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April 8, 2013

Music: Can It Improve Athletic Performance?

Music: Can It Improve Athletic Performance?Music is powerful. It moves us, affects our moods, and stimulates our memory. Many times when we hear a song we can recall the first time we heard it, or we associate a song witha specific experience or memory. I’ve wondered if music can improve athletic performance? If you can improve athletic performance by listening to music you might have a step up on your competition.

Competitive athletes are constantly looking for that little edge – and that’s all it takes at the elite levels of athletic competition to make a difference between winning and losing, between the gold medal and silver medal.

The results of scientific studies of music and exercise are not too surprising, I don’t think. Scientific studies show that music can in fact improve athletic performance by at least 5 mechanisms.

Costa Karageorghis, PhD, a sports psychologist at London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education, is a leading expert on music and exercise and has performed extensive research in this area. First, the following quote by Dr. Karageorghis probably sums up his thoughts on the effects of music and physical performance. Music is like a legal drug for athletes, says Dr. Karageorghis. That’s a strong statement and probably worth heeding if you’re a serious athletic competitor, or want to get more benefit from your exercise training sessions.

How Music Affects Exercise Performance

Music improves exercise performance in 5 known ways.

  1. Dissociation
  2. Arousal regulation
  3. Synchronization
  4. Motor skill acquisition
  5. Attainment of Flow

So what does this mean?  Well, during submaximal exercise music can take our minds off (dissociate) of fatigue and the way we interpret the effort. Music improves our mood blunting the sensation of fatigue. Music even makes intense effort seem more enjoyable.

Music can be used as a stimulant or depressant, either psyching us up before or during competition, or helping us to remain calm by psyching us down. In some sports like basketball or football it’s important to be “aroused”, but for other sports like golf and baseball keeping emotions even keel is more important, and music can modulate the level of arousal. Fast tempo music is associated with higher levels of arousal than low tempo music as you might expect.

During repetitive exercise like running, rowing, and cycling music can be synchronized with the exercise helping to regulate movement and the pace at which exercise is performed. In doing so music improve exercise efficiency – meaning we can do more with less effort.

Music facilitates our ability to learn new motor skills. Learning new motor skills is easier when we’re younger, but we’re never too old to learn – it just becomes harder the older we get. Music can make the learning process easier. Music can replicate rhythm and enhance body movements.

Finally, music improves the possibility of reaching optimal flow, or getting into that infamous ZONE – where we are totally focused, completely energized, and enjoying the moment – perhaps the pinnacle in athletic performance.

What Type of Music?

Now that we know music improves exercise performance, which music should you pick?  To a large degree that’s a matter of personal preference but there ares some guidelines. Select music that matches the exercise in terms of tempo and intensity (loudness/softness). For repetitive exercise choose music that has a tempo slightly faster than your target heart rate. Selecting songs that have lyrics suggesting physical movements like “push it”, “running”, or “hitting” is a plus, too. If your exercise session involves fast paced and slow-paced activities select songs that vary in pace.

Enjoy music and allow it enhance your exercise performance so you can better reap the benefits and results of your hard work.

See related articles.

“CrossFit Craze”

“4 Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training”

“Becoming Lean and Mean At Any Age”

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Dr. Joe Jacko


Dr. Joe is board certified in internal medicine and sports medicine with additional training in hormone replacement therapy and regenerative medicine. He has trained or practiced at leading institutions including the Hughston Clinic, Cooper Clinic, Steadman-Hawkins Clinic of the Carolinas, and Cenegenics. He currently practices in Columbus, Ohio. Read more about Dr. Joe Jacko

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