In the world of ipods and smart phones, music is commonly used by people during their running training, most of the time to make you feel a bit better and help take your mind off what you’re actually doing. But can it actually improve your performance? Recent studies seem to indicate that music can help improve performance, and this concept was enhanced by the legendary middle distance runner Haile Gabrselassie when he attributed coupling his running cadence with the popular song “Scatman” as a factor in breaking the world record in the 2000m in 1998!

Numerous studies have shown a positive relationship between music and performance, with a good study in 2012 summarising their findings with the statement “”When athletes work in time to music, they often work harder for longer”!
There was an excellent paper released this year titled “The Power of Auditory Motor Synchronization in Sports: Enhancing Running Performance by Coupling Cadence with the Right Beats”. In our article today we simplify this research paper to bring you the main findings and outcomes:
Auditory Motor Synchronization (or the process where we combine rhythmic body motions to the beat of sound or music) happens commonly in our day to day lives – the simplest example is when we find ourselves tapping our fingers, hands or feet to the beat of music, or even when we synchronise our body movements to the beat of the music when dancing (some better than others)!runningmusic
Research has long suggested that motivational music enhances athletic performance by raising mood and arousal levels, and by minimising, or dissociating, the feelings of pain and fatigue during exercise. Auditory motor synchronisation is known to be an attention demanding process which helps an athlete become distracted from the physiological signs of fatigue.
However not all music is motivational – some people listen to loud, fast, percussive music whilst others prefer slower, softer music, which theoretically should have a sedative effect and therefore adversely effect performance. A study in 2012 showed that elite triathletes ran 18% and 20% longer (compared to a control group listening to no music) when running in time to motivational and motivationally neutral music. This result indicated that it may not be the motivational content that improves performance but perhaps more importantly the beat of the music.
In the study that is the focus of this article, the authors set out to test the effect of both auditory motor synchronisation and the motivational quality of music on running performance. The testing involved a “running to exhaustion on a treadmill” test, and each person was tested under three conditions: firstly running without music, secondly running with a sequence of beeps (metronome) matching their cadence, and thirdly running with music that was both motivational and with a beat that matched the participants cadence. (Note that each person had at least 48 hours and up to a week between each of the three tests).
The final results of the study showed the following significant findings:
• Participants ran two minutes longer with acoustic or musical stimuli when compared to the control test with no music.
• Time to exhaustion was longer when listening to music than without music, regardless of its motivational content! This result suggests that the motivational content is less important on running performance than the beat of the music.
• Motivational music reduces the “perceived exertion” levels (eg how hard you think you are working) when running at sub maximal levels, but not at maximal levels.
• Running cadence is more consistent when listening to a beat or metronome than for running with motivational music – this becomes important because your running economy will be improved due to better control of the energy loss that is associated with irregular accelerations and decelerations during your run.
In summary, listening to any type of music enhances our performance  by making “time to exhaustion” occur later in the activity. Motivational music influences our perceived level of exertion (makes us think we’re not working as hard), which enhances our performance as it allows us to work harder. However metronomes or music with the right beat positively affects our cadence which enhances our performance by allowing us to work more efficiently.
So it seems that music does in fact have a positive effect on performance, so keep those ipods loaded with some good songs!
For interests sake, here are the Top 5 motivational songs with a fast beat that were used in the study mentioned above:
Black Eyed Peas  – Pump It
The Prodigy   – Omen
DJ Tiesto   – He’s A Pirate
Red Hot Chilli Peppers  – Higher Ground
David Guetta   – Do Something Love