One of the easiest things to notice when you first walk into a gym is how many people are wearing headphones during their workout sessions. Practically everyone has their go-to tunes to listen to whenever they’re trying to pump themselves up for some strenuous exercise, but does music really give athletes an advantage during physical activity? While hearing a guitar solo or feeling the blast of a bass may push you over the edge to finish that last rep of bicep curls, what exactly is the scientific relationship between music and exercise? There have actually been several studies that have analyzed the correlation between the two, and the results seem to indicate that athletes looking for a slight advantage should never leave their MP3 players at home.
The psychological impact listening to music can provide for your furthering your workout can’t be denied, but does it really have an effect upon elements such as endurance? Researchers from Brunel University in England sought to answer this question in the form of a study that took 20 years to accomplish. One of the important examinations involved 30 subjects who were provided with music ranging from artists such as Queen and the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Madonna while performing various running sessions on a treadmill. The participants were specifically asked to keep in rhythm with the beat while they ran, and by the end of the study, the researchers concluded that listening to music enhanced endurance in the runners by an average of 15 percent. In addition, participants stated that listening to music also made their exercise sessions much more pleasurable.
Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a researcher at Brunel University and lead author of the study, focuses primarily on sports psychology and has spent quite a bit of time on research that specifically centers around how music impacts athletic performance. Karageorghis believes motivation is not only the primary key for unlocking a boost in endurance during exercise, but is also a factor in the body disregarding exhaustion during physical activity.
“The synchronous application of music resulted in much higher endurance while the motivational qualities of the music impacted significantly on the interpretation of fatigue symptoms right up to the point of voluntary exhaustion,” Karageorghis said in a statement.
Increase the tempo
Much of the research devoted to analyzing music and working out tends to focus more on how rhythm and tempo affect a person’s rate of exercise. Another study that was posted in the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports examined how cyclists’ rates fluctuate when listening to several songs that feature different tempos. The study featured 12 cyclists who would peddle for a duration of 25 minutes, but without their knowledge, the researchers would gradually alter the tempo of the song by increasing or decreasing it by 10 percent. The colleagues ultimately discovered that when they increased the tempo of the song, distance covered increased by 2.1 percent and power increased by 3.5 percent. When the tempo was decreased, distance covered reduced by 3.8 percent and power fell by 9.8 percent. This means that the next time you’re pumping up the jams at the gym, be sure to pick a song that’s fast!
Motivation is probably one of the most overlooked elements of getting the most out of your workout, and the type of music you’re listening to may be the key for unlocking extra incentive in the gym. Another study that was published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology focused on the motivational impact music can provide athletes, and featured participants self-selecting songs they found inspirational to see whether it made any difference in the effectiveness of their workout. The evidence suggested to the researchers that when subjects began exercising to a song of their choosing they found motivational, the song was able to decrease ratings of perceived exhaustion, improve overall energy efficiency and increase work output.
Dr. Costas Karageorghis alluded to the power of music during exercise as essentially a way to trick the body and brain into ignoring signs of fatigue, and instead of thinking about stopping, the familiar lyrics and rhythm only continue to encourage and uplift athletes.
“Music lowers your perception of effort. It can trick your mind into feeling less tired during a workout, and also encourage positive thoughts,” Karageorghis said in an interview with the BBC. “Music helps to induce alpha brain wave activity which is responsible for our dreams and rest states. This leads to a state known as ‘flow,’ which is an ultimate motivational state in which sportspeople are completely immersed in what they are doing and feel as if they are functioning on autopilot.”
Science seems to agree that cranking up your favorite tunes during a workout certainly enhance your performance, so don’t forget to bring your music device on your next trip to the gym!