Classic January – the promise of fresh starts, new resolutions, and many of us pledging to spend more time exercising in 2021. What if sound could not only entertain you while exercising, but also improve your performance and push you to new heights? If the wheels have already come off the bus, let music get you back on track.
Music has an incredible ability to distract from pain and fatigue, elevate mood, increase endurance, reduce perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. With the right song pumping in your headphones, you’re likely to run faster and further, often without even realising it.
We can think of music as ‘a type of legal performance-enhancing drug’
The effects are so strong that Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University wrote that we can think of music as ‘a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.’ In 2007, USA Track & Field placed a ban on runners using portable music players, in order to prevent runners from having ‘a competitive edge’. Many protested, so the rule now applies only to people vying for awards and money, but it’s clear that the power of music is something to be reckoned with!
But how do we best access this superpower that resides in all of us?
The good kind of distraction
Perhaps the root of music’s power lies in its ability to distract. The body is constantly monitoring itself, and when fatigue begins to set in after a period of exertion, signals are sent to the brain- lactic acid building up in the muscles, a thumping heartbeat, increased sweating- which tell us it’s time to take a break.
Music encourages us to keep exercising and push aside these signals, competing with this physiological feedback for the brain’s conscious attention.
Solidarity with Britney
Similarly, music can change our perception of effort: it seems much easier to run those 10 miles when Britney Spears’ ‘Stronger’ or Katy Perry’s ‘Roar’ are right there with you, urging you on. Both of these examples include exhilarating melodies and positive, empowering lyrics about overcoming limits. This allows them to tie into complex narratives within us, key to motivating our bodies to fight fatigue.
This mesh of associations and connotations woven into the music provides not just an inspiring perspective to adopt, but also an entire alternate reality to enter while running.
Game designers have been exploring new ways to motivate runners via sound, such as developing a smartphone app that guides the listener’s escape from zombies in a post-apocalyptic world, adding narrative, excitement and ultimately distraction from exertion.
Six to Start’s immersive game, Zombies, Run! gives prompts, allowing the listener to imagine themselves running around to collect ammunition and medicine to complete various missions.
Exercise has never felt more vital.
Your brain is inclined to sync your footsteps to anything with a repetitive beat. Syncing your reps or footsteps with certain BPMs can give you an advantage.
This subliminal synchronisation can help you maintain a faster pace. So playing the right songs, at the right pace, through your headphones during a run can help you run more efficiently.
Frequent runners aim to achieve around 180 steps per minute, so songs like catchy earworm ‘All the Things She Said’ by T.A.T.U. or ‘Having a Blast’ by Greenday, are strong options to maximise potential, but finding your own pace and enjoying the experience of a music-charged run is most important.
Get in your zone
One study examining the effects of different music tempos on exercise performance concluded that tempo and musical style had minimal effect: the key ingredient is personal taste. So turn to your favourites for motivation, no matter the bpm, to create a joyful and uplifting experience. In a recent survey, the most popular types of exercise music were hip-hop (28%), rock (24%) and pop (20%).
Music powered recovery
Recovery is an important part of a good workout. Make sure to have some low bpm tracks on call for a gentle cool down. Cortisol, the muscle-eroding, stress induced hormone, can spike at the end of an intense run, but bringing the heart rate down slowly with music can avert this spike. Avoiding the cortisol peak means aided muscle growth.
Music is clearly an incredible motivator, capable of easing pain and improving focus, all of which help you go that extra mile. In 2021, music will be an essential tool to keep us on track and at peak performance.