Build stronger arms by listening to music between sets, study finds

Improve your lifts and increase your motivation with this simple workout hack

Man lifting dumbbells
(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you want to develop upper body muscle, you need to train hard during your workout. But to give yourself a muscle-building boost, new research suggests listening to your favorite song during rests could improve your lifts.

Whether you train at home with the best adjustable dumbbells or prefer exercising at the gym, resistance training is a vital part of strengthening your muscles and building bigger arms.

Still, it's becoming clear that taking downtime between sets and how you use it might be just as important. Many of us listen to music while working out, and a recent study has found playing music during rests may even make your next set more explosive.

The research, published in The International Journal of Exercise Science, hoped to explore the effect of self-selected between-sets music on upper-body resistance training.

The team recruited participants in their late teens/early 20s and asked them to bench press at 75% of their one-rep maximum (1RM), the heaviest weight they can lift for a single repetition until failure for three sets.

Between sets, the participants had two minutes of downtime without music. They repeated the workout to investigate the differences but allowed the exercisers to choose any song they wanted to play, so long as the tempo was above 120 beats per minute.

Person completing a bench press exercise

(Image credit: Getty Images)

After analyzing the results, the team found that listening to music during rest periods increased the lifts' velocity, or speed, during the next set and made the exercisers more motivated for their workout.

These findings sound promising, but you might be wondering why lifting quicker would be a good thing. In many cases, it's not, especially if you compromise your form to complete the reps faster.

But velocity is not quite the same as speed. It's a measure of speed in a particular direction and is linked to the force of the move. So, the study's weight lifters were actually able to exert a higher force in their lifts after listening to music during their rests.

There are caveats, though. The sample size in this paper was pretty tiny—just ten college-age men—so there needs to be a more extensive study to confirm the findings. Still, it might be worth listening to the best workout music when you're between sets.

Many of us already listen to music while exercising, so all you need is a set of the best workout earbuds to get started. But to get the most from your training, you must focus on your form.

Giving yourself a refresher on how to lift weights will help reduce your risk of injury and get the most from your training. Then you'll be ready to build bigger, more muscular arms in no time.

James Frew
Fitness Editor

James is a London-based journalist and Fitness Editor at Fit&Well. He has over five years experience in fitness tech, including time spent as the Buyer’s Guide Editor and Staff Writer at technology publication MakeUseOf. In 2014 he was diagnosed with a chronic health condition, which spurred his interest in health, fitness, and lifestyle management.

In the years since, he has become a devoted meditator, experimented with workout styles and exercises, and used various gadgets to monitor his health. In recent times, James has been absorbed by the intersection between mental health, fitness, sustainability, and environmentalism. When not concerning himself with health and technology, James can be found excitedly checking out each week’s New Music Friday releases.