Have you ever thought about what training in a gym would have been like through the 80s and early 90s? Many of us remember the days of using Walkmans and Discmans so we could hear our own jams while working out. Along with that came the annoyances of your CDs skipping, your tapes getting chewed up, going through tons of batteries, headphone cables getting in the way, and so on. Imagine what it was like even before portable music players, you would have to listen to what ever radio station the gym had on, eww! It has been known for quite some time now that music is associated with increasing work output while training , but what really happens when you are listening to your favorite tracks while lifting? Are there certain songs that are better for training than others? Is there a time that listening to music while training can be detrimental or make no difference at all? Let’s take a little closer look at music as a training stimulus.
The most obvious effect, I think, we can intuitively figure out about music’s impact on training, is giving us a distraction to take our mind off how hard we are working. If we don’t think we are training as hard, it is likely we can delay the onset of fatigue. This has been confirmed already by several studies. Music not only lowers the rate of perceived exertion through distraction, but also can improve mood and increase arousal . Who wouldn’t think these are all good things before and while training. If we feel good, we train better, and if we don’t know we are tired, we train longer. However, if we look deeper into the type of exercise and the impact music has on it, there are some interesting findings.
To my surprise, it has been found that when performing strength exercises to failure, self-selected music appeared to have no advantage over listening to no music at all. Although, in this same study, positive effects of self-selected music were found on the performance of explosive plyometric jumps . Perhaps what this may suggest is music has a different impact on your training depending on the duration of the effort. In this case, music has a greater impact on short explosive bouts of exercises in comparison to high repetition training. If this is the case, what is music’s impact on longer intervals of training such as long-distance cardio work?
As stated earlier, it has been found that music can lower the rate of perceived exertion while training1, 2 but how does this occur? Is there actually a change at the physiological level in the body or does music merely work as a distraction? In a study where subjects were given fast rhythm, slow rhythm, and no music while performing 2 different anaerobic repeated sprint tests. What was discovered was the levels of blood lactate and heart rate where not impacted on not only training with and without music but also the tempo of music . Despite music not having an effect on the physiological aspect of training, studies have shown that soft slow music can improve cardiorespiratory performance when compared to no music at all or faster paced loud music . It was suggested that the slow tempo music allowed for a “distraction effect” from the stress caused by fatigue. I would also assume that slower tempo music helps set a better and slower pace for long distance training which would help increase the time till fatigue rather than altering anything at the physiological level to reduce the onset of fatigue.
This information leads me to several conclusions about music’s effects on exercise. First off, music has a greater impact on exercises that are anaerobic (under 8-10 seconds) and aerobic (longer than 2 minutes) than it does on lactic training (20-90 seconds). This is shown by music’s improvement on anaerobic plyometric training and cardiorespiratory performance, but not on strength exercises to failure. Second, while the tempo of music does not seem to yet be studied in single bouts of explosive plyometric exercises, music tempo does have an impact on aerobic exercise by increasing the time to exhaustion through a “distraction effect” and possibly better pacing. The third and final point I would like to make about music and training is when music can actually be detrimental. An example would be when working on technique, whether that is on your own or you are coaching someone else. As noted earlier, music can produce a “distraction effect” therefore while learning something new or adjusting your technique music acts as cognitive interference and impacts your training goals.
Music is sweet. We all like jamming our favorite tunes when we train and thank god it is so much easier to do now than back in the day. This only really skims the surface of music as a training stimulus though. Hopefully, this short write up gives a little insight into selecting music for training or not getting bent out of shape when you are getting a body building session in and it’s not your jams on the speakers, it won’t make as big of a difference as you think. To wrap this up, I’ll leave my go to training record. I thought about doing a top 3, but I felt like that was even harder than picking 1 single album. After much internal strife, I came up with Madball “Look My Way”. This album is certified to increase all your lifts 15%. Go to this blog post on our Instagram and let us and everyone else know what your go to album or song is for the gym.
1 Anshel, M.H., & MarisiD.Q. Effects of Music and Rhythm on Physical Performance. Research Quarterly, 49: 109-113, 1978
2 Hayakawa, Y. Miki, H. Takada K. & Takana, K. Effects of Music on Mood During Bench Stepping Exercise. Precept Mot Skills 90: 307-314. 2000
3 Baigini, M.S. et al, Effects of Self-Selected Music on Strength, Explosiveness, and Mood. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 26(7): 1934-1938. 2012
4 Atan, T. Effects of Music on Anaerobic Exercise Performance. Biology of Sport 30(1): 35-39. 2013
5 Copeland, B.L. & Franks, B.D. Effects of Types and Intensities of Background Music on Treadmill Endurance. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness. 31: 100-103. 1991
6 Yamashita, J. et al, Effects of Music During Exercise on RPE, Heart Rate and the Autonomic Nervous System. J. Sports Med. Phys. Fitness. 46; 425-430. 2006