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Spotify's Ultimate Fitness Workout Playlist developed from psychological research

Dr. Costas Karageorghis, deputy head (research) of the School of Sport and Education and author of Inside Sport Psychology, recently completed work with the popular digital music service, Spotify, to compile the Ultimate Fitness Workout Playlist. The playlist was developed through the application of Dr. Karageorghis' extensive research in the effects of music in sport and exercise. 

Inside Sport Psychology contains an entire chapter on “The Power of Sound,” covering everything from cultural considerations to how to coordinate certain types of music with varying phases of your workout. Read an excerpt from the book below.


People have a strong tendency to respond to the rhythmic qualities of music. Indeed, Elvis Presley once said, “Music should be something that makes you gotta move, inside or out.” The tendency to move to music sometimes results in athletes synchronizing their movements with the tempo of the music. When movement is performed consciously in time with music, the music is said to be used synchronously. Synchronous music is most obvious in sports such as figure skating, rhythmic gymnastics, and dance aerobics.

Scientific studies that have examined the effects of synchronizing training activities with music tempo consistently report that synchronous music significantly enhances work rate. In other words, when athletes work in time to music, they often work harder for longer. A recent study led by the first author revealed that synchronizing stride rate during 400-meter time trials to upbeat music led to an average improvement of half a second when compared to a no-music control condition.

A follow-up study examined the effects of upbeat music on treadmill endurance. The subjects started at 75 percent of their maximal aerobic capacity (VO2max) and were requested to synchronize their stride rate to a music tempo and then continue exercising until exhaustion. When a motivational music condition was compared to a no-music control, there was a 15 percent improvement in endurance. When motivational music was compared to oudeterous (neutral) music, a 6 percent improvement in endurance resulted. (Back in 1999 we coined the term oudeterous to mean music that is neither motivational nor demotivational.)
In contrast to synchronous music, asynchronous music is played in the background without any expectation that athletes will synchronize their movements with it. That is not to say that unintentional synchronous movement does not occur. For example, the Brazilian football team is accompanied by a section of percussion players among their supporters. Many journalists and commentators have noted that the Brazilian style of play emulates the lilting swing of the samba, a rhythm embedded in Brazilian culture—the team has even been nicknamed the Samba Boys. Hence, it is plausible that background samba rhythms may give the Brazilian players a slight advantage over their European rivals.

Our assertion that, as humans, we have an innate response to the rhythmic qualities of music has been detailed in many texts written by philosophers and musicologists. A century ago, philosopher R. MacDougall proposed that people find rhythm pleasurable because its structure replicates natural forms of physical activity such as walking and running. To experience this, think about performing a physical task such as step-ups that involves a strict four-stage movement pattern. This is comparable to a marching rhythm in 4/4 time. Alternatively, join your arms by putting the palms of your hands together and swing them from side to side in a pendulum-like motion (as if you were striking an imaginary golf ball). This will have a “one-two-three” feel that is like a waltz in 3/4 time (three beats to the bar). Athletes routinely apply the force of rhythm for their specialized purposes. Our own research has demonstrated that the response to the rhythmic components of music is the most important factor in determining its motivational qualities. This is because people lock into the rhythmic components of music immediately; the melodic and harmonic aspects of music have a secondary effect on mental and physical functioning.

Learn more about music and sport performance with Inside Sport Psychology by Costas Karageorghis and Peter Terry.