While you're much more likely to hear Rihanna than Rachmaninoff pounding from the speakers at the average gym, classical musical aficionados can parlay their enjoyment into a workout enhancement. Any music you like can make a workout more enjoyable, but there is a little science in compiling the perfect classical workout mix.
A compendium of research indicates that working out to a soundtrack you enjoy, which can include classical music, can help you work out more efficiently. London's Brunel University School of Sport and Education professor Costas Karageorghis has studied the correlation for several decades, concluding that music both inspires you to move and helps distract you from fatigue and pain that arise while exercising. The American Council on Exercise indicates that music while exercising can increase your endurance by as much as 15 percent. A 2002 study by Ohio State University indicated that even people with severe respiratory diseases were able to push themselves harder while exercising.
When compiling classical music for your workout, the tempo of your choices are key. Karageorghis suggests dividing your workout soundtrack into three sections. Before you work out, you can listen to slower pieces you find inspiring with a tempo of 100 beats per minute or slower. Pieces marked adagio or andante fit this bill. As you begin working out and increasing your heart rate, you can listen to faster-tempo pieces, such as those marked allegro or presto. As you get your heart rate in a training zone, you'll want to listen to music that matches the rhythm of your pedaling, stepping, jogging or whatever your activity, known as working out synchronously. For this, you need songs within 120 to 140 bpm that maintain a steady rhythm.
Any number of classical favorites fit Karageorghis' suggestions for preparation and warm-up songs. Soothing songs such as Bach's "Air on the G String," Largo from Handel's "Xerxes" and Debussy's "Clair de Lune" have tempos in the slow range, while more up-tempo selections include the famous Allegro con Brio movement in Beethoven's Fifth Symphony or the allegro movement of "Winter" in Vivaldi's "Four Seasons." Choosing classical selections with fast, steady tempos for working out synchronously is a bigger challenge, as classical music tends to have more varying tempos than dance or pop music. Sousa marches, polkas and other quick dances or well-known pieces like the first movement of Mozart's "Eine Kleine Nachtmusik" all are appropriate choices. Alternatively, you can explore the "Hooked on Classics" series, which mixes classical motifs to a steady, pounding beat.
While music can help you keep a steady rhythm in a workout, it's just as important that you choose classical selections you enjoy. A 2009 study by M. Prieboy published in the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation indicated that when people listened to several varieties of music while cycling, they perceived the lowest level of exertion when listening to music they chose themselves, regardless of genre. Be wary that this effect also cause you to push yourself too hard, particularly if you're working out with cardiovascular disease or other serious conditions. Always consult a doctor before beginning any workout program.
- Exploring the Effects of Music on Exercise Intensity; American Council on Exercise; Carl Foster, John Pocari and Mark Anders; September 2010
- Listening to Music While Working Out Helps People with Severe Lung Disease Improve Their Fitness Levels; Ohio State University; December 2002
- They're Playing My Song. Time to Work Out.; New York Times; Steven Kurutz; January 2008
- BBC: Raise Your Game: Dr. Costas Karageorghis
- How Music Works: Musical Tempo