One of the tricks to stay motivated may be, quite literally, music to your ears. ‘Music has received very little attention among sports scholars’ wrote one author in 1993 in the Sociology of Sport Journal. Since then, much has changed.
Music gives you the mental boost
Performing an exercise to the right kind of music makes it feel about 10 % less strenuous (as measured by the RPE rating). This works for the majority of aerobic exercises, and for the majority of people.
However, taken collectively, the research gives some provisos:
• Music should be that which you find motivating. Perhaps unsurprisingly, tunes in keeping with your music preferences have the greatest positive effect (which is measured using the Brunel Music Rating Inventory-2 – and you can find this in this Word document). It also has been shown to improve mood during and after a workout
• Music needs to be medium-fast paced (120bpm or above) to work. Slow tempo music (around 80bpm or less) has no beneficial effect.
• Upping the music tempo during exercise gives a measurable, short-term boost in physical output. Which is why those unbearably hard spin classes switch music between fast and slow.
Music can make you stronger
Motivational music gives significant reduction in heart rate, blood pressure and lactic acid whilst. But the track must have a tune – strip away the melody and the lyrics – and the drum beat alone has no positive effect.
These melody-stimulated effects also have a limit. As work intensity increases, its positive effects diminish. When working at 80% of your absolute maximum or more (or 80% max Heart Rate), no benefit is gained.
Exercising to the rhythm – the most proven method
Sports music research has focused on two different areas: background tunes where the music bears no resemblance to the exercise (‘asynchronous’) and music with a beat that coincides with bodily movements (‘synchronous’).
Any kind of exercise that involves repetitive movements (e.g. cycling, jogging or bench stepping) will benefit from music where the tempo exactly coincides with that movement. Haile Gebreselassie famously smashed the 2000m indoor world record in 1998 whilst listening to Scatman played over loud speakers (although I can’t think of anything worse).
Some recent research has shown that when exercising to synchronous music, there is a 7% decrease in the amount of oxygen the body needs – demonstrating that the body works more efficiently with synchronous music.
But even for non-endurance activities, spending a few minutes listening to music immediately before starting can boost confidence and self-belief. Combining motivational music with positive self-imagery has been shown to improve non-aerobic sports performance such as shooting and weight-lifting.
So, providing you don’t go cycling or jogging on the road with your headphones on (potentially very dangerous), it’s probably worth taking your iPod with your running shoes.