Music: How to effectively use it before, during, and after activity2 Opinions
n 2013, it is impossible to go into any workout facility and not see the majority of the exercisers with headphones in or to walk into a team’s changing room and for it to be silent. Music plays an influential role in our society and the world of sport and exercise is no exception. Advances in technology have made music more accessible and more prevalent than ever making it a part of our daily lives. But how do we know what kind of music is most effective to our training and performance? This is a guide for appropriate and effective music to listen to before, during, and after exercise or sport performance.
Music is often used by athletes before an event, game, or match. Michael Phelps is a prime example of this as he has often been shown with his headphones on before swimming each of his Olympic races. Phelps has stated that before he swims he listens to music that motivates him and that has lyrics he can relate to. These are just a couple of the reasons why athletes use pre-task music. Laukka (2013) found that elite athletes’ other motives for using music before an event are to increase pre-event activation, positive affect, motivation, performance levels, and to experience flow. The research done in this area has been primarily on the effects of stimulative and sedative music pre-task. Karageorghis, Drew, and Terry (1996) found that listening to stimulative music prior to a grip strength test resulted in increased grip strength relative to the control. It was also found that listening to sedative music prior to the test resulted in lower scores. Other studies have shown that listening to music before performing can increase or decrease arousal depending on the type of music (Eliakim, Meckel, Nemet, & Eliakim, 2007; Yamamoto et al., 2003). Yamamoto et al. found that slower music lowered arousal during the listening period and that faster music elevated arousal. While Eliakim et al. found that stimulative music increased heart rate, which is an indicator of increased arousal. This is evidence that music can be beneficial to a pre-performance routine as far as preparing the body for its upcoming sport. However, it is important to note that pre-task music is not as relevant in an exercise context as it is in a sport context because people do not generally get too anxious about exercising like they do sport performance (Karageroghis & Priest, 2012a).
Music can also be used as a tool to regulate pre-competitive emotions. Bishop and Karageorghis (2009) found that young tennis players listen to music at least two hours a day on average, and that it usually takes place while they are travelling, preparing for competition or training, in their bedrooms, or working out in the gym. They also established that these athletes listened to music in order to achieve five broad states: appropriate mental focus, confident, positive emotional state, psyched-up, and relaxed. Bishop and Karageorghis came to this conclusion by having the tennis players keep a daily one-page diary for two weeks that consisted of open ended questions about what they had done that day, their tennis performance, what music they listened to, and how it made them feel. From this, they were able to create a new model for selecting effective pre-performance music. In the model, there are five determinants of emotive music. Extra-musical associations with significant others, places, and past events is at the top because that was found to be the most important according to what the young tennis players put in their diaries (Bishop & Karageorghis, 2009). Overall, it was found that all of the music selected by the young tennis players were tracks they were very familiar with, which again shows the importance of personal preference because if the athlete does not know the song that is supposed to be preparing them to perform it will be much harder for them to connect with it.
The majority of the research done in the area of using music in sport and exercise has been focused on the use of asynchronous music, or background music, while training or exercising. It is best used when the goal is to either enhance mood or distract attention away from a monotonous or repetitive drill, such as gym workouts or when practicing specific skills (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). Several studies have been conducted on the effects of music during endurance tasks, and the general consensus is that music does increase endurance (Crust, 2004; Crust & Clough 2006; Priest & Karageorghis, 2008). Crust (2004) and Crust and Clough (2006) examined the effects of motivational music on an isometric muscular endurance task which required participants to hold a weight extended directly from their body at shoulder level. In both studies, it was found that muscular endurance lasted longer when the participants were listening to music than when they were not. Crust also found that the endurance was greatest when participants were exposed to both pre-task and in-task music. Crust and Clough’s study was unique in that it used a drumbeat condition and a motivational music condition. It was found that the participants’ endurance was greater while listening to the motivational music than the drumbeat. These are important findings that can be directly applied to athletes and exercisers wishing to increase their isotonic muscular endurance.
Synchronous in-task music is used for different reasons and often accompanies repetitive endurance tasks such as running and cycling (Karageorghis & Priest, 2012b). Synchronous music has been found to increase ergogenic effects more than asynchronous music. When athletes train to music, they tend to work harder for longer (Karageorghis & Terry, 2011). Karageorghis and Terry found that 400-metre runners improved their time trial by half a second on average when they synchronised their strides to music compared to when they used no music. This is useful but it is essential that the tempo of the music is only one or two beats faster than the athlete’s usual speed. Having those extra one or two beats can make a big difference as Karageorghis and Terry demonstrated with the 400-metre runners.
Post-task music is something that is still in the early stages of research as there have only been two studies done on the topic (Jing & Xudong, 2008; Savitha, Mallikarjuna, & Chythra, 2010). Both of these studies demonstrated that sedative music yields the fastest recovery time from exhaustive exercise, compared to stimulative music or no music. Sedative music aids in lowering of heart beat and blood pressure as well as perceived exhaustion (RPE). However, both of these studies had several methodological flaws that should be addressed. For example, they used the Borg RPE Scale to measure perceived exhaustion during the recovery period, which is not what it is intended for. There are clearly benefits to listening to sedative music while recovering from exhaustive exercise or a particularly tough training session, but this is an area that needs to be researched more thoroughly so that these benefits can be more fully understood.
In summary; before exercise or sport listen to music that is familiar and motivating to you, during exercise listen to music that is slightly faster than your usual exercise speed or use background music to distract yourself from a repetitive task, and after sport or exercise it is beneficial to listen to music that is slow and sedative to aid your body in recovery.
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About Suzanne Pottratz
I am a recent graduate of Bellarmine University in Louisville, KY with a BA in Psychology and am currently studying an MSc Sport and Exercise Psychology at Brunel University in London. I was a competitive gymnast for 13 years, which is where my interest in sport psychology first peeked.