This paper investigates the relationship between music and athletics. In many cases, music is used as an aid by athletes and by people who take up an active lifestyle. People seem to believe that listening to music while completing physical activities will increase their performance and therefore give them an edge on competition or increase the effectiveness of their workout. This raises the question of to what extent does music enhance athletic capabilities.
There are many factors to take into consideration. For one, musical preference plays a large role in determining the effectiveness of music in enhancing athletic capabilities. One also has to consider the specific effects types of music has on people. Dr. Costas Karageorghis suggests that there are two factors that contribute to the effectiveness of music as an athletic aid (internal and external). Within the internal factors, he suggests that the rhythm, melody, and harmony have multiple effects on perception such as dissociation, among other things. External factors include one’s culture and association with the music, which again brings musical preference into consideration. Other effects include effects on skill learning, motor function, and recuperation (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011; Thaut, Kenyon, Schauer, and McIntosh, 1999; Szabo, Small, and Leigh, 1999). There are also times when a person should not listen to music as it may be more a distraction than an aid. It is conclusive however that music does in fact enhance one’s athletic capabilities.
The late reggae artist Bob Marley once said “one good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain”. It is no wonder that so many athletes use music in order to distract themselves from the fatigue felt from physical activity. As both a musician and an athlete, the topic of this paper has always intrigued me. Rarely do I ever go to the gym or go running without the company of my iPod. In the instances when I do forget my iPod, I find my workouts to be more tedious and exhausting than when I have my music with me. I do, however, see noticeable differences with the genres of music I listen to. Faster paced “house” music always seems to make my workout less tiring but I know of several people who simply cannot exercise with this type of music. Unlike many people, more jaunty and upbeat classical music is also able to enhance the effectiveness of my workout through making the workout seem less fatiguing. This is because I am a classical pianist and thoroughly enjoy classical music. These discrepancies in the effectiveness of music on the workouts of different people led me to pose the question “to what extent does music enhance athletic capabilities”.
Recent advances in technology have given people who take up an active lifestyle the opportunity to listen to their favorite songs while exercising. Visit a gym or watch a marathon and it is not a rare sight to see people with headphones on. It is commonly accepted that music is beneficial to a workout and there is barely any dispute amongst fitness enthusiasts that music makes physical activity more enjoyable. What people may not realize is that, in addition to making physical activity more enjoyable, music is capable of decreasing feelings of fatigue, synchronizing one’s motor functions to the specific tempo of a musical piece (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011) , and lowering molecular by-products of exercise, thus enhancing performance (Szmerdra and Bacharach, 1998). One of the more prevalent effects of music on athletic performance studied by psychologists is the perceived exertion of a physical activity. In one study by Matesic and Cromartie (2002), 12 male students aged 18 to 23 (6 of who were considered untrained while the other 6 were considered trained), participated in a 20 minute run. It was conclusive that the participants who listened to music while running had significantly lower lap times than participants who did not listen to music. The benefits of music are not limited to the duration of an activity. Music can be used to aid recuperation from physical activity and injury (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011).
Even with all the benefits of music, there are instances when listening to music will either be detrimental or have no effect. There are also considerations to take when determining what type of music will be the most beneficial to different people. Not everybody has the same musical preferences and even though there are aspects of music that will positively affect a workout regardless of preference, one’s fondness of music plays a big factor in determining the music’s overall success in enhancing a workout. This paper will therefore investigate the different effects of music on athletic capability and how these effects may vary from person to person as well as the relative importance of these effects.
2. The Perceived Effects of Music
All of the effects of music are based on the premise of two factors: internal and external (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011). Internal factors are the “rhythmic responses” to music as well as the components (such as tempo and instruments) of the music itself. It is the way that the music was composed and structured that affects one’s perceptions of an exercise. External factors are the associations made with the music and the cultural background of the listener. These external factors determine how a listener will interpret the music. Karageorghis and Terry (2011) suggest that internal factors are more important in determining how one perceives the strenuousness of a workout. The combination of the two factors will lead to feelings of dissociation, improved mood, and arousal control.
2.a Dissociation and Mood
Dissociation refers to diverting an athlete’s attention away from fatigue or other similar feelings (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011). While running, doing sports, or weight lifting, listening to music allows one to focus on an external stimulus and distract him/her from the stress of a workout. This alters the perception of how much energy is exerted and will therefore increase work output. With dissociation there will be an increase in mood. This is because the dissociative effect makes the workout seem more enjoyable and relaxed. There have been multiple studies conducted to see the dissociation and mood effect of music on athletes. In one such study (Thornby, Haas, and Axen, 1995), thirty six participants with a mild case of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease participated in four exercise sessions. The first session was to simply familiarize the participants with the process. The other three sessions were used to conduct the study. The aim of the study was to measure the perceived exertion rate of the participants when they either listened to music, grey noise, or listened to nothing at all. The perceived exertion rate is subjective to each individual. It is the intensity, strain, or fatigue that is felt when exercising, relative to an individual (Noble and Robertson, 1996). This was measured by the Borg rating scale, known as the RPE scale. The scale is a self-evaluating scale based on various sensations that an individual may feel such as heart rate, respiration/breathing rate, amount of sweating, and muscle fatigue (www.cdc.gov). Ratings are listed from 6 to 20 with 6 being no exertion and 20 being maximal exertion. Results showed that participants rated their perceived exertion significantly lower while exercising when listening to music than when exercising in silence or listening to grey noise. However, participants rated their perceived exertion to be lower while exercising when listening to grey noise than while exercising in silence. This study supports the idea that an external stimulus is able to distract an individual from a rather strenuous physical activity. With the results of this study, it is possible to argue that one may be able to increase the intensity of a work out as an external stimulus may be able to distract him/her from fatigue. This will allow an individual to become more physically fit and increase his or her athletic capabilities. An athlete training for athletic endeavors such as marathons or rowing competitions may listen to music while training to gain an edge on their opponents as he/she may work out for longer periods of time or at higher intensities by using music as a distraction from his/her exhaustion. Another supporting study of this idea is the aforementioned study of Matesic and Cromartie (2002). The participants, 12 male subjects (6 “untrained” and 6 “trained) ranging in ages 18 to 23, participated in a 20 minute run. Those who did not exercise or partook in very minimal exercise were considered untrained while those who ran more than 3 times a week and were in the habit of exercising were considered trained. This study was is similar to the Thornby et al (1995) study as Matesic and Cromartie (2002) also utilized the Borg perceived exertion scale. Participants were instructed to not eat or drink (with the exception of water) 3 hours prior to the test. The location was a standardized indoor track and participants were requested to arrive individually. Upon arrival of a participant, the researchers requested him to stretch and the participant was then told that he was to run 20 minutes at his own pace. The participant was then fitted with a portable music player and was told of the contents of the player. The music player contained two techno-genre songs and the placement of the songs were structured so that, while running, there would be 5 minutes of music, followed by 5 minutes without music, followed by another 5 minutes of music, and finishing with 5 minutes of no music. The participant was instructed to not adjust the volume during the run but he could preset the volume before his run. Every 2.5 minutes during the run, the participant had to point to a “perceived exertion scale”. For both trained and untrained participants, lap pace increased in the presence of music. Untrained participants were affected more by the presence of music as their lap paces averaged 4.88 seconds higher with music than without music. Similarly, trained participants’ lap paces averaged 3.03 seconds higher with music than without music. These results show that music can be beneficial to increasing athletic capability. Untrained participants were more affected by the music because the music disrupted their pacing. Trained participants are able to pace themselves to the music while untrained participants simply increase their speed as a result of the music. It is a matter of debate whether or not music would be beneficial to an untrained individual in a run longer than 20 minutes as he/she may become too fatigued as a result of sloppy pacing. Trained individuals did not indicate a relationship between perceived exertion (RPE) and the presence of music. On the contrary, untrained individuals averaged a 13.4 RPE with music compared to a 17.5 RPE without. These results show that music affects untrained individuals more than trained individuals, however, both groups of participants showed a decrease in their lap times, which can be considered as an increase in athletic capability.
2.b Arousal Control
Similar to mood, levels of arousal are an individual’s physiological state. This shows that music also has a biological effect on people. Arousal is affected by the associations an individual may have with certain pieces of music. As discussed before, this is known as an external factor. The theory that music is able to benefit athletes by controlling arousal was proposed by Dr. Karageorghis (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011). An alteration in arousal levels can lead to an individual feeling sleepy, motivated, or somewhere in between. In a sense, music may be used as some sort of stimulant or sedative. An example of arousal being affected would be a person listening to the “Rocky” theme. This musical tune may have associations with success, hard-work, and inspiration. These associations would lead an athlete to become more motivated in both training and in competition. Musical preference also plays a large role in affecting arousal as a person may not enjoy the “Rocky” movies. Musical associations are not uncommon as music can bring back memories of certain events (Karageorghis and Terry, 2011).
3. Physiological Effects
Music not only has a perceived effect on athletes but a physiological effect as well. We can see through this that music does not only affect the brain at a cognitive level but at a biological level as well. Like the perceived effects, the physiological effects of music are controlled by music’s internal and external factors as discussed before. Physiological effects also affect how one perceives his or her workout. As a result of the physiological effects, the workout becomes more enjoyable. Some of these physiological effects include changes in heart rate, VO2 max level, increased motor coordination, and other changes in biological factors.
3.a Heart and Respiration Rate
Among the studies conducted on the effects of music, it seems that heart and respiration rate is almost always a factor that is measured. However, there have been some conflicting conclusions. In a study conducted by Ellis and Brighouse (1952), respiration was noted to be affected by the presence of jazz music. They concluded that respiration rate increased which meant that more oxygen was being delivered to the muscles in the presence of music. In many studies conducted, it seems that heart rate increases with the presence of music. In addition to this, the faster (tempo) the music was, the more the heart rate increased (Smith, 1987; Uppal and Datta, 1990). The smith study was conducted on female college students. These female students performed exercises on the treadmill. The method of data collection was to ask the students directly how they feel their heart rate was affected. They reported that their heart rates were higher when they listened to fast music and lower when they listened to slow music or no music at all. Other studies such as Szmerdra and Bacharach’s (1998), shows that there is a decrease in heart rate when music is present. Another study (Szabo et al, 1999), support the idea that heart rate was not affected by music at all. The study was conducted on students and their heart rates were similar across the conditions of no music, fast music, and slow music. These differences in results make it unclear whether or not heart rate is affected by the presence of music. A bigger problem to this is whether or not a change in heart rate would be beneficial to an athlete. An argument can be made that an increase in heart rate will increase the level of oxygen supplied to an athlete’s muscles, thus enhancing performance. On the contrary, a counter claim can be made that a lower heart rate will lead to feelings of relaxation and will make an athlete think that the exercise is less strenuous than it actually may be. Whichever position is taken, it cannot be sensibly show how athleticism is enhanced as it is still unclear whether or not music has an effect on one’s heart rate.