“One can think of music as a type of legal performance-enhancing drug”

Costas Karageorghis, Brunel University.

When it comes to group exercise, instructors tend to get increasingly hung up on their class plans and spend very little time selecting their music. A lot of instructors take an ‘anything will do’ approach and don’t appreciate the link between music selection and client retention.

To acknowledge the impact that music has on our clients, we must primarily think about why they attend our classes:

  • Social – Many long serving group exercise attendees are there for the enjoyment and social element of the class. They enjoy working out with existing friends, meeting new friends, having ‘banter’ with the instructor (or in my case tormenting the instructor), and most of all having FUN! With the appropriate music, we can manipulate the class’ mood, help them reminisce on songs from their era, allow them to sing along, and feel comfortable within the class environment.
  • Confidence – Exercise has been proven to be a useful tool for helping release the endorphin chemical within the brain. This triggers a positive feeling in the brain and body known as the ‘feel good factor’. As an instructor you may not be aware that many of your clients will suffer from stress, depression, anxiety and low self esteem. Many of your clients may be attending your class to help combat their mental health issues – making your job of selecting appropriate mood boosting music even more vital!
  • Physical health – One of the more obvious reasons for clients attending your classes will be their desire to improve their physical health. Well constructed class plans will help clients to see results quicker. However, music plays a big part in getting the clients to work harder and more efficiently.

Don’t just take my word for it! Over the years thousands of scientific studies have proven that music has favourable effects on body and brain chemicals, as well as improving athletic performance.

To name but a few:

  • Cortisol stress hormone – Music has proven to significantly lower the body’s cortisol stress hormone, enabling clients to feel relieved of worrying thoughts.
  • Dopamine – otherwise known as the brains ‘motivation molecule’ and an integral part of the pleasure system. Helping clients to be happy, motivated and have a good time.
  • Fatigue – Music drowns out the brain’s cries of fatigue by distracting the brain’s attention.
  • Endurance – Music helps to keep people ‘in the zone’ with certain emotions, aiding them to endure the level of activity they are performing.
  • Effective use of energy – A study in 2012 by C.J Bacon of Sheffield Hallam University, Karageorghis and their colleagues, was performed to see how cyclists energy expenditure differed between cycling in silence as opposed to cycling with music. The results were astounding, as the cyclists who cycled in time to the music used 7% less oxygen than those who cycled in silence!
  • RPE Scale – We all remember how to use the rate of perceived exertion scale from our level 3 days. Well, sports scientists at Brunel University (a world-leading hub on music for athleticism) have demonstrated that music can reduce the RPE by a whopping 12%.

Still not convinced on the importance of music and client retention? Ask the experts (ie. the clients)

Ask yourself how many times you have heard or witnessed the following from your clients:

  • ‘I really enjoyed the class, but I didn’t like the music’
  • ‘Could we have some different music next week?’
  • ‘We like [the instructor], but she always uses the same music and we get bored’
  • ‘I stopped going to that class because I didn’t feel I was working hard enough’
  • ‘I just don’t have the time anymore’
  • ‘I just wasn’t enjoying it anymore’
  • Clients miming the words whilst exercising
  • Clients signing along whilst exercising
  • An outburst of ‘Oh I love this song’, halfway through the class
  • Clients completely shutting their eyes and rocking their heads to absorb a certain song whilst exercising.
  • You have used a popular playlist and suddenly everyone is back next week requesting you use the same one.

Music plays a huge part in all of the above scenarios, so we should always think carefully about selecting the music for our classes. To use another one of our old level 3 acronyms, when selecting music think FITT:

  • Frequency – How often are you changing your class playlist? Are they getting bored? Do they already know what songs coming next before you do? Time to change!
  • Intensity – Try to mirror the intensity of the music to the intensity of the discipline you are teaching. For instance, if your teaching yoga you don’t need a BPM of 180.
  • Time – How long are the songs in your playlist? Are they suitable for what you are trying to achieve? 5 minute long songs are perfect if you desire your clients to hold yoga poses for sustained periods of time. However when teaching a spin class and regularly varying the profile and intensity of the programme, your going to struggle to motivate them unless the songs also change regularly. Remember clients respond better to changes in exercise profiles & intensities with the introduction of a new song.
  • Type – Does the style of music fit with the type of clients? Is playing an 80’s album in a HIIT class full of 20 somethings realistically going to work? Probably not!

Finally, always remember to spend time selecting your music! As it is scientifically proven to directly affect clients enjoyment, results and mood.

Happy clients = retainable clients

Retainable clients = sustainable business

Here’s some of my favourite fitness albums that I recommend you take a look at:  

Resources used to write this article.






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Meet The Author

Niaomi Sadler

Niaomi works full-time at Pure Energy as an Events and Administration Assistant. Outside of Pure Energy she works as a freelance group exercise instructor and personal trainer, as well as running her own business.

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