Many people heap a lot of thought into their workout playlist, as science has taught us, discovering that perfect beat can help us stride stronger, lift heavier and push longer. But how about when the workout ends, your breath slows, and it’s time to get home?
It happens you’ll want to keep those tunes streaming. A recent study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicated that listening to slow, relaxing music during your cooldown can assist you get the most out of the sweat session you just completed.
Researchers surveyed 42 university students — 21 women, 21 men — who finished a cycling workout to exhaustion three different times, cooled down for 3 minutes, then sat in a comfy chair for 30 minutes for “passive recovery.” During that passive recovery, each student listened to a different kind of music. After the first workout, it was what researchers described as slow, sedative music at about 70 beats per minute (BPM). The second requested for fast, stimulative music at 130 BPM. The third, acting as a control, had no music. They measured cortisol levels, a hormone released in response to stress — in this case, a workout — heart rate and blood pressure both before and immediately after the sessions.
What they discovered was interesting: When the students listened to the fast, 130 BPM music, their cortisol levels increased the most. And when they listened to slow, 70 BPM songs, cortisol returned to normal the fastest. Neither of these are bad when it has to do with recovery.
Thus immediately after your workout, higher cortisol levels are ideal since it increases anti-inflammatory activity in your muscles, that speeds up the repair process. But you don’t want cortisol to spike for too long since then your body stays in fight-or-flight mode, which can be exhausting. That’s why, once you’re done cooling down, it’s good for your cortisol levels to return to normal as soon as possible — it’s when real recovery occurs.
THE 3-MINUTE RULE
So, on the basis of this research, the best-case scenario would involve combining the two. In your cooldown, keep the faster tunes flowing to keep those cortisol levels high. But after 3 minutes, transition to tunes giving off a more relaxed vibe so you can have the recovery juices flowing. Your playlist should equally last between 20–30 minutes, as that’s what scientists discovered to be most effective.