Rock Out With Your Work Out

Listening to music during exercise or sports is certainly part of some people’s everyday experience. It seems that many people utilize music during their workouts; they use it as distraction or employ it as motivation or for performance enhancement. Let’s delve into the effects of music on athletic performance.

I found an article by Peter Terry, Department of Psychology at the University of Southern Queensland, and Costas Karageorghis, School of Sport and Education at Brunel University West London. Their article entails the scientific study of music’s effect on athletic performance and I will reference some of their studies throughout this discussion.

There are four main components in music that could make it possibly useful in athletic activity. With the most profound first, there are response to rhythm, musicality, cultural impact, and association; as determined by the Brunel Music Rating Inventory. Rhythm response is based mostly on tempo. Musicality contains harmony and melody. Cultural impact has to do with the commonality of the song with respect to the relative culture. Association refers to the ties the song may have with anything extra-musical; that is it’s relation to something else beyond just the music itself, perhaps emotional or inspiring. In addition to these four factors is the characteristic of music to be motivating, oudeterous (neutral), and demotivating. Motivational music has a beat-per-minute (bpm) of 120 or more. It is thought that a strong rhythm promotes body movement as well as boosts energy output. Also, a change from a lower bpm to a higher bpm during an activity can increase the motivation and output of a performer.

With these four factors come the types of situations in which music could be used in sports or athletics. There is pre-task music, asynchronous music (background music) and synchronous music. Pre-task music is music heard only prior to an activity. Asynchronous music is heard during an activity but there is no conscious correlation of the music to the bodily movements. With synchronous music the music is advertently in time, rhythm, and tempo of the bodily movements.

Pre-task music was tested before an activity by having performers listen to fast tempo music intended to be energizing and stimulating, slow tempo music intended to be relaxing and sedative, and a white noise control intended to be oudeterous. After listening to fast tempo music the performers did quite well. The performance was higher than the white noise and slow tempo music. The white noise did better for the performers than did the slow tempo music. These seem to relate in effect respectively as positive, neutral, and negative. It seems that pre-task music can aid in an activity given that it is of a fast, energizing quality, which is intuitive.

Asynchronous music can be used to regulate work output. When in the early stages of exercise background music was effective when the performers’ exertion was still not very excessive. The rhythm of the music seemed to affect the performers but the melody or harmony seemed to make little difference. The asynchronous music was influential in how the performers felt but not what they felt. The perception of effort was not altered using asynchronous music. However, the amount of fatigue noticed was reduced; thus a useful trait. The background music is beneficial to exercise up until the performer reaches maximal levels of exertion. Once a very high level is reached the asynchronous music is no longer affective. The trends of asynchronous music use are that slow music is not useful for heightening exertion, fast music is good for enhancing performance, going from slow to fast is helpful with aerobic endurance, and it loses its potential when used during maximal output activities.

Synchronous use of music seems to be the most effective use of music for enhancing athletic performance. In aerobic classes, students noted that synchronous music gave them a positive mood. There is also a benefit that was noticed during cycling that it aided ergogenics; meaning it helped people to coordinate their muscle movements effectively. In running it was shown that using synchronous music that was motivational or oudeterous resulted in faster times than no music at all. The motivational quality of the music did not seem to matter; it just needed to by synchronous to the activity. The conclusion being that synchronous music is highly effective for improving performance. A good example is in the Ethiopian runner Haile Gebreselassie. He broke the 2000 meter record in 1998 by running in synch with the upbeat 1995 pop song, Scatman.

Naturally, there are certain instances where each type of music, with various factors, could be useful or not. Repetitive activities that are of moderate difficulty are the best instances to use music, especially with synchronous music. A good means of using music may be to match the bpm of the tempo to the bpm of your desired heart rate, changing the tempo to match the rythm and pace of your exercise.

I have witnessed the uses of music in sport many times. When I ran track in high school some teammates would warm up with pre-task, pump-up music. During personal workouts I would use intense music to encourage me to run or lift harder. Nowadays, I don’t like burdening my ear with headphones or carrying a device so I’ve mastered “playing” music in my head, whether my own covers or improvised music of my liking. This allows me to change the rythm and musicality to fit my desired outcome.

In all, it’s clear music can enhance exercise and athletic performance in ways beyond distraction or inspiration. It seems the conscious listening and syncing of music can effect our exertion in ways likewise conscious as well as subconsciously. Exercising can be explicitly or implicitly engaged. When doing short and fast bursts a pump-up song can help us focus on the motions’ movements and high output. When doing long-distance or -duration exercise a steady rythm can help maintain your pace without taking conscious effort or thought, which would add mental fatigue to physical. So, rock out with your work out!

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