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As for other fitness activities such as step aerobics, the tempo hovers around 130 BPM, said Harold Sanco, a group fitness director.
“You have to pick music that is both safe and effective,” he said. “If you are going too fast, you risk injury and you’re not working out effectively because you are not getting the full range of motion.”
But Sanco said music is important beyond tempo and genre; it also helps put participants in a lighter mood.
“Music can make people happy no matter what their day has been like,” he said. “It entertains and educates.”
Beyond the beat
In her classes for Life Time, Haggerty looks beyond just the tempo of the music.
“I also try to look for a message,” she said. “I don’t tell people I’m doing that. The message is more subliminal. But I like to find songs that say something [inspiring]. I like to find songs that push people.”
The first and last songs of a session are particularly important, she said.
“The first song has to grab them; it has to take command of the room,” she said. “The last song is important because people are trying to get out of the room. They don’t want to stay for stretching. So you have to hook them into staying. Sometimes I use a singalong that gets people to stretch without even knowing that’s what they’re doing.”
Rachel Goldberg, who co-owns a cycle studio in Washington D.C., uses the phrasing of the music to get the most out of her rides. “When you marry your body’s movements with the music, it’s a more holistic experience,” she said. “You start flowing with the music.” If there is a chorus or other recurring crescendos in the music, Goldberg might use those to increase the intensity.
“The music becomes your North Star — it guides you.”
It also distracts you — something many of us have relied on during a long treadmill workout. Cedric Bryant, chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise, said this is the aspect of music that resonates the most with him. “I enjoy using music as a distraction,” he said, adding that music can keep you going no matter how tired you are.
Distraction, whether it be music or even a comedy show, can be helpful in a workout — at least in the beginning, Foster said. That’s where the importance of the beat and arousal come in. “After about 20 minutes or so, ‘Larry the Cable Guy’ is not enough to keep us going,” said Foster, who used comedy in one of his studies. “We need more than a joke to carry us.”
Staff writer Jeff Strickler contributed to this report.