When a friend recently spoke about a race he took part in, he mentioned that it particularly annoyed him that some other participants didn’t heed the race rules, and ran with earphones and while listening to music.
Aside from the obvious concern for the safety of the participants and their fellow competitors, many people also believe that running while listening to music can be classified as a legal performance enhancer.
But what does science say? Can music affect your performance when running or cycling?
Run to the beat
In 2008, Dr. Costas Karageorghis at Brunel University’s School of Sport and Education did a study that explored the influence that music has on endurance.
The study, which formed a part of a 20-year programme of work into the motivational qualities in sport and exercise, had participants exercise on a treadmill while listening to a selection of motivational pop or rock music, including tracks by the likes of Madonna and the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. They were then instructed to keep in strict time with the beat while running on the treadmill.
Unsurprisingly to those of us that habitually pop in our earphones when we hit the road, Karageorghis’s study found that the endurance of exercisers improved by 15%, in addition to enhancing the “feeling states” of participants. Put simply, the study found that participants could carry on running for longer, and also had a more pleasurable time doing so. In the same year that the study was published, the first Run to the Beat half marathon was held in London in 2008, and Dr. Karageorghis was tasked with selecting and coordinating the music that was played during the race.
More recently, a study at the Texas Tech University found that participants who listened to music during a tough stress test on a treadmill could keep running for almost a minute longer than others who did not listen to music while doing so. Listening to music also triggered the release of energy-boosting and feel-good chemicals in the brain. Dr. Waseem Shami, who led this study into the effect that music has on endurance, said that music could be an extra tool to help people exercise more.
The science seems to support the idea that music can help you to perform better for longer, but keep in mind that many sporting events explicitly ban the use of earphones during races. No one’s saying that you aren’t allowed to pump up the volume while training though. If you’re looking for some song suggestions, check this out.