Why do gyms play such crappy music?

Monotonous techno monopolizes the sound system at my local gym. Is it really the best music for working out?

By Salon Staff

Published June 16, 2007 7:01AM (EDT)

The people who run my gym are a knowledgeable and helpful bunch. Aside from tips on exercise routines and general fitness, they're happy to offer advice on running shoes, workout clothes and even sports drinks. But ask why they insist on pumping mind-numbing techno over the sound system and the best they'll offer is a smile and a shrug. I wish they'd offer an explanation instead, because the metronomic, unmelodic music (which, at my gym, tends to come from a Jonathan Peters compilation) makes me want to chuck a free weight at the speakers.

Unfortunately, my gym's musical taste isn't an anomaly. A spot check of several New York gyms revealed a preponderance of techno and electronica soundtracking the sweat.

So what should the soundtrack be? This article cites a study that found that faster tempos help increase heart rate during exercise but also notes that the type of music, be it a "Wagner opera or a Red Hot Chili Peppers tune," doesn't really matter. Similarly, research from London's Brunel University shows that when people listen to synchronous music -- music that matches the rhythm of their exercise -- they can endure 20 percent more exertion, but in an article from the London Times, the doctor who headed the study said that gyms should "consider playing different types of music to their members depending on the equipment they were using and their level of intensity" and that "individuals should also create their own playlist."

The benefits of listening to music during exercise are obvious: It cuts down on the monotony of the activity and can be motivating. A study by psychologists at Fairleigh Dickinson even found that exercisers who listened to music both lost more weight and adhered more closely to their workout regimens than those who listened to nothing. But a reason for the ubiquity of techno music is less apparent. I can't find anything suggesting that that style of music is more effective for working out than, say, jazz fusion or klezmer.

As much as my gym's musical selections seem more appropriate for dancing with glowsticks than lifting dumbbells, I have to admit, my Metallica and Motorhead workout playlists haven't exactly been lighting a fire under my ass lately. What music gives you that extra push? Share your favorite workout songs -- entire playlists are even better -- and if you can, specify the type of activity the songs fit best with. Let's show those gyms what they should really be playing.

-- David Marchese

Salon Staff

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