Most of us would agree that music adds joy to our lives and that the right song can help us to accomplish almost any task. A motivating soundtrack can make activities feel effortless, which is why Essentrics® has relied on the power of music to help clients to get in shape for years. Instead of simply playing songs in the background, Essentrics® uses music as a tool to target the neuromuscular system of the body, helping students to achieve lasting health benefits in ways that workouts sans music cannot. Music affects both our brain and our body. It can help us to relax, allowing for greater gains in flexibility. It also motivates us to work harder and stay in an exercise longer, improving strength and endurance.
Music and the Brain
As Miranda says, “Music is a very powerful neuromuscular stimulant.” Essentrics® instructors undertake extensive training not just in anatomy, but in understanding how to use music effectively in a workout. Instructors work with the nervous system and its reflexes to release the muscular tension that results from poor posture. Music plays a key role in this process by triggering the release of feel-good emotions1 that help us to relax. For example, if our shoulders are typically hunched forward, we need to loosen up our tight chest muscles before we can begin strength training. Uplifting warm-up music encourages relaxation, followed by sequences using beautiful music filled with crescendos to bring moments of tension (like pulling an arrow back) and release (letting the arrow go) into the muscles, enabling them to lengthen further and ease the body into clean alignment.
A varied playlist keeps the brain engaged as well. Each Essentrics® workout is built around different pieces of music that vary in style and tempo. Each exercise sequence has a different goal that is directly supported by the music being played. It has been proven that exercising to a playlist that “keeps us on our toes” induces beta waves – higher frequency brain waves that help us to concentrate, improve our memory and our ability to anticipate events.2 The music accelerates our learning capability, making it easier to perfect our technique and achieve results.
And the truth is, we are more likely to stick to exercise if it is fun! When we move to popular songs that we associate with enjoyable times in our lives, such as music from our high school years, we perceive exercise as being fun.2 Music distracts us from unpleasant sensations during a workout, building our endurance. Take another example: the Alphabet exercise. In Essentrics®, we use this exercise (drawing the letters of the alphabet with one leg) to strengthen our quadriceps. Though the sequence is quite tough on our legs, performing it to a sunny, uplifting song can trick our minds into thinking it’s easy because the tempo reminds us of happy times.
Music and the Body
The urge to move to music is universal among humans3 which is why exercising to music yields such impressive results. Essentrics® instructors select songs that encourage us to move our body in ways that match the music. For example, peaceful piano encourages gentle stretching as we move our arms like the blades of a windmill vs. strong drumbeats that help fuel our side leg lifts and plies. In both cases, students understand how to move their body based largely on the characteristics of the music being played. Add in the corresponding imagery cued by the instructor, and strength training becomes interesting and effective!
Finally, music reduces inhibitions1 and helps us to explore our physical limits. In 2020, a multilevel meta-analysis of 139 studies showed that participants who exercised to music enjoyed enhanced physical performance.4 They were better able to complete the required repetitions needed to gain strength. For both men and women, the ability to train longer improved. There is no doubt about it – music helps improve our endurance by increasing energy levels and delaying fatigue.
Physiologically, music helps us to perform at our best.4 While it is of course possible to exercise without music (and we have music-free workout options), students of Essentrics® know the power of a motivating playlist and how valuable it is in helping us to reach our full potential.
Check out our playlist of Miranda’s favorite songs below and see which ones motivate you to move!
Contributing writer Beth Oldfield