What are the benefits of listening to music during exercise?
Most athletes today will likely listen to music during training sessions, and some will listen to music during competition if their sport allows it within the rules. Athletes that have trained or competed with and without music will likely say that listening to music helps them to some degree. Is it all placebo effect? Or, is there some physiology and psychology to it. Turns out there is! Listening to music during exercise has been shown to improve performance while simultaneously decreasing rating of perceived exertion (RPE), increasing feelings of energy, and increasing feelings of stimulation (1,2,4,5). However, some of this research suggests that the type of music one listens to is important in determining whether it provides a benefit or not. The type of music an athlete listens to should be a type and a song that they prefer! This sounds intuitive, but listening to music one does not prefer or like is much more likely to yield no benefit on performance during exercise. So, athletes should choose music they like and that they want to listen to during exercise to reap a benefit. This is fine during training sessions for most athletes, but what about competitions where performance is to be maximized? What does an athlete do if their sport does not allow music during competition? Listening to music during the warm-up can also have an effect on their subsequent performance!
What are the benefits of listening to music before exercise?
Listening to music during a warm-up prior to a training session, or more importantly, a competition also seems to confer a benefit, so long as that music the athlete listens to is preferred! A recent study conducted by Karow and colleagues (3) demonstrated that 2,000-meter time trial performance on a rowing ergometer was significantly improved in those that listened to their preferred music selection when compared to listening to non-preferred music or no music at all during the pre-time trial warm-up. Additionally, listening to preferred music during warm-up also led to a subsequently higher heart rate response and greater motivation when compared to non-preferred music or no music at all (3). So, it seems, similar to listening to music during exercise, selecting music that one enjoys, finds motivating and upbeat, and is preferred is key in conferring benefits on performance.
There is good news here for all athletes as there is evidence to suggest that listening to music both before and during training or competition is beneficial, so long as that music is preferred and enjoyed by the athlete listening to it. This means there is not one type of genre or song selection that works for everyone, as some may find country music motivating and others may find hip hop motivating. The specific type of music selection is up to you and your preferences. For those that are not allowed to compete with music, listening to it during their pre-competition warm-up can also be beneficial. It would be interesting to see researchers study the compared effects of listening to music during exercise and before exercise to see what provides the greatest benefit for those that are allowed to listen to it during competition, but that research has yet to be done. Until then, enjoy music before or during training and competing when and where you can as there are benefits to be had on your performance!
1. Ballmann, C. G., Maynard, D. J., Lafoon, Z. N., Marshall, M. R., Williams, T. D., & Rogers, R. R. (2019). Effects of listening to preferred versus non-preferred music on repeated wingate anaerobic test performance. Sports (Basel), 7(8), E185.
2. Ballmann, C. G., McCullum, M. J., Rogers, R. R., Marshall, M. M., & Williams, T. D. (2018). Effects of preferred vs. nonpreferred music on resistance exercise performance. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0000000000002981
3. Karow MC, Rogers RR, Pederson JA, Williams TD, Marshall MR, Ballmann CG. Effects of Preferred and Nonpreferred Warm-Up Music on Exercise Performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills. 2020 Jun 3:0031512520928244.
4. Lingham, J., & Theorell, T. (2009). Self-selected “favourite” stimulative and sedative music listening–How does familiar and preferred music listening affect the body? Nordic Journal of Music Therapy, 18(2), 150–166.
5. Nakamura, P. M., Pereira, G., Papini, C. B., Nakamura, F. Y., & Kokubun, E. (2010). Effects of preferred and nonpreferred music on continuous cycling exercise performance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 110(1), 257–264.
Happy training and racing!
-Ryan Eckert, MS, CSCS