Can music enhance physical performance?

15 11 2011

British sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis, who has spent the last two decades researching the performance enhancing effects of music in

sport and exercise.  His work suggests that music can lower your perception of effort, increase endurance by as much as 15 percent and help you get into a “flow” or “zone.”

But research indicates music seems to lower perceived effort only during low to moderate intensities of exercise. Once you reach a high intensity, your body automatically focuses on internal cues, such as heart rate and lactic acid build-up, rather than the music or the scenery, Karageorghis said.


Research has consistently shown that the synchronization of music with repetitive exercise is associated with increased levels of work output. This applies to such activities as rowing, cycling, cross-country skiing, and running. Musical tempo can regulate movement and thus prolong performance. Synchronizing movements with music also enables athletes to perform more efficiently, again resulting in greater endurance.

The celebrated Ethiopian distance runner Haile Gebrselassie is famous for setting world records running in time to the rhythmical pop song “Scatman.” He selected this song because the tempo perfectly matched his target stride rate, a very important consideration for a distance runner whose aim is to establish a steady, efficient cadence. The synchronization effect in running was demonstrated in an experimental setting by Simpson and Karageorghis, who found that motivational synchronous music improved running speed by ~.5 s in a 400-m sprint, compared to a no-music control condition

Selecting Music for Sport and Exercise

Type of Activity

An athlete searching for music to incorporate in training and competition should start by considering the context in which he or she will operate . What type of activity is being undertaken? How does that activity affect other athletes or exercisers? What is the desired outcome of the session? What music-playing facilities are available? Some activities lend themselves particularly well to musical accompaniment, for example those that are repetitive in nature: warm-ups, weight training, circuit training, stretching, and the like. In each case, the athlete should make selections (from a list of preferred tracks) that have a rhythm and tempo that match the type of activity to be undertaken.

Karageorghis’ bottom line is that “music is best for those who wish to become more physically active but generally find exercise to be onerous and unstimulating.” For elite athletes, music should be applied “very selectively, such as part of a pre-event routine.




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