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Does music improve exercise performance?

This is an excerpt from Introduction to Kinesiology, Fourth Edition edited by Shirl J. Hoffman, EdD.

Spotlight on Research: Does Music Improve Exercise Performance?

Are you one of those people who plug into their iPod when they are on the exercise bike or treadmill? Most people who listen to music while exercising do so because it takes their mind off of the pain that usually accompanies hard workouts. But does listening to music improve your performance? Atkinson (2004) examined whether music played in the background would improve starting, finishing, or overall power during a 10-kilometer cycling time trial. The investigators also evaluated whether music affected heart rate and subjective responses (perceived effort) to the time trial. Two 10-kilometer time trials on a Cybex cycle ergometer were performed by 16 subjects, one with and one without “trance” dance music (a combination of forms of electronic music) being played in the background. Cyclists also completed a music rating inventory after each time trial in the music condition.

When music was played, cyclists completed the time trial in an average of 1,030 seconds; when music wasn’t being played average time was 1,052 seconds, a statistically and practically significant difference. Interestingly, even though cyclists performed faster under the music condition, their perceptions of the effort required to cycle were higher under the music condition than under the no-music condition, suggesting that listening to music didn’t make the exercise seem easier. Music brought about the largest increases in time trial performance and heart rate during the first 3 kilometers of the time trials. Participants rated the “tempo” and “rhythm” aspects of the music as more motivating than the “harmony” and “melody” aspects.

Learn more about Introduction to Kinesiology, Fourth Edition.

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