We have been asked to sacrifice so much to tackle the coronavirus and most have been willing to do so, but there must be a limit and in South Korea they appear to have reached it.
People love lively music. They love working out. But now tracks above a certain speed – including but not only the country’s massively popular K-pop – have been banned from gyms, with vibrant music being cited as potentially dangerous for exercise during the pandemic.
Music with more than 120 beats per minute (bpm) is forbidden during group exercises such as aerobics and spinning. Health officials said the measure was intended to prevent people breathing too fast or splashing sweat on others, and to avoid having to close businesses, as has happened during previous waves of infection.
The rule has been ridiculed as “nonsense” by some opposition politicians, and gym owners see the rules as barely effective or unrealistic.
“Playing bright tracks is to cheer up our members and the overall mood, but my biggest question is whether playing classical music or songs by [the boyband] BTS has been proved to have any impact on spreading the virus,” Kang Hyun-ku, a gym owner, told Reuters. “Many people use their own earphones and wearable devices these days, and how do you control their playlists?”
Whang Myung-sug, a 62-year-old member of Kang’s gym, called the restrictions “bureaucratic, as if those who devised them had never worked out at a gym”.
Of the current K-pop hits, BTS’s Permission to Dance is 127bpm and the girl group Loona’s PTT (Paint the Town) is 125bpm, but Taeyeon’s Weekend is acceptable at 114bpm, as is Alcohol-Free by Twice at 96bpm.
Nearly a million people worldwide subscribe to Spotify’s gym playlist You Can Do It, but none of its opening 10 tracks are under 120bpm, with High Contrast’s drum’n’bass hit Time Is Hardcore topping out at 169bpm.
Among workout classics, Eye of the Tiger by Survivor clocks in at 108bpm – though it is perhaps best suited to strutting post-workout than actual cardio – while Kanye West’s Stronger is 106bpm. A Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran (So Far Away) is thoroughly unsuitable at 148bpm. At exactly 120bpm, Irene Cara’s Flashdance … What a Feeling is a good option for law-abiding Koreans. But at 122bpm, Bob Marley’s Is This Love – that’s out.
Various studies have found that listening to music while exercising will help you to both work harder and make it feel less difficult. In 2020, researchers at the University of Verona found that, particularly with endurance exercises such as running, “the exercise seemed like less effort, but it was more beneficial in terms of enhancing physical fitness”.
In 2015, a University of Toronto study also detected the double benefit, but added another. Lee Bartel’s team found people who exercised with music were more active “all day long”.
South Korea imposed its highest level of distancing rules in Seoul and neighbouring regions from yesterday, as the country battles its worst Covid outbreak. The new rules also ban showering at the gym, limit treadmill speeds to 6km/h (3.7mph) and restrict table tennis matches to two people per table.
“So you don’t get Covid-19 if you walk slower than 6km/h,” said Kim Yong-tae, a member of the main opposition People Power party. “And who on earth checks the bpm of the songs when you work out? I don’t understand what Covid-19 has to do with my choice of music.”
A health official said the authorities had considered a broad range of opinions.
President Moon Jae-in said he felt heavy-hearted when thinking of the owners of small and medium-sized businesses and others burdened by the rules. “I can’t help but feel very sorry to once again ask the citizens for a bit more patience,” he said at a Covid response meeting.