Get the Rhythm to Fire Up Endurance Performance


My last research update focused on the effect of music on sprint performance. Here is some recent research suggesting that listening to synchronous music thats in rhythm withe the body’s movements can help endurance performance as well.

The Research

Six male and 5 female  elite triathletes aged 19.5 ± 2.3 years from the Queensland Academy of Sport took part in the study. On three separate occasions thay ran on a treadmill in time to self-selected motivational music, a neutral equivalent and a no-music control. On each test occasion, they were examined while running at three below maximum  speeds (approx 14, 16 and 18 k/hr) for 4 minutes each with 2 minutes between each run. After a 5 minute break from this, they then ran at slightly above anaerobic threshold velocity for as long as they could. The music was played from speakers placed in front of and to the side of the treadmill. The scientists measured time-to-exhaustion, mood responses, feeling states, Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE), blood lactate concentration, oxygen consumption and running economy (how much oxygen they used at each running speed).

The Results

Time-to-exhaustion was 18.1% and 19.7% longer, respectively, when running in time to motivational and neutral music, compared to no music. Mood responses and feeling states were more positive with motivational music compared to either neutral music or no music. RPE was lowest for neutral music and highest for the no-music control. Blood lactate concentrations were lowest for motivational music. Oxygen consumption was lower with music by 1.0%–.7%. Both music conditions were associated with better running economy than the no-music control.

So What?

This research strongly suggests listening to any music allows athletes to run for longer but that listening to motivational music the athletes choose themselves is more enjoyable. Increasing amounts of research is suggesting that using music you like and that pumps you up and is in time with your body’s movements can lead to better performances in training. So get the earphones on and use the following tips to help you choose the right music:

  1. Match the music to your activity and state of mind you want. For example, if doing interval training, pick louder, faster, rhythmic bass-driven music to pump yourself up.
  2. When doing longer workouts, slower tempo and easier quieter music.
  3. Consider music that creates motivating images in your head or personal memories.
  4. Choose music that contains positive affirmations such as ‘keep on running’, ‘ move on up’, ‘shake your bootie’ etc.

For more scientifically-based advice on (legal) performance-enhancing ways to improve performance (including specific details on how much and when and how to take supplements such as caffeine, creatine, sodium bicarbonate), see Chapter 18 (Performance-enhancing supplements and the masters athlete) of my book The Masters Athlete.

Source: Terry, P. and others (2012). Effects of synchronous music on treadmill running among elite triathletes. Journal of Science and Medicine in Sport. 15(1): 52-57.