The ability to improve athletic performance has been a key area of interest to many coaches and trainers. Many tools are currently being used to optimize athletic performance such as improved nutrition, adequate recovery following intense physical exercising and better training equipment. As athletes are always looking for ways to achieve an edge over their competition, we wanted to explore the impact of music on athletic performance.
Costas Karageorghis, author of the book, “Applying Music in Exercise and Sport” has spent over 25 years studying the effects of music on the brain. Music can be a stimulant or a sedative, he said. It can enhance mood, improve muscle control and help the brain build key muscle memories. Karageorghis’ research discovered that music regulates mood and helps us filter out distractions. The key, he found, is to use music to tap into the brain’s secretion of dopamine and natural opioids — two naturally occurring chemicals that help block our perception of fatigue and pain. These benefits may contribute to the enhanced physical performance effects identified in many research studies. Such effects include heightened strength and power output and improved work rate. This enhanced performance or ergogenic effect has been reported both when participants have synchronized their movements with music and in the absence of synchronization.
Several studies have shown how the exact tempo, as measured in beats per minute, affects one’s level of exercise. These studies determined that the ideal tempo necessary for maximum performance depends on the type of exercise. A 2011 study showed that to achieve the best performance for cycling (which was calculated by measuring exercise intensity through heart rate), the preferred tempo is between 125 and 140 beats per minute. A study published in 2014 showed that the best music tempo for enhanced performance on the treadmill is between 123 and 131 bpm. A plausible reason for why different types of exercise have different ideal tempos is related to one’s ability to keep time with the beat of the music, synchronize strides or pedal to the beat. Since pace differs on the treadmill versus the exercise bike, music of different tempos is needed to achieve ideal performance for various workouts.
In summary, analysis from various studies provides evidence that listening to music is associated with beneficial effects in the context of exercise and sport in four key areas. These include enhanced emotional state, increased physical performance, reduced perceived exertion and improved oxygen consumption. In one study, music was found to improve endurance by as much as 15%. Since these outcomes impact athletic performance, integrating music into athletic training routines may help coaches optimize their team's training and achieve better outcomes.
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Brunel University. (2008, October 2). Jog To The Beat: Music Increases Exercise Endurance By 15%. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 24, 2021, from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081001093753.htm
Karageorghis, C. I., Jones, L., Priest, D. L., Akers, R. I., Clarke, A., Perry, J. M., Reddick, B. T., Bishop, D. T., & Lim, H. B. (2011). Revisiting the relationship between exercise heart rate and music tempo preference. Research quarterly for exercise and sport, 82(2), 274–284.
Karageorghis, C. I., & Jones, L. (2014). On the stability and relevance of the exercise heart rate–music-tempo preference relationship. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 15(3), 299–310. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psychsport.2013.08.004
Terry, P. C., Karageorghis, C. I., Curran, M. L., Martin, O. V., & Parsons-Smith, R. L. (2020). Effects of music in exercise and sport: A meta-analytic review. Psychological bulletin, 146(2), 91–117. https://doi.org/10.1037/bul0000216