Scientific Research Says Music Benefits Athletic Performance

Ryan Murphy

Scientific Research Says Music Benefits Athletic Performance

Swimmers who listen to music before a race aren’t participating in a mindless task, they are utilizing a scientifically proven method to enhance their performance.

Significant research has been conducted to further understand the impact that music can have on athletic performance. Some of the most influential research in this area has been conducted by Professor Costos Karageorghis, the divisional lead for Sports, Health and Exercise Sciences at Brunel University London, who helped to prove that music can in fact better athletic performance and enhance visualization. 

Most athletes probably understand that music has the power to greatly affect mood. It figures, then, that most listen to similar genres to prepare for competition: upbeat, high intensity pump-up songs.

Many high level swimmers and athletes utilize music before and during their races. In 2007, USA Track and Field banned the use of portable devices in distance running because of the competitive edge listening to music while running gave the athletes.

While swimmers aren’t able to listen to music during their races, choosing effective music to listen to beforehand can improve performance in the pool.

Research shows that listening to music activates the parietal, occipital, temporal and frontal lobes and the cerebellum. In other words, music activates the motor complex, visual processing, rhythm, coordination and structure.

Pre-task music mood enhancement used by swimmers, since listening to music during an event isn’t an option, has been proven to influence athletes’ perception of self confidence and their interpretation of fatigue. Rather than affecting the pain felt by athletes during a task, music altered their perception of the pain.

Karageorghis’s research further indicates that the most effective music to listen to is music with a beat that matches the heart rate of an athlete. Resting heart rate in his research is 50 beats per minute, with low intensity being 100 to 120 bpm, mid-intensity 120 to 130 bpm and a 140 bpm maximum. Any song with a beat over 140 bpm appears to be ineffective in further increasing athletes’ readiness to compete.

Repetition is an equally important component when it comes to strategic music consumption. Listening to a specific song before races can signal your body that it’s time to compete. If there is a positive race experience that you associate with a song, try listening to that song before swimming. Listening to or recalling a song associated a song with a race technique or strategy can be effective in focusing and altering thoughts during an event.

Music can help to prepare swimmers for a race, but can also help to soothe anxiety. It can allow athletes to dissociate and focus less on effort and pain. In other words, focusing on music before and during a race can help to lessen the pain processed by athletes during a race.

Many athletes also utilize visualization before their races. Karageorghis’s 2001 research indicates that visualizing a competition while listening to music is more effective than both listening to music and visualizing on their own.

Visualizing races while listening to a specific song, and then listening to that song before a race can be effective in triggering muscle memory and encouraging mental focus.

Overall, the science indicates that music can be effective in both preparing for races and lowering anxiety, as well as creating routine and improving the results of visualization.

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2 years ago

Interesting article, thanks. BUT – the research cited does not refer to visualisation- it mentions imagery.