So, what's the big deal with music and exercise?
There have been NUMEROUS studies done since the 1950s on the effects of music and general exercise, music and strength, and music and endurance. In all of those studies, the general consensus is that music does play a role in enhancing exercise performance. Now HOW does music make your exercise performance better? Maybe it has something to do with endorphins and epinephrine.
Have you noticed that whenever you exercise to good, loud music, you're able to withstand the burning sensation a lot better? Have you also noticed that you don't get fatigue for long or that you could recover rather quickly? Thank your endorphins, which are neurotransmitters that reduce your sensation of pain. The word "endorphin" is actually a compound word from endogenous (Greek for "proceeding from within") and Morpheus (Greek god of sleep/dreams). Morpheus is also where we get the word "morphine," which is a drug that either reduces your sensation of pain or reduces your perception of pain (that is, you still feel the pain but don't care much about it). Endorphins, thus, are your naturally occurring morphine shots!
The more endorphins you produce, the less you care about the pain.
- Yes, your legs are burning from all those squats, but you don't care! You push yourself right through the burn.
- Yes, you feel like you're about to past out, but who cares! You're going to finish what you've started!
- And yes, you actually might feel real pain (like the OUCH kind of pain), but with all your endorphins, you're just going to ignore the pain and fight your way through.
Well...ignoring the pain is actually the biggest downfall to having so many endorphins in your blood stream. Why is it that people who are sick, nauseous, or recovering from surgery still participate in intense exercises? Because the endorphins help them ignore it. This is why people find themselves puking on the floor, passing out, or sustaining a major injury from exercises. When your perception of pain is blurry, then you could easily get into trouble.
One time, I was team-teaching a BodyPump class with an experienced instructor. I was new and still learning the ropes. When I've team-taught with her, I thought to challenge myself on the squat track. I knew it was a risk to lift more weight than I was used to, but I took the risk anyway.
You see, BodyPump is not about lifting heavy weight for 8 seconds and putting the thing down. You lift lighter weight for five or so minutes, and sometimes without a break! That weight starts feeling like a TANK! So, you especially need to choose your weight wisely, or else you'll end up like I did: sick!
After I've taught that squat track, I've used up most of my energy! And I had SEVEN more working tracks to go! After that squat track, I've felt so nauseous that I wanted to throw up. I could have excused myself and puked in the bathroom. But no! I had to finish this class. Thankfully, I only taught two tracks, but I was on stage with the other instructor, working out hard! The grace of God got me through that class. But later that night, I thought I was going into shock: my heart rate was still elevated and I didn't feel right. I became sick. My wife was worried about me!
Why did I do this to myself? Why didn't I just get off the stage? The endorphins wouldn't allow me! Yes, I did feel nauseous the entire time on stage, but the endorphins reduced my perception of how much in trouble I was until after class.
Good ol' endorphins!
When the music is up, your perception of pain goes out the window. You push through the pain and you're determined to finish the class, no matter how much you want to past out!
Another chemical in our bodies that makes exercising easier is epinephrine, which is a stress hormone that's produced in the adrenal glands located on top of the kidneys. Epinephrine is another compound word coming from epi (Greek for "on" or "upon") and nephros (Greek for kidney).
Epinephrine is a POWERFUL hormone with several aspects that promote exercise performance:
- It increases heart rate to supply more blood to the muscles
- It increases respiration to deliver more oxygen to the blood
- It helps the liver convert stored sugar into energy
- It helps the body convert fat into energy
- It helps muscles contract more, increasing strength
So, let's say that you're going for a jog and listening to no music. It has only been five minutes and you're already tired! But then a car goes by that's blasting some rock or hip hop, and man, you find yourself nearly running! But then the music fades away and you have to stop because all that running depleted your energy.
The next time you go for a jog, you decided to bring headphones and an iPod with you. You got your favorite music going. Before you know it, you just ran 2 miles in 20 minutes! That's the power of epinephrine! Not only did the endorphins reduced your perception of pain, but the epinephrine gave you more energy and power to finish your course quickly.
Whenever I take another instructor's class and the music is too low, I find myself struggling! Why is lifting this weight so hard? Why can't I get into these dance moves? Why can't I kick or punch harder? But when the instructor realizes that the music is too low, that person would turn it up, and man, I'm energized! The music helped me produce more endorphins and epinephrine, which makes me work harder.
Ever noticed that you were able to do certain exercise moves easily when you're motivated by certain music? You're able to jump higher, run faster, lift more weight? The epinephrine is helping your body break down sugar and fat for energy, and making your muscles stronger. You may have found yourself the next day SUPER sore and popping ibuprofen like candy because you pushed yourself harder than you're used to doing.
One of the biggest downfalls of epinephrine is that you could wind up hurting yourself because you could push yourself beyond your muscle's naturally capacity. That is, you do things your muscles aren't ready for.
For example, you're overweight and the only squats you do is when you sit down on a chair. You go to a high-intense cardio class and find yourself jumping all over the place like a cricket! You went from simply sitting on a chair to leaping buildings in one class! Your muscles weren't ready for that! But that music got you so pumped that you thought you were a superhero -- and the next day, you're lying in bed as if you got hit with kryptonite!
Another big downfall of too much epinephrine is that you could deplete much of your sugar so that you'd find yourself HUNGRY! You're ready to tear up that refrigerator when you get home! You could wind up putting back all the calories that you've spent one hour burning. Besides getting hungry, depleting all that sugar could make you feel lightheaded after class, which is why eating something after an INTENSE class is important.
However, despite the downfalls of endorphins and epinephrine, the biggest PLUS is that these two chemicals encourage you to do what you didn't think you could do. You produce these chemicals at high levels when you're exercising to good music. If the music is low or boring, you think too much about the pain you're in and you leave class. But if the music is uplifting, you produce more endorphins and epinephrine, which would allow you to push hard and finish class with a bang!