Think about the last great workout you had. Not just a good one, but a truly great one. A workout in which you worked harder than before and felt little exhaustion or pain. So here is the key question: were you feeling good already when you got to the gym, before you started? Did you feel powerful, confident and in control before you even picked up a weight or a rope?
Chances are you did. You probably felt like an Olympic swimmer on the starting blocks, eyeing your competitors and just knowing you were going to annihilate them. But that’s why repeating that truly great workout consistently is so hard —it’s difficult to feel that power and confidence every single time you get to the gym.
Now, however, there may be a way. Science has discovered that music can help. A study by the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University proved that music can give you a heightened sense of power and control before a workout, particularly music with high levels of bass.
The researchers were intrigued by how many professional athletes zoned out to music before a major sporting event and figured there must be more to this than people just getting pumped by a few favorite lyrics. They observed that one of the greatest Olympians of all time, Michael Phelps, always retreats into a hip-hop soundscape before every race. Clearly, there was something powerful going on. One of the study’s lead scientists, Dennis Hsu, said: “The way these athletes immerse themselves in the music — some with their eyes sealed shut and some gently nodding along to the beats — it seems as if the music is mentally preparing and toughening them up for the competition about to occur.”
Previous studies had established that music could help performance during a workout, but the Kellogg School study was the first to assess whether music could make you feel powerful before a workout. The researchers conducted two key tests: the first asking participants to rate clips of different types of music (from hip-hop and rock to reggae) based on their perceived “powerfulness.” In the second, they tested whether each of the highest and lowest rated songs influenced each participant’s sense of power. This was assessed by checking for three psychological and behavioral manifestations of power while “high power” or “low power” music was played, including perceived control over an event and the desire to make the first move in competitive environments.
The results showed that the songs rated most powerful by the participants also generated the strongest sense of power among them. Critically, the tests revealed that music with a higher level of bass was far more effective at causing these subconscious feelings of power and confidence.
In other words, science says that if you want to feel more powerful before you start the workout, put on the headphones and start playing a selection of music with a thumping bass!
Motivation also plays a role
The Kellogg School of Management study was not the only study to show that music can make you strong before exercise. A recent study by Joseph Sherman and Scott Richmond from the Department of Kinesiology at Missouri State University revealed that participants who listened to motivational music could lift heavier weights.
This study found that those who listened to “Gonna Fly Now” by Bill Conti for 30 seconds and then performed a maximal chest press were able to increase the amount they could lift by 5 percent compared to when listening to white noise or no music at all.
A 5 percent increase is significant; if it wasn’t caused by music, it would be regarded as suspicious!
However, unlike the level of bass in a song, the level of “motivation” is entirely subjective. What you rate to be a highly motivational song may have the opposite effect on the person training next to you.
The ideal pre-workout playlist
So, if we follow the science, when it comes to picking a playlist that gets you ready to smash a workout, look for songs with a pounding bass that might make you feel more powerful and confident. Even better if you find some to which you have some kind of emotional connection.
Create your own playlist of songs that will work for you, but in the meantime, we’ve created one below to get you started.
Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars
Full of bass and blaring brass, this addictive jazz revival tune by Mark Ronson will make you bounce. It’s a full-on groove anthem made to kickstart your best workouts.
Calvin Harris ft. John Newman
The hard-hitting bass and catchy electronica in this Calvin Harris club classic will make your heart pound and your body move.
Jennifer Lopez ft. Iggy Azalea
If this song doesn’t get you moving, nothing will! This raunchy track from J-Lo and Iggy Azalea brings the bass big time to get you amped up and ready to smash it.
Skrillex ft. Sirah
This powerful, pounding dub-step anthem will drive up your heart rate and get you in the zone! Prepare to break some plateaus after this track.
Will.i.am ft. Justin Bieber
The echoing, bouncing electro-bass of this track is bound to get you feeling unstoppable! Your PBs aren’t safe with this track in your playlist.
We Will Rock You
You’ll be stomping your feet and clapping your hands in time with the raw, industrial bass that has made this song a world renown power ballad.