the amygdala is also utilised when pleasurable music is being played, as it receives an increased amount of blood flow causing arousal[factual?].

While exercising is important for health and can have an effect on a person's personal happiness, the time it takes to complete an exercise or the time spent on an exercise can vary and be affected by the application of music during exercise. It has been found that there is a relationship between exercise, music and heart rate[factual?]. While the very nature of exercise tends to result in an increase in heart rate due to an increase in neural activity, the addition of music can add to this heart rate increase more than usual (Karageorghis & Priest, 2011) as the increased blood flow to the amygdala is started due to the presence of music. In a lot of yoga and other stretching exercises a big emphasis is placed on rhythmic breathing as it assists with the stretching and meditative processes associated with the exercise (Sharma, et al. 2015). With slower genres of music a similar effect can be replicated, if used properly, can be used to improve the rate of recovery[factual?]. However this is not very helpful during intense exercise and does not occur.

Motivation can be sub-categorised into both intrinsic and extrinsic, both with very different meanings. Intrinsic motivation being personal reasons one might want to do something, in the context of exercise this could be as mentioned earlier for health or fitness reasons[grammar?]. Meanwhile extrinsic motivation would be an external reason to get out and exercise, this could be for your job, to go on a date, or to get out and escape the workplace[grammar?]. Music has a profound effect on the direction one focuses on (Kiss & Linnell, 2020) and in the case of exercise, music can help shift the focus away from how tired or over-exerted one feels (Chow & Etnier, 2017). Motivation is tied closely to Skinner's concept of Operant Conditioning (Kirsch, et al. 2004) with motivation tending to be tied to the promise of some kind of reward. It is for this reason that whenever exercise is concerned, the participant usually tends to have a driving factor behind their desire to exercise. Exercise can also help an individual feel good and healthy also referred to as the "positive effect" (Reeve, 2009). Pavlov's Classical Conditioning theory has some influence in this discussion as music can act as an unconditioned stimulus as they are generic and not associated with just exercise, since music can make you feel more engaged by default, (Gorn, 1982).

Physical aspects barely affected or not affected at allEdit

Figure 3. Weight lifting including dumbbells is great for muscle development. The presence of music can result in faster or more 'reps' however, music does not increase amount of weight that can be lifted[factual?].

Listening to music has no real effect on the maximum amount of stamina one has or how much energy we actually exert while exercising[factual?].

Exercising is great and all [awkward expression?] but every person has their limits when it comes to certain exercises including but not limited to, muscle strength and maximum stamina capacity. While music can have a physiological effect on a person, it cannot act as a boost to physical strength[factual?]. Music does not help boost the maximum amount of weight the muscles can help to lift. In a similar fashion, music cannot help to increase the amount of time one can run for by boosting stamina[factual?]. Music can help you keep in time with a rhythm while jogging/running, and can even elevate focus, concentration, and adrenaline levels (Chow & Etnier, 2017), but this does not translate to an increase in the amount of stamina one has.[factual?]

To add to this as both a blessing and a curse, due to the stress relieving ability music possesses, combined with the capacity to take focus away from stress and pain, music can help someone exercising to lower the amount of strain they believe to have put on their body[factual?]. But this can result in someone doing damage to their body if they don't realise they have reached their limit (Karageorghis & Priest, 2011).

What different music styles do for exercise motivationEdit

Generally speaking the difference between listening to music and having no music playing during exercise sessions is significant[factual?]. Music that a listener agrees with can have a profound effect on their mood, feelings and behaviour (Karageorghis & Priest, 2011), altering the effectiveness of their exercise session[factual?]. In a series of experiments conducted by Elliot, Carr & Orme in 2005, it was established that while music has an effect on exercise in terms of how intense the session is, there was no major differences between slow paced/sedative music, or fast paced/high intensity music.

High energy music can have positive effects on exercise[grammar?]Edit

High energy or high excitement based music genres including electronic, disco, rock, and techno all act towards the increased level in one's heart rate, they can act to 'pump up' someone (Karageorghis, et al, 2013). It is for this reason that high paced music boosts a person's motivation while exercising (Hutchinson, et al, 2011). Higher energy music can cause the brain's motor cortex to begin telling the body to react based on the type of music. High energy music can usually cause feelings of excitement, anger, enthusiasm, or rage due to the beat and speed of the music (Carpentier & Potter, 2007).

Sedative musicEdit

Despite popular belief that fast paced music is best for exercise, slower music styles are beneficial to exercise as well. Slower tempo music styles such as classical, blues, and jazz as explained earlier can help induce a sense of relaxation in a person, lowering their heart rate and blood pressure (Bernardi, et al, 2006). A lower heart rate can create a similar effect to that of yoga or meditation as it reduces stress levels and blood pressure build up. This results in slower paced music being more ideal for the recovery period after an exercising session compared to fast paced music (Rane & Gadkari, 2017).

Personal tastes of musicEdit

Music can be described as a series of sounds that have been either modified or rearranged to produce a rhythm, beat, melody, or other form of expressive tone with the potential to allow for prediction of upcoming tones (Kemper, 2005). These different musical patterns lead into various genres of music with their own unique tonal patterns and rhythms, with some having more potential for lyrical accompaniment than others. Faster musical genres result in a consistent beat that has been described as clearer, more tense, and overall more pleasant to listen to in certain scenarios (Ilie & Thompson, 2006), whereas slower music in certain contexts can be seen as dreary and non-motivational. However, each individual person has their own distinct likes and dislikes when it comes to music. Rock, techno, and other high energy based music genres tend to have a positive effect on a majority of people during exercise. Not all people might like techno music for example and in a test conducted by Ballmann, et al, it was found that while this music still motivated them when compared to exercising without music, it may result in motivating them less than if they were listening to preferred music during exercise. This finding was further supported in a study conducted by Elliot, Carr & Omre, as it was discovered that listening to music in general gave a boost to motivation for exercising regardless of whether it was preferred or not. As a side effect of their study, they also found that listening to music made exercising a more enjoyable experience for the participants. It should be noted that while the two experiments came to the same conclusion, the experiment done by Ballmann, et al, was a strength based exercise, while Elliot, Carr & Omre's test was stamina based.

Current ResearchEdit

[Provide more detail]


The current research that has been done can give us a clearer picture into the effects that music has on people and their motivation to exercise. This research has helped identify key differences between slow and fast paced music, and the difference between listening to music versus not listening to any. Due to this information as well as information regarding when certain styles of music are more appropriate, this has given us new ways to incorporate music into therapeutic practice.


The effect music has on us cognitively is a topic that is still shrouded in mystery. While it is still being researched, not a lot is known about these effects. Karageorghis and Priest [factual?] found that listening to music before taking part in exercise can help to stimulate your brain creating an arousal effect helping to get you in the mood to exercise. Outside of this finding however, not much else has been discovered on the subject. In their 2011 review of previous material, Karageorghis and Priest found that most previous experiments were more focused on how music affected exercise, looking at the end result, rather than looking into the mechanisms behind the change. As of the year 2022, the same problem is still faced by anyone wanting to do research on the topic as few studies have covered this glaring hole in the research.


To definitively answer the question of "What effect can music have on motivation to exercise", the answer is "it's complicated". While music absolutely has an effect on motivation, it ultimately comes down to a variety of factors. The individual listening to the music, the type of music being listened to, the activity chosen for the exercise session, as well as the moment in the session that music is being listened, all of these factor into the effect music has on a person. There is no denying that music has an effect by default, as it acts as a stimulus to the brain causing blood flow to increase and stimulating the body preparing it for action. Music may not increase muscle mass or stamina capacity or increase the limits that one may be able to go, but it does convey a level of stress relief for the individual, letting them involuntarily move to the timing of a beat or tempo and releasing stress. This coupled with causing focus on the exercise task at hand can make an individual forget about any stress related activities in their life as they focus on the here and now. Even post-workout, music helps to relieve stress. As such, most people can find themselves motivated to exercise provided they have the right music for the right job.

See alsoEdit

Music and emotion (Wikipedia)

Motivational music (Book chapter, 2013)


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