The benefits of listening to music while you train

The benefits of exercising to music

Ever since the first bulky Walkman hit the shops in the late seventies, people have been listening to music while they train. Thankfully iPod and MP3 players arrived making listing to music whilst training so much easier than carrying a portable tape deck around! But is listening to music while you train actually beneficial? Read on to find out...

Why listen to music when you are training?

You might choose to listen to music your training just because it’s the only opportunity in your day when you can listen to music of your choice. Alternatively, you may view it as your chance to switch off from all the sounds around you – particularly if you’re running in an noisy urban area or working out in a busy gym. Of course, if running outside, it pays to still be aware of your surroundings. Try running but keeping the volume low in the busy areas, or alternatively take one earphone out so you can still hear what'sgoing on around you.

To improve performance

We all know that certain inspirational songs can help to motivate you while training. From hardcore trance to to full-on rock anthems, everyone has their own motivational music which helps give them an extra push just when they need it.

The benefits of music to running performance

There’s now almost universal agreement that if you play music with a quick tempo, then you’ll run harder when you’re training. Evidence from a study by Porcai and colleagues, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation in Kansas backs this up. In the study in 2003, healthy volunteers were given music to listen to while they pedaled on gym  bikes. The findings showed that the cyclists’ pedaling rate increased as the music tempo increased.

If that evidence isn't enough to convince you, then this fact might: the great Ethiopian, Haile Gebreselassie, is said to have set an indoor world record for the 2,000m in 1998 by synchronizing his stride rate to what he was listening to! We'd love to know what he was listening to.

Why do we choose certain types of music to train to?

Music downloads make it much easier to make personalized playlists which match our individual running requirements. Many of us choose tracks because we associate them with a memorable moment, or simply just because we love the music.

Tempo is also frequently a key factor in what music we choose – and much depends on the intensity of the exercise we’re doing. For example, when heading off on a long run or cycle, you don’t want the music to be too fast-paced at the start because this might make you go off too fast, causing you to burn out too soon. Your choice of music should instead match the pace at which you want to go at the various stages.

Somebody doing a quick cardiovascular session, of say 20 minutes on a treadmill, may want to go hard at it for the full session, and so they may want something with a fast tempo for the duration – whereas people doing a steady-paced activity such as lifting weights will want music with an equally steady tempo.

Music and your training goals

Music seems to provide a lift when people need it. Fast-paced music can instantly raise the heart rate and give you an energy boost just when you’re starting to flag. It can also help sustain your rhythm, when you can literally step in time with the music.

Whatever your training goals are, listening to music will almost certainly help rather than hinder your performance. What you listen to should be your choice as music that works for some may not work for you. If you've never tried training to music, why not give it a go and see how it impacts on your performance?

As a note of caution, don't get too reliant on running with music to see you through in a race, since many races are actively banning the use of iPods or equivalent on safety grounds.

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