For the majority of people, the idea of training in silence is unimaginable. Whether it’s motivation, inspiration or distraction you need, music can make all the difference to your training performance.
In this article, training specialist Florian Nock gets to the heart of what it means to soundtrack your workout and what exactly science tells us about the effect of music on training.
Music plays a role in every stage of your training
When you feel tired or unmotivated, music can help you get back into the zone. Various studies conducted on professional and amateur sportspeople have shown that listening to music before working out acts as a stimulant, boosting your confidence and promoting blood flow. Research has also shown that fast tempo music played at a high volume can even increase grip strength, muscular endurance, and concentration.
Music can also help during your warmup. Increasing the BPM of the music you’re listening to in line with your increasing heart rate has been shown to make for a more effective warmup than simply doing it in silence. To properly implement this, begin with a mid-tempo song and gradually increase the tempo to follow your heartbeat.
Listening to music during the main body of your workout could also enhance performance. A study conducted with triathletes running on treadmills showed that music had positive effects from physiological (lactate level, VO2 consumption), psychological (RPE) and performance perspectives (delayed time until exhaustion). However, other studies have demonstrated that this is entirely dependent on the sport and that sometimes music is even counter-productive.
Finally, after your workout, a calmer, slower song can help reduce stress hormone levels such as cortisol and decrease heart rate. Lower tempo music also encourages the breathing to slow down, allowing oxygen to more effectively reach the muscles.
Curate your playlist to your workout
For a cardio session involving repetitive running, rowing or cycling movements such as running, rowing or cycling choose music with a steady rhythm and even BPM. This will help synchronize your heart and stride rate. Studies have demonstrated that when beginners listened to music while running, they were able to run for longer than beginners who ran in silence.
If you’re doing HIIT, music with a varying tempo is more effective as it mirrors the frequent switches between exercises typical of this type of training. The switch between slow and fast tempos has been proven to give a psychological energy burst.
Picking the right songs according to science
Researchers developed an instrument for measuring the motivational qualities of music in exercise; it is called "The Brunel Music Rating Inventory-2 " and helps trainers pick the right song.
According to this report...
- Music with direct references to sports helps to increase motivation
- Music associated with TV shows or movies can promote the desire to engage in physical activity
- The music should be allied to your personal preferences. Even if a song is of the right tempo, if it isn’t a genre you personally like, it will not have the desired positive effects on your training.
- Music tempo should be linked to an exercise heart-rate. This is even more important when it comes to HIIT.
- Personal relationships with songs are important; if a song reminds you of a past victory, it could be the extra bit of motivation you need.
Playing music during your workout doesn’t just provide a fun soundtrack; research has demonstrated that listening to the right music at the right point in your workout could boost motivation and performance - but in the end it’s all about finding what works best for you.