Most of us live in a society where everything we do is governed by time constraints. After working a full time job, incorporating a family and social life whilst at the same time allowing for adequate rest and recuperation, sometimes the essential ‘me time’ that each and every one of us requires is put on the back burner.

For those of you that are physically fit and active, this ‘me time’ is often spent within a gym setting or exercising elsewhere. As your free time is so important and so precious, it’s vital to make every moment count – however, often this isn’t the case. Have you ever attended the gym with good intentions but simply failed to get going? What can be done to prevent these below par and lethargic sessions?

Of course, there are always supplements such as those aimed at the pre-workout phase of a session to give you that buzzing sensation and that little bit of extra energy to get you through. The only problem with these is that their effectiveness can vary whilst at the same time costing you a small fortune. So what other options do you have?

Terry and Karageorghis (2006) demonstrated through their investigative research that music can, in fact, elicit various positive effects upon an individual when played simultaneously alongside physical exertion. Is it possible that something as simple as music could be the thing standing between you and a new personal best? Are a set of headphones and an mp3 player the only things currently absent from your training regime?

With all this in mind, the purpose of this article is to contemplate the effects of music during a workout.

Music For Motivation

There have been various plausible explanations why music might create a positive effect upon your workout. It is possible that through music, the workload or athletic requirement ahead of you becomes more acceptable and less of a stress or strain. It has also been hypothesised that music can act as a positive distracter, whereby your perception of work rate, fatigue levels and physical discomfort are altered and minimised (Szabo et al. 1999).

So if music can create a positive environment for athletic performance, does it matter what you listen to? Will your grandparents’ classical music be as effective as a musical track that offers an up tempo and fast paced beat? Metzger (2004) argued that individuals undertaking athletic performance will always respond more favourably to a fast tempo track.

Although this belief is widely accepted there is research out there refuting this notion, stating that the music selection is very much dependant on the individual user and this aspect of research cannot be over generalised and applied to a whole sporting population.

Research Into The Effects Of Music During A Workout

In 2009, Waterhouse et al. completed a thorough research investigation into the ‘effects of music tempo upon submaximal cycling performance’. This study will now be considered in further detail.

After a screening process, twelve healthy male individuals were selected to take part in this particular investigation. Each individual was required on four separate occasions: once during a familiarisation period and then for a further three testing sessions. During testing sessions, participants were asked to cycle for a period of up to thirty minutes at a level they could maintain without strain.

During each of the testing sessions, participants were required to listen to music via headphones. This music consisted of six popular tracks, which were maintained throughout all testing days. The only variable that altered was the speed at which the tracks were played on each testing session. This included normal speed, 10% faster speed and 10% lower speed. Due to the time between test days, participants were not aware that the tempo of the music listened to had been altered for each test day.

The Results

“Faster music, whether due to the intrinsic tempo of the music or having increased the tempo artificially, enabled exercise to be performed at a greater work rate and with a greater physiological effect and more positive subjective responses, than did slower music.”
(Waterhouse et al. 2009)

In summary, the key measured variables of distance cycled, power output and cadence were all significantly enhanced when faster tempo music was played to the participants. These findings are supportive of previous research.

It did not matter whether the fast tempo music was achieved through selecting music with a fast paced intrinsic tempo or whether increasing the tempo artificially; as long as the tempo remained heightened then significantly enhanced performance results were noted.

It is believed that the faster tempo music allowed participants to use the music both motivationally and as a positive distraction. As a result of this, participants were able to enhance their effort whilst at the same time successfully manage their discomfort levels.

Final Word

So what does this mean to you and your training? The results of this investigation demonstrate that through the use of fast paced, up tempo music, the overall athletic performance of an individual can be significantly increased. Consequently, these findings and recommendations are relevant to all those looking to enhance their current training.

Although care must be taken not to over generalise the findings of this investigation to an entire athletic population, there’s no reason to suggest that similar methods won’t work in other physical activities, such as weight lifting, if they can be successfully applied to other sports.

The main take home message is that music at the correct tempo has the ability to not only motivate an individual, but provide them with a positive distraction – one which will allow for their overall performance to be significantly enhanced whilst at the same time limiting the perception of discomfort.

If you feel like your training could do with a boost, whatever your chosen pastime might be, then why not try adding music to your performance? As with everything in sport, what works for one may or may not work for another but without attempting you might never know whether its possible to lift more, run faster or hold on for longer.

With all this in mind, the only thing left for you to do is to grab your mp3 player and headphones and work out whether this method of training really is music to your ears.