If you don’t listen to music while working up a sweat, you should really give it a try. Because when you do, you’ll probably find you’re able to run for longer, ride farther and swim faster than you ever gave yourself credit for – without even realizing it! It also distracts you from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance and reduces perceived effort. Other than getting hit by a car because your favourite track’s too loud and you’re not paying attention, it really doesn’t have a down side.

But all this all is old hat. Research on how listening to music influences exercise dates back to at least 1911, when American researcher Leonard Ayres noticed cyclists pedalled faster while a band was playing, and rode slower when it was taking a break. Since then literally hundreds of scientific studies have been conducted on the way music changes performance in a variety of sports, and it’s all good news.

Here are some interesting numbers: Sports scientists at Brunel University in the UK – world leaders on the topic – have demonstrated that music can reduce your rate of perceived effort by 12-percent, and improve your endurance by a whopping 15-percent. While researchers at Sheffield Hallam University found that study participants who cycled in time to music required 7-percent less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who had no music to synchronise they bodies too. So it seems music can also function as a metronome – helping athletes to maintain a steady pace, reduce false steps and decrease energy expenditure. In fact, the overall benefits are so significant that world-renowned researcher on music for performance, Dr. Costas Karageorghis (he’s authored over 100 studies on this stuff), says one can think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Thankfully, we no longer have to rely on brass bands like Ayres’ test subjects did back in the day – now we have the world’s music at our fingertips 24/7 for us to get our groove on. And, if you have a Garmin sportswatch or fitness tracker, it’s even more convenient. That’s because many of them have the ability to initiate music playback commands when paired with a compatible smartphone. Their music controls integrate with your phone’s default music player, allowing you to play, pause, skip and control the volume of audio tracks conveniently from your wrist.

That said, here are five great music streaming apps that you can download on your phone right now and enjoy on your next run, ride, swim or workout:

1. Apple Music
Individual Membership: R59.99/month. Provides access to the full Apple Music experience.
Family Membership: R89.99/month. The full Apple Music experience for up to six people.
Student Membership: R29.99/month. The full Apple Music experience at a special rate for students.

It’s hardly surprising that Apple Music is so successful. Not only is it backed by one of the biggest brands in the world, it also gives users access to the entire iTunes library, a swath of curated playlists and a 24-hour radio station. Boasting a music library of around 40 million songs, Apple has also taken steps to secure more exclusives than the competition. Here’s another area where Apple Music has the leg up on its competition: Integration of the iTunes library. Any music you’ve got – whether previously purchased via the iTunes Store, ripped from a physical CD, or uploaded to iTunes Match – will appear in your Apple Music library, giving you the option to freely browse your own music alongside Apple’s standard catalogue.

When creating an account, you’ll be prompted to select some of your favourite artists so the service can get a sense of your tastes. And, once the process is complete, it does a great job curating playlists to appeal to your preferences. Playlists can be based on style (mellow, jazzy, hip-hop, rock), a particular artist, or even a particular activity like driving. Playlists are curated by a “team of experts” who do a great job creating varied playlists that are at once familiar yet fresh – just like a compilation you might get from a friend.

Download Apple Music here.

2. Simfy Africa
All Access: R60/month. Enjoy music on tablets and smartphones. Offline mode for three registered devices.
Web, PC & Mac: R25/month. Excludes smartphone apps. No off-line mode available.

With more than 16 million tracks, 2 million albums and 650 000 artists on its books, Simfy Africa is a fully-fledged music streaming service that stacks up well against its rivals. And, as its name implies, its interface is very simple to use. All of the core functionality is accessible from inside a Web browser, with the exception of offline mode where you can download MP3 audio files to a desktop, laptop or mobile device. That way you can consume audio without a data connection or incurring additional bandwidth costs.

Even better, it isn’t aiming at the youth market alone – apart from pop, rock and hip-hop, the service also offers a wide range of jazz, classical, opera and “golden oldies”. And, like its competitors, the app is able to upload music stored locally on users’ computers, so those with large collections of obscure tracks can integrate them into the service and create playlists using media they already own. It’s also possible to import an iTunes library into Simfy.

What it can’t do is compare its library to a user’s existing library. This is due to both licensing challenges and the problems of metadata. In order to do that sort of comparison, metadata from Simfy’s database needs to correspond to those of users’ tracks, which can prove difficult where content has been ripped from CD or downloaded and is poorly tagged.

Download Simfy Africa here.

3. Google Play Music
Free: Recommendations that adapt to your taste. Listen on Android and iOS. Upload 50 000 of your own songs.
Unlimited: R60/month. Access to everything, including 40 million songs on demand.

In addition to mobile apps for Android and iOS, Google Play Music is available in-browser or as an app in the Google Chrome Web Store. Open the app or browser version for the first time and it’ll prompt you to select genres you like, then individual artists – so it can begin to create personalised playlists and suggestions. And when it comes to content, it’s not just a global repertoire, but local, too. You’ll find some of the hottest acts in South Africa today, namely AKA, Mafikizolo, Cassper Nyovest, Desmond and the Tutus, Bye Beneco and even Kurt Darren. And, Like any streaming service worth its salt, it lets users store content offline. Users can opt to only update or stream content when connected to Wi-Fi to minimise mobile data costs.

There are three parts to Google Play Music. Locker allows users to upload up to 50,000 songs from their own collections to their accounts and stream them like any other content on the service. Google scans uploaded tracks and matches them to existing content in its library, but where tracks can’t be matched it uploads and stores these on its servers. The second part of the service is the MP3 store where users can buy and download tracks. The subscription and streaming side is the third, which offers a catalogue of around 35 million tracks.

Download Google Play Music here.

4. Deezer
Premium: R59.99/month. All access for a single individual.
Deezer Family: R89.99/month. Up to six unlimited user profiles.

It was 2007 when 23-year-old Daniel Marhely began working on a project to simplify music access for his friends. Working initially from his Paris bedroom, he soon recognized the potential of his idea and gathered a small team together. It didn’t take long for investors and music labels to catch on, and the world’s first music streaming service was born. Today Deezer is available in more than 180 countries, partners with thousands of independent and major labels, and boasts one of the largest catalogues in existence (43 million tracks and counting).

Deezer’s unique Flow feature is a personalised soundtrack tool that, based on a propriety algorithm and created by people who love music, learns what you like to listen to, then scours its entire library to create a stream that mixes personalized recommendations with your music. Deezer’s country-specific music editors also curate localised content and playlists, providing a platform for South African fans to find both rising and top Mzansi artists really easily.

Deezer works across all devices, both online and offline. And everyone can enjoy unlimited music on mobile and web for free, while Deezer Premium+ subscribers benefit from music on demand without ads. Here’s another great feature: The service also provides the lyrics to all your favourite songs, so the days of “thinking” you know the words and embarrassing yourself amongst friends are over! Now that you can see the lyrics to all your favourite tracks on-screen, you’ll never sing “sweet dreams are made of cheese” ever again.

Download Deezer here.

5. Joox
Free: Radio on demand. Search for favourites. Has ads.
VIP Membership: R59.99/month. Unlimited skips. Play on demand. Ad-free.

Launched by Naspers, Joox has a music catalogue of over 3 million tracks. It also offers free and paid tiers – available on both iOS and Android devices. When using the free version, streaming over non-Wi-Fi networks means you’ll be charged for data consumption by your network provider. However, you’ll be alerted when this happens to prevent you from running up your data spend. Alternately, you can just upgrade to the paid VIP option and enjoy all the benefits that this premium service has to offer.

Signing up is easy, with options for users to link either their Facebook or WeChat accounts. You can also use an email address to create an account if you prefer. Once you have signed in, you’re presented with the Discover screen, where Joox highlights its charts and other curated lists of tracks and albums. It also has a Radio screen where you can select playlists of music to listen to. And a “My Music” tab shows all the songs on your device, your list of favourites, recently-played tracks and playlists.

Joox has done some serious research into South African listening habits. As a consequence, you can enjoy Drake, then flip over to Nasty C, play some Erykah Badu and then boogie down to some Thandiswa Mazwai, throwback with some Boyz II Men and then some TKZee. And, if you have no idea what you want to listen to, there are plenty of curated playlists on offer too. – (c) 2017 NavWorld

Download Joox here.

About The Author

Sean Woods

Originally a photographer for the Star newspaper in the bad old days, Sean Woods turned to writing after the first democratic elections in '94. The career shift paid serious dividends, culminating in him becoming associate editor for Popular Mechanics magazine with a number of technology writing awards under his belt. His interests include anything to do with boats, motorcycles and all those fancy tech gadgets that help the modern world go around.

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