You might recognize the feeling of being tired and exhausted during a run. That particular feeling, however, seems to magically disappear as soon as one of your favourite artists starts bawling through your earphones. Does music improve exercise performance or is it more a result of physiological factors? We will investigate in a minute …
For some years ago I served as a Royal Life Guard in Denmark. One day we were going to do a cooper test, which is a 12 minute run test. A lot of recruits complained about the fact that we were not allowed to use our earphones during the test. Nonetheless, the sergeant had a firm conviction stating that music improve physical performance.
There is a lack of scientific evidence when it comes to how music can improve exercise performance. However, studies have shown that music can “generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have potential applications in sport and exercise.” (T., 2013).
Plenty of studies have tried to find the connection between music and physical performance. There is simply no consensus among researchers. Alan T once conducted a research with aerobic exercise and music. He concluded that there were no differences between fast music, slow, music and no-music conditions in terms of heart rates or power outputs. We should keep in mind that he conducted his research in the field of aerobic.
One of the most famous studies about music and exercise performance is a study conducted by Atkinson, Wilson and Eubank back in 2003. To this day, the study is known to be representative in the research of music and exercise performance. Atkinson, Wilson and Eubank looked at how a group with subjects responded when cycling 10 kilometres with fast-pace music. The other group were also going to cycle 10 kilometres but were not allowed to listen to music. The outcome showed that the subjects with music cycled significantly faster than the group with no music. However, the biggest difference occurred in the first kilometres and the last kilometre.
In spite of these findings, many researchers still believe that increased physical performance is a result of increased motivation. Several studies have been conducted about motivation and how it can increase exercise performance. We all know how easier it is to get up on a bike on a sunny day, compared to a rainy day.
Time for the question that you all came on here for! Will music improve exercise performance? Maybe. The majority of research shows that if it does, it is because of the psychological factors mentioned earlier in this post. If you are going to do a treadmill alone on a cold rainy day, it is very likely that music can improve your performance. However, if you are going to run a marathon with the sound of thousand of spectators cheering in the background, it might be unnecessary to listen to music as the basis for motivation already is present. The real questions should therefore be: When should I listen to music to improve exercise performance? Our answer will be … Whenever you need a bit of motivation!
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Davis, J. (2013). Runnersconnect. Accessed from Does Music Help You Run Faster? A Look at the Scientific Research: https://runnersconnect.net/running-training-articles/does-music-help-you-run-faster/
T., A. (1. March 2013). Effect on music on anaerobic exercise. Biology of Sport , p. 25-39.