Study Finds That Running to Music Improves Performance

A recent study found that music might help boost workout performance when your brain is fatigued.

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Whether you pop in your earbuds while running to drown out your labored breathing or to distract yourself from the burn in your calves, we’re willing to bet your favorite playlist makes you feel at least a little bit better while getting a cardio session in. And according to recent research, listening to music while running might be the key to improving performance when you begin to feel mentally fatigued.

A small study done at the University of Edinburgh and published in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise investigated the effect of listening to music on endurance runs while an athlete is mentally drained, and the results will make you want to add to your workout playlist. 

How Music Might Boost Performance

The study looked at the effect music had on interval running among of a group of nine athletes and on a 5K time trial for a separate group of nine athletes. Before the tests took place, the participants had to complete a 30-minute cognitive test so they were mentally exhausted when it came time to start the exercise portion of the study.

Runners then went through the workouts with and without music. The results were compared to a baseline test during which participants completed their prescribed workout without doing the mentally draining test beforehand.

The runners got to choose their own music for their respective playlists (with some help from researchers in the form of a questionnaire about the rhythm, style, melody, tempo, sound and beat of the music). Some of the songs participants selected for their workouts included: “Everyday” by A$ap Rocky; “Run This Town” by Jay-Z; “Power” by Kanye West; and “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor. 

Researchers found that the athletes had greater exercise capacity and performance levels when they listened to music during their workouts. In the interval group, for example, listening to music while mentally fatigued helped athletes perform the same way they did in the baseline test — a moderate improvement compared with their performance while fatigued and without music. Researchers suggest that because music positively affected the athletes’ mental states, their performance abilities increased.

“The findings indicate that listening to self-selected motivational music may be a useful strategy to help active people improve their endurance running capacity and performance when mentally fatigued,” study author Shaun Phillips, Ph.D., of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport, says. “This positive impact of self-selected music could help people to better maintain the quality and beneficial impact of their exercise sessions.”

Another study conducted at John Moores University tested whether the tempo of music impacted the performance of indoor cyclists. When the music tempo was increased by 10 percent, cyclists unknowingly performed at a higher intensity, with increased heart rates and mileage. 

So next time you knock out some cardio, refresh that playlist and queue up some songs that get you pumped. You might be feeling a little extra sore if you get more steps in, but in the end, your workout might be the better for it.

Need playlist inspiration? 

Check out Oxygen coach Tara Laferrara’s playlist before your next workout.

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