Why Music Enhances Exercise Performance and How Your Running Can Benefit From It
If you’re one of the many millions of people who run for fitness and recreation, then you’ll fit into one of two camps when it comes to running with music: You either love it or hate it. “Yeah!” or “Meh!”
The latest Findings on Whether Music Really Enhances Physical Performance
When even the world’s top sports scientists and researchers don’t agree on if and how music impacts physical performance, what should YOU believe? There are virtually no studies in the past 2 decades that show music definitively does not aid performance, yet there are an abundance of studies that showing a relationship between performance and music, and a growing body of evidence to prove that music can positively influence performance.
For the vast majority of runners, joggers and walkers who exercise for fitness and who are not generally considered professional competitors, those who struggle to practise running as a habitual exercise or those who find exercising an unpleasant chore – music becomes a powerful tool that makes the difference between success and failure in reaching fitness goals.
So – How Does Music Affect Performance?
Commonly the research talks about the link between the beat of the music relative to your body’s movement and physiological responses including, footfalls and heart rate. As we discussed in our 2017 article, the body tends to get into entrainment with the music, responding to the beat, if you like.
Listening to music invokes your body’s almost involuntary movement response, to rise up from the primordial couch and get moving. Sound with quick beats per minute will tend to increase your heart rate, not to mention ‘trick’ your body into matching your footfalls to the rhythm. The effect being, faster tempo music pushes you and increases your pace.
Let’s digest some real, worthy facts!
Beyond movement, heart rate, respiratory efficiency, and heart rate variability (vagal tone) have been shown to increase when listening to music1, while blood pressure2 and pain perception3 have been shown to be reduced.
Increasing your heart rate is routinely used as a measure of effectiveness in workouts, and using oxygen more efficiently means you can push yourself further. Studies of intensive anaerobic level exercise with music has shown that listening to music increases both muscular endurance4 and power output5.
Interesting as it is to know that your body’s actual physiology can be affected by music, probably the more impactful benefits of music come in how it can impact your attitude – through distraction, association and motivation.
Often acknowledged (even by the naysayers) as one of the most obvious benefits of music during exercise, listening to engaging and upbeat music provides a welcome distraction from both the drudgery of exercise as well any pain in your aching muscles and joints. In particular, listening to music we personally enjoy has been linked to the release of opioids and oxytocin6 – basically your body’s own painkillers.
You may have experienced this yourself – that moment when a song comes on and you’re instantly transported back in memory. Through our experiences, music can be a strong tie to our memories, and to the emotion attached to those memories. Using that association we can, through careful choice of music that is meaningful to us, attach positive emotion to physical activity.
Putting it simply, if you listen to music that makes you energetic and happy during a workout, sooner or later the workout activity itself will also make you feel happy. When used in this way, not only can you make your workouts more enjoyable, you can actually begin to entrench it into your life as a life-long habit.
Powerful soundtracks can drive us on, making us feel unstoppable. Whatever it takes by Imagine Dragons will keep you in train to 136BPM, voted June 2018’s top running song, or Good Feeling by Underparks will do much the same thing. Or think of the theme tune to Chariots of Fire, Rocky or Highlander.
Turning up the sound before a workout can provide a boost that makes you actually want to workout and GO, likewise when energy is waning towards the end of a run or workout, tuning in to the right song will push you through to the finish or tip that personal best you’re set as your personal challenge. There is also support for the theory that increasing the tempo of music through a workout can improve exercise workload7.
Be careful though, several studies have shown that the motivational impact of music can actually decrease with constant use and over-repetition of the same playlist! SO CHANGE IT UP & keep it fresh to keep motivated!
Will Any Music Do?
In a word, no. Possibly, quite the opposite. It could be said that simply picking any pre-canned workout music is better than no music but customizing your music is key. There is increasing evidence to show that self-selecting your music is more powerful8. How well you relate to the music being played matters. Studies have shown that both down-tempo classical music and heavy metal can increase our heart rate in the same way, so long as it excites YOU. It just depends on what type you enjoy more – your body simply reacts to the stimulus of music more when you enjoy it, than when you don’t.
How To Use Music More Effectively in Your Workouts?
So how can you make better use of music in your workouts?
Here are 5 suggestions you may not have considered…
Design your own playlist.
Make sure you select enough music to last the duration of your workout (including your warm up), and create several lists for different workouts..
Try to be a little scientific and match the beat of the music with the intensity of your exercise. For example, for a fast run, look for music in the 150 to 200bpm range. Slower jogs and gym workouts, 100 to 150 bpm, and more relaxed exercise like yoga or pilates go for songs with < 100bpm. Watch out for a future blog post on how to select music based on the tempo.
Consider the impact of your playlist. Select the music that works for warm ups and early on in your workout, go for higher tempo tracks to get your heart pumping early, before toning it down a bit as you pass through the middle section of your workout. Finally, rather than picking fast paced music for endurance training, consider music that gives you the most pleasure as it will impact your mindset more and offer the most distraction and give the best motivational boost to push through the pain barrier.
Ideally mix up training with and without it, so don’t workout to music every time. Perhaps use it 2 in every 3 runs to keep enjoying maximum benefits from the music, and change your selections every now again to keep it fresh. If you can!
SoundWhiz has interviewed many a runner and athlete, knowing the different music makes for it’s fans. The SoundWhiz Turbo is the ultimate workout wireless headphone – engineered and perfected over time to help you reach your fitness goals. Our headphones are specially designed with enhanced bass to help you get into entrainment with the beat faster. Together with superior comfort and IPX7 level sweat protection, they’re the perfect partner for your custom playlist during any workout. Try them today!
- Kachanutha, S, Khanna, G.L. Effect of music therapy on heart rate variability: A reliable marker to pre-competition stress in sports performance. 2013 J. Med Sci 13 (6) 418-424
- Koelsch, S. Jancke, L. Music and the heart. 2015 European Heart Journal 10.1093
- Soares do Maral, M.A et al Effect of music therapy on blood pressure of individuals with hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis. 2016 Int Jnl Cardiology 214 416-464.
- Crust L. Carry-over effects of music in an isometric muscular endurance task. Percep Mot Skills 2004; 98:985-991.
- Pearce, K.A. Effects of different types of music on physical strength. Percept Mot Skills 1981;53:351-352.
- Chanda, M.L, Levitin, D.J., The neurochemistry of music. 2013 Trends in Cognitive Science 17(4) 179-93.
- Szabo, A., Small, A., & Leigh, M. The effects of slow- and fast-rhythm classical music on progressive cycling to voluntary physical exhaustion. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 1999; 39:220-225.
- North, A.C. and Hargreaves, D.J. Musical preferences during and after relaxation and exercise. Am J Psychol 2000;113:43-67.
- SoundWhiz Editor