For many athletes, training without music is like running naked – they could do it, but they’d feel uncomfortable and just a little distracted. With recent research suggesting music can actually boost performance, there’s never been a better time to pump the tunes.
In the past 10 years there has been a big upswing in the amount of research on workout music, and the connection between exercise and music. In a 2012 review of much of this research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that music could be considered “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
Going right back to the days of Roman slaves rowing ships across the Mediterranean, music has long helped people get into a rhythm with their activity. In a 2012 study by C. J. Bacon of Sheffield Hallam University, participants who cycled in time to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who didn’t synchronise their movements with background music. The study suggested music not only acted like a metronome to help athletes maintain a steady pace, it could reduce false steps and decrease energy expenditure.
Music distracts us from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, we run further, bike longer and swim faster than usual – often without realising it.
There has long been an association between music with a fast beat and high-intensity activity, but research suggests this hits a ceiling at about 145 beats per minute – anything higher doesn’t add to motivation or performance.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
Karageorghis has claimed that music can “reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%”. Here’s why: signs of extreme exertion, such as rising levels of lactate in the muscles, higher heart rate and heavy sweating tell your body it needs a break. Music competes with this physiological feedback for the brain’s conscious attention, distracting the body’s urge to stop. At the same time, music can change our perception of effort while training because we focus less on our breathing and other signs of exertion.
In a report by the American Council on Exercise, Carl Foster from the University of Wisconsin wrote “all things being equal, I think the stronger and more obvious the beat is, the more likely you will be to follow it”.
Check out the 2XU Run playlist on Spotify on your next run.