A growing body of research has been confirming the positive impacts that music has on athletic performance and neurological connections. It’s all about reaching the flow state.

Over the years, researchers have found that music positively influences how athletes feel and perform in a variety of sports, including volleyball, swimming, running, rowing, and even golf—as well as during warmup and breaks.

A 2008 study conducted by Brunel University’s School of Sport and Education examined the considerable advantages of incorporating music into exercise. It found that music can help people, who are working out at a very high intensity, feel better when they are close to physical exhaustion. Music has been suggested to delay fatigue hence increase the duration of exercise.  The psychological aspect of improved mood also plays a part in this. The researchers state that carefully selected music can increase endurance by 15% and help people derive more pleasure from working out. Runners frequently report that listening to music increases their average distances.

The motivational quality of music helps listeners interpret their own fatigue symptoms in a more positive light.  Music also exhibits the ability to alter one’s perception of exertion. Other researchers think that it might promote neuromuscular, metabolic efficiency—reducing effort in exercise and making more energy available for athletic tasks. It attracts attention away from one’s feelings of fatigue and makes workouts feel fun.

Music with fast tempos and more beats per minute (bpm) tend to increase muscle tension, blood pressure, and heart rate—things which people need to excel during sports. Meanwhile, slower music tends to have the opposite effects, decreasing all those factors. Certain sports like rowing benefit from both fast and slow tempos, compared to no music at all.

The Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie famously broke records to the song “Scatman” which he said matched his stride rate perfectly and effectively influenced his style. Rhythm and tempo may be the most important parts of music when it comes to athletic performance, as the mere use of a metronome has been found to yield positive outcomes. Still, lyrics can also prove very helpful.

What constitutes as “fitness music” varies with taste. It is heterogeneous and not limited to specific genres. In addition, self-selected music has been found to work wonders. Music that one considers motivational will lead to better physical performance. Another study from 2017 suggested that self-selected music may “exert an ergogenic and distractive effect,” increase exercise duration, and alleviate stress.

Music has also been proposed to facilitate arousal regulation, synchronization, motor skills, and the attainment of flow. A flow state is reached when physical and mental functioning are both optimal. There have been efforts to measure this on the Flow State Scale (FSS). Getting into the flow is one of the reasons why professional athletes wear earphones during pre-task warmups. Some scientists have suggested that music helps athletes reach a desirable flow state by inhibiting the higher cognitive system that analyzes novel situations.

When competitors are closely matched in ability, music may incite a small yet significant boost. Music might be so good at bumping up performance, that the New York Marathon banned music from the competition in 2007. On the other hand, London hosts the Run to the Beat marathon in which the organizers scientifically select music to be performed live on several stages along the route.

Costa Karageorghis, author of “Applying Music in Exercise and Sport,” said that “when the brain is listening to music, it lights up like a Christmas tree.” Music can reach parts of the brain that cannot easily be accessed—while activating several of the brain’s areas and functions at once, all of which are critical to sports.

The close relationship between music and fitness is time honored. Today, fitness is further solidifying its role in the music market as a growing revenue stream for providers. The fitness music trend is leading to more business partnerships, curated playlists, and music-accompanied workouts at gym studios around the world.

Music is a natural, safe performance enhancer and ergonomic aide. Its psychophysical effect is quite powerful. The more research is conducted on music’s psychophysical mechanisms, the better trainers and athletes can curate playlists for efficacy. Further studies could also be useful for health workers who use various forms of exercise in weight loss and rehabilitation programs for patients.

Visit the E-Sports International newsroom to read more articles on health and fitness topics.

Photo Credits:

Images are from Kalev Fitness Solution, International Business Times, Stuff, The Kiki C Project, and Rolling Stone.

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