There is plenty of research on the effects of music on exercise, but can music really affect your workout? In other words, is there much benefit to capturing steam best headphones for running (opens in a new tab) when you want to improve your performance? Well, some of the results are quite remarkable.
For the past two decades, scientists have been busy researching the effects of music on exercise performance and have found significant benefits.
Music can positively affect your mood, reduce perceived exertion, increase endurance and make athletes more efficient when it is synchronized with their movements. People were able to run further, cycle longer and swim faster while listening to music.
And yet there are reservations. Much depends on the athlete’s ability level, the duration of the workout, and the intensity of the exercise, but there are many benefits to be gained from listening to music.
One of the world’s leading experts, Professor Kostas Karageorgis, author Application of music in exercise and sportstells us what the music does when we exercise.
Professor Kostas Karageorgis is an expert in sports and exercise psychology. He is a Chartered Sport and Exercise Psychologist (British Psychological Society), a Chartered Scientist (Science Council) and a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. His scientific output includes more than 200 scientific articles, 14 chapters in edited texts and a text Inside Sports Psychology (Human Kinetics), which has been translated into Polish, Turkish and Farsi. He recently published a second text, Application of music in exercise and sports (Human Kinetics) as well as a related study guide.
How does music affect mood during exercise?
Professor Karageorgis and his team at Brunel University London have spent many years monitoring the brain’s response to music during exercise. One of their studies is published in Psychology of sport and exercise (opens in a new tab)found that listening to music led to a 28 percent increase in enjoyment of physical activity compared to listening to nothing.
Satisfaction was also 13 percent higher for participants who listened to music compared to those who listened to a podcast.
Meanwhile, another study found that participants who listened to music they considered “pleasant” had higher levels of serotonin, as reported in International Journal of Qualitative Research in Health and Wellbeing (opens in a new tab). It is a hormone that promotes positive feelings.
It soon becomes clear that by increasing pleasure, music can reduce perceived effort and make exercise less strenuous. Moreover, the research in this area is extensive, with more than 100 studies showing an average of 10% reduction in perceived exertion when listening to music at low to moderate physical exertion.
But which tunes work best? Well, Professor Karageorghis says that listening to “any music” will reduce perceived effort, whether you like the music or not.
“Arbitrarily selected music will reduce perceived exertion by approximately 8% during low- to moderate-intensity exercise. Beyond the anaerobic threshold, music is usually ineffective, but well-chosen music can reduce perceived exertion by 12%,” he adds.
But as soon as someone is engaged in more than 75% of them VO2 max (opens in a new tab) during high-intensity training, music has a “relatively ineffective” effect on the perception of stress.
Can music really improve my performance?
As shown in a recent review in Journal psychological bulletin (opens in a new tab), studies show that music helps improve athletic performance. One explanation for this is that music can help distract from pain and fatigue, allowing people to work longer.
According to Karageorgis, the benefits of distraction are most noticeable during low- to moderate-intensity exercise. If you’re really stressed during a workout, music is unlikely to distract you from the fatigue. It can affect how you to answer to this fatigue, however – it can motivate you to continue.
Aside from distraction, there’s another way music affects our athletic performance: synchronizing with the beat.
“When you use music in sync, when people consciously synchronize their movements with the music, it can have an ergogenic or performance-enhancing effect of 10 to 15%,” says Karageorgis.
So the key to listening to music is to synchronize your movements with the beat to increase energy efficiency. In Karageorgis’ research, this metronome effect reduced oxygen consumption by up to seven percent. But the professor points out that these tests were conducted in sterile laboratory conditions, where there is nothing to distract the participants; actual results may vary.
What tempo to listen to?
If you’re using music to improve your performance, rather than just to distract yourself, then you need to choose tunes with a tempo that matches your desired speed of movement. But instead of choosing something with a very fast beat, Karageorghis recommends choosing something with a beat that matches half the desired pace.
“If, for example, you want to run at a very high step rate, say 180 steps per minute, you might choose a piece of music that is quite rhythmically rich, which has a total of 90 beats per minute. and you would cycle steps on each [half] beat,” he says. He gives this advice because listening to music with more than 150 beats per minute can be very difficult to process, making it difficult to stay in sync.
And if you want to turn on music for motivation rather than timing, research shows that 120-140 beats per minute is the “sweet spot.”
“So there will be 120 [suitable for] very low-intensity exercise such as walking and 140 will work for a very high-intensity exercise regimen such as running at 80% aerobic capacity,” explains Karageorghis.
How about listening to podcasts and other audio?
Karageorgis says studies have shown that podcasts and audiobooks still immerse the listener and reduce perceived tension. But now it allows you to take advantage of sync and any lyrical statements. It also depends on the intensity of the workout.
“When you think about processing the information that comes in, for example, keeping up with a podcast and the key messages that it contains, it can really distract from exercise or very high-intensity training. Probably, it is better to do it in silence or to simple and beat music,” suggests Karageorghis.
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