Someone smart said “You can’t overdose on music”. Does that mean music is like a drug? Each one of us knows and experiences what music can do to our minds and bodies. Music is power, energy and life. Imagine it’s a sunny day on Saturday morning and you want to go for a run. You put on your running shoes, put on your headphones, fire up your favorite playlist and go running! After a while, fatigue sets in, but is immediately mitigated by the power of the music coming out of your headphones. But why does music help so well with exercise?
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Music and Exercise: a Perfect Wedding!
Since ancient times, the connection between music and sport has been investigated and experimented with. The Ancient Greeks used the term “mousiké” in order to express a form of art composed of movement, sound and verbal expressions. In the past, during some popular celebrations in the South of Italy, citizens performed sport activities such as running with carts or dancing with swords, and music played a fundamental role in order to provide a framework in which the sport was executed. Sport activity often includes fatigue and pain and the role of music in this case was to distract the mind from the pain caused by the sport activity. However, the role of music is not only distracting. There are five more benefits of listening to music while exercising.
Let us start with the first benefit of music while doing sport: dissociation. Music can move the focus of our attention from the fatigue caused by workouts to the pleasure derived from listening to music. This is caused by music’s ability to trigger positive emotions and to decrease the perception of negative emotions such as depression, anger and tension. However, keep in mind that this is true only for workouts with low and medium intensity. In case of workouts that requires a high intensity of fatigue, the pain often exceeds the benefits of music.
The second benefit of music regards the activation of emotions. This second benefit is very much connected to the first benefit of dissociation. Music helps regulate the activation of certain emotions instead of others. Here, the music’s tempo has a central role. A fast tempo and loud intensity increase the excitement and the arousal of emotions, while slower tempo is more used for calming down and relaxing. That’s why lot of athletes listen to music before of a training or a competition in order to calm down their nerves or to energize themselves.
There are two types of music you can listen to while exercising. First, there’s asynchronous music, where there’s no correspondence between the rhythm of the music and the exercises you’re performing. The other is synchronous music, where the rhythm of the music matches with the speed and movement of the activity. Research indicates that synchronous music is more suitable for exercising than asynchronous music. Indeed, synchronizing the music with the movement of the sport activity results in better performance and better output.
Synchronous music is particularly beneficial for helping athletes to better manage their energy use during the performance and extending the physical resistance of both professional and non-professional individuals. This is particularly true for cardio exercises such as running, cycling, rowing and skiing. For example, researchers found out that when you cycle and your movements are in synchronization with the music, you’ll use 7% less oxygen than when you cycle the same way, but with asynchronous music playing.
Improve Your Motor Skills
Music improves the acquisition of motor skills such as coordination and balance. This is probably due to the fact that music reproduces certain bodily rhythms. Moreover, certain lyrics may emphasize aspects of an exercise technique. For example, looking at track and field (a sport that combines running, jumping and throwing), researchers found out that the song “ Push it” by Salt-n-Pepa better highlights the idea that the shot has to be put and not thrown – throwing the shot represents one of the most technical errors in this sport. Additionally, music makes the environment seem more cheerful, enhancing motivation and positive feelings.
State of flow
All the benefits I’ve just shared, work together so that music helps you to reach a “state of flow”. It helps you to enter a state of total intrinsic motivation, concentration and focus which is necessary in exercise to perform at your very best.
Choose the Right Music for Exercising
So, how to choose the right music for working out? Well, unfortunately the answer is not so straightforward. Musical tastes are often subjective. Not everyone loves pumping electro beats. However, a general pattern can still be found. First of all, it can be a good idea to think about which type of workout you’re about to do. Choose a type of music where the rhythm and tempo match with the exercises. Research suggests that some activities, especially those that are characterized by repetitiveness such as warm-ups, stretching and circuit training are particularly suitable to perform while listening to accompanying music. Secondly, it is important to take the intensity of the activity into account. When we want to raise the heart rate while doing a workout, such as running, it is better to select music where there is a gradual raise of the tempo. Moreover, research has suggested that in recovery sessions, especially after complex and structured workouts, it is better to listen to music that changes tempo and rhythm, for example from slow to fast or from loud to soft.