How many of you have listened to music while you train? How many people do you see in the gym or running down the road with their earphones in? How many exercise classes are set to music? Music and exercise are used so prevalently together that it often seems wrong to have one without the other. What benefit does this have? Motivation? Delayed boredom? Does it really work?

There is a wealth of research out there on this subject, and it can be divided into several different sections

Synchronous or asynchronous music?

Synchronous music is when the pace and tempo of the music matches that of the activity, i.e. it falls in sync. Asynchronous therefore, is when the music does not match the pace of the activity.

Research has found that both can increase performance. However, the existing studies do not compare one against the other, they all compare either synchronous or asynchronous music to a no music control group, meaning it is hard to distinguish which is more effective.

What tasks are benefitted most by music?

Music has been shown to increase the performance of both endurance tasks and short power tasks. Endurance tasks such as holding a weight for as long as possible or walking until exhaustion have all been performed with better results when accompanied by music. High intensity short power tasks such as rowing sprints showed similar results. However, sports with a clear rhythm such as rowing were much better affected by synchronous music.

Therefore, the research clearly shows a vast amount of support for the use of music to improve performance. But how exactly does music improve performance? One benefit is that music has been shown to be a positive distraction. When music is playing, we are more likely to divert our attentional focus away from the pain or discomfort we may be experiencing and onto the external music. Therefore it helps us to temporarily forget our fatigue, and carry on for longer.

Fast paced music has also been shown to increase arousal, which is great for ‘psyching up’ before performance. However, slow paced music can also have a beneficial effect when arousal levels are too high, as it has been shown to have a relaxing effect and reduce arousal.

Another added bonus is the enhanced positive mood that music can bring about. This is enhanced even further when the music has a faster tempo, creating a positive buzz to drive your workout!

So the evidence is fairly conclusive. Music has a massive impact on us in a variety of ways. No wonder it has become such an integral part of the fitness world. Some further clarity could be gained into what type of music generates the most benefit to performance, but all the evidence is certainly in favour of music being a crucial part of anyone’s training toolkit! So next time you workout, make sure you take your tunes with you!