There’s a reason why workout videos always have music: intensity.

The music in a video affects the way it makes you feel. Why does that matter in your own performance in training? Because it’s a factor in adjusting your own mental arousal – one of the key factors in hyping yourself up or relaxing yourself for training.

The same way that video editors/sound artists choose their music to get you hyped up and ready to work out, you can use the same techniques for your own performance. We’re going to take you through the basics!

Arousal: what it is, what it does, why you NEED control

Psychological arousal and anxiety are the experiences of attention you’re giving to what you’re doing and the feelings that they evoke, respectively.

In the simplest terms, arousal and anxiety in training are how hyped up you are. Too much is bad, too little is also bad. Getting into the sweet spot with your own workouts are important for your psychological and physical wellbeing.

Studies in sport psychology tell us that being switched on and ‘in the zone’ is key to performance, where the zone is the amount of anxiety that produces the best results. There are two factors in how anxious your zone is:

  1. Your personal preferences and experience

  2. The exercise you’re doing at the time

If you can get into this zone more often, more reliably, and with good self-awareness, you’re going to have better workouts. This also helps you understand and control your anxiety in all of life if you pay attention and practice this anxiety-control.

It’s also important to respond to anxiety properly. Understanding this zone, and how to respond to challenge with self-confidence and self-belief is an important part of getting the most from your training!

So, how can you use music to adjust training arousal and what it can do for your training mentality and performance?

How and Why Elite Athletes Use Tempo for Training

When you’re watching an intense training montage, you’re going to hear up-beat, high-tempo music. It ups your heart rate; it tells your brain that something important is going to happen and boosts adrenaline.

You know what also requires these things? Getting yourself prepared for a big lift, a high-power sprint, or battling through exercise fatigue.

With these effects, you’re going to find that selecting the right tempo music for your exercise is important. We already mentioned how exercise choice affects where the max-performance “zone” is, but this also relates to a specific, personal tempo of music that will help you find the right training arousal/anxiety to perform better.

Elite athletes have specific songs picked out before training, during training, special songs for competition, and so forth. They provide a tempo and tone that is appropriate and help them dial into the level of intensity in their mindset that is going to improve performance.

How Can You Use Tempo as an Average Joe?

You don’t need to be an elite athlete to get these benefits!

With practice, you’ll be able to match up tempo to a specific “rate of perceived exertion” (how hard an exercise feels). This helps you to switch on when you really need to.

Set of 100% effort squats? Big tempo, big energy. You’ll want a controlled aggression to improve commitment and self-belief when things get tough. This is the self-confidence that we discussed above, and you’ve probably already got songs that bring out this feeling of ‘just being a badass’!

On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you’re trying to keep a certain pace on a rowing machine or treadmill, a lower tempo that mimics stride/stroke pace is great. It’s the same idea as performing CPR to “stayin’ alive”: if you remember the song, you remember the pace.

These are just two examples, but with tools out there to retrieve a song's BPM, you can easily set your own pace with any exercise you want.

You can also structure your workout music around BPM for the whole session.

Here’s an example workout: you begin with low-tempo songs during a warm-up, proceed to high-tempo intense songs for heavy strength work, then back off for ‘pump’ work, before matching your rower pace to a song’s BPM to finish off with high-quality cardio.

This can really help with anxiety-control, maximising performance, and even just enjoying a workout more.

My Final Thoughts

The intensity of a workout – and how you get into the right zone – is an important factor for how you set up your mentality. This is a bigger factor in performance and self-development than you might think!

Controlling your anxiety and improving workouts mean better physical and psychological development. It’s always important to improve your control over yourself – and effective music choice/focus can make a huge difference.

Take time to experiment with what works for you and remember that the individual and the activity always play a central role.


Author's Bio: 

Joe Flanagan is a fitness enthusiast and is a personal coach in his hometown of Birmingham, UK. He is also a health app designer having helped with the GetSongBPM running tool, assisting runners, cyclists and walkers keep a steady pace.