Music and exercise performance: Walk into any gym and chances are high that most people you see will have headphones snaking their way from ears to trusty MP3 players. Most of us like to listen to music when we work out. Some of us even refuse to work out without music.
So what’s the deal? Is it just a mental thing, or does music actually have physiological effects on athletic performance?
Dr. Costas Karageorghis, an expert on the effects of music upon athletic performance, has the answer. According to him, music can have four possible effects on athletic performance:
- Music can distract an athlete from fatigue.
- Music can act as a mood altering catalyst.
- Music can synchronize an athlete’s rhythm and movement.
- Music can act as a trigger for learning certain motions and aid with muscle memory.
And it’s not just any kind of music. If you are listening to the “right” music while running (this, of course, is entirely subjective and personal), you can improve performance by up to 15% (which is why in 2007, personal music devices were banned from the New York Marathon).
Karageorghis, has also done studies to see the difference in results of synchronous music and asynchronous music. Synchronous music (music with a clear and steady beat) was what was shown to elevate a person’s performance by 20%. Meanwhile, asynchronous music (background music) was shown to calm the nerves of athletes by as much as 10%.
Another interesting thing to keep in mind when it comes to the effects of music on athletic performance is your personal method of approaching exercise. Associators are people who focus inwardly when exercising, while dissociators are people who look for stimulus & distraction when exercising.
According to Karageorghis, most elite athletes are associators, meaning that the benefits of listening to music tend to be less pronounced if someone is a hardcore athlete, compared to the Average Joe.