Most of us don’t need a research study to tell us that music helps us perform better. There’s a reason we constantly stack our workout playlists with motivating music before heading to the gym. Deep down, we know music helps us work out harder, longer and even enjoy it more.
There are clear psychological and physiological benefits of exercising to music, such as:
- Synchronization: moving to the beat promotes movement efficiency and greater levels of endurance.
- Fostering Mood: music can alter emotional and physiological states and can be used to “amp up” before a workout, race, or competition, or to calm anxious feelings and facilitate recovery.
- Dissociation: music can divert the mind away from the sensations of fatigue and lower perception of effort.
However, emerging, new research is finding exciting benefits for new populations such as children and cardiac rehab patients, as well bringing new benefits to light for athletes and recreational exercisers.
Effects of Music on Heart Rate and Recovery
In a recent study, participants completed a self-paced treadmill workout and supine post-exercise recovery periods under three randomly assigned conditions: static noise (control), fast tempo music, and slow-tempo music. The researchers measured average running speed, heart rate, and RPE (rating of perceived exertion) during the treadmill period. Researchers also measured heart rate and blood lactate levels during the recovery period.
The conclusion? Fast-tempo music resulted in a faster self-selected running speed and a higher peak heart rate without a corresponding difference in peak RPE. In addition, listening to slow-tempo music during the post-exercise period resulted in faster heart rate recovery throughout and reduced blood lactate levels at the end of recovery.
Effects of Music on Strength and Endurance
In a study published in 2015, researchers looked at resistance-trained men and randomly assigned them to either a music group or a control group. The participants took part in two separate sessions: one consisted of a maximal strength test (1-RM) and one consisted of a strength-endurance test (reps to failure at 60% 1-RM) using the bench press exercise.
The conclusion? Listening to music induced a significant increase of strength endurance performance with no effects on maximal strength.
Effects of Music on Oxygen Consumption
In this 2012 study, participants were asked to cycle for 12 minutes at 70% max heart rate while being randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: slow tempo asynchronous music, synchronous music, and fast tempo asynchronous music. Researchers monitored exercise response in VO2, HR, and RPE.
The conclusion? Mean V02 (oxygen consumption) was lower in the synchronous group (cycling “to the beat”) with HR showing a similar trend to VO2. The results showed that exercise is more efficient when performed synchronously with music compared to when the musical tempo is slightly slower than the rate of the cyclical movement.
“Entrainment” and Music
In 2015, the Sports Medicine Journal published a study where recreational runners ran four laps under various conditions, including control pace, cadence-matched tempo music, and increasing and/or decreasing tempos. The researchers found that running tempo significantly influenced running cadence, and found a linear relation between the tempo and adaptations in running cadence. It was interesting to note that higher levels of tempo entrainment were found for females compared to their male counterparts.
The researchers concluded that music tempo “could serve as an unprompted means to impact running cadence.” And that step rate increases (efficiency) may prove beneficial in the prevention and treatment of common running-related injuries, which is especially relevant for treatment, exercise prescription, and gait retraining.
Effects of Music on Walking in Children
In the October 2016 issue of Rehabilitation Nursing Journal, a study looked at 97 children who performed a 6-minute walking test in four conditions: without music, with preferred music, with slow music, and with fast music. The results showed those who walked with fast music walked a longer distance compared to those with slow music.
The conclusion? Music influences sub-maximal performance without modifying exercise tolerance in healthy children.
Effects of Music on Cardiac Rehab Patients
This was a slightly more complicated, but very cool study (read more about it here) that looked at cardiac rehab patients who exercised without music, with music, with personalized playlists, and with music enhanced to emphasize the beat (rhythmic auditory stimulation (RAS) to accentuate tempo-pace synchrony). The participants were taking part in “usual care” in a cardiac rehabilitation program and were monitored for 3 months under various music conditions.
The conclusion? The use of tempo-pace synchronized preference-based audio-playlists was efficacious in improving adherence to physical activity beyond the evidence-based non-music usual standard of care. In addition, the group whose music used RAS (beat enhanced music) attained weekly exercise volumes that were nearly twofold greater than either of the two other groups (average weekly minutes of physical activity). These patients also utilized their audio-playlist devices more frequently than did non-RAS music counterparts.
- General benefits: http://thesportjournal.org/article/music-sport-and-exercise-update-research-and-application
- Influence of music on maximal self-paced running performance and passive post-exercise recovery rate. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2016 January. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27314136
- Effects of Self-Selected Music on Maximal Bench Press Strength and Strength Endurance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 2015 June. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26106802
- Effect of Music-movement Synchrony on Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, 2012 August. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22828457
- Spontaneous Entrainment of Running Cadence to Music Tempo. Sports Medicine - Open, 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26258007
- Influence of Different Kinds of Music on Walking in Children. Rehabilitation Nursing, 2016 Oct 25. Retrieved from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27780295