Music’s effect on athletic performance (even gym-goers) has been studied extensively. The research has mainly focused on its effect on aerobic performance and repeated bouts of effort. However, there’s now data relating to maximal strength and power output. So when is it worth pumping those tunes?
Music improves anaerobic output and decreases the drop in performance seen from round to round during repeated tasks.
For example, researchers found that basketball players who performed 12 x 20 meter sprints with 20 seconds rest between rounds managed faster times toward the end of the workout when they listened to music (2). Likewise, those listening to music during Wingate tests showed improved performance.
People listening to music are able to exercise for longer (5) and maintain a set output/effort level for a longer period of time during aerobic activity.
Music improves performance in strength endurance tests such as AMRAP tests.
Maximal grip strength – the most commonly used max strength test due to simplicity and repeatability – is higher when participants listened to music.
Music has a direct effect on resting heart rate and excitation level. It’s also able to speed up post-workout recovery as it relates to blood pressure and heart rate.
When To Use Music That Amps You Up (And When NOT To)
When lifting heavy weights
These are the times to play all your ace cards, so use music that invokes a strong emotional response and gets you really revved up. Even if it’s Bieber.
So by all means, blast out the death metal and go for it. Just remember there’s such a thing as TOO revved up.
Generic Resistance Training
By all means, listen to music you enjoy to help you focus. But this isn’t the time to break out the song that turns you into a maniac.
Low-Intensity Cardio, Intervals, Loaded Carries
This is where music has been most-conclusively proven to aid workout performance. For longer duration cardio, you don’t want to use anything too stimulating because you’ll end up jacking your adrenaline for too long. But for intervals or similar resistance-based conditioning (loaded carries, complexes, etc.) crank up your favorite music.
Restorative Sessions and Post-Workout Recovery
Researchers studied the effect of different music tempos on post-workout recovery, measured by monitoring when blood pressure, heart rate, and the feeling of tiredness returned back to pre-workout states.
They found that slow tempo music significantly reduced the time taken to return to baseline. Participants recovered faster. And these benefits were seen even if the participants didn’t like the slow tempo music.
So, whether you like it or not, slow music could help you recover from your workout by bringing your heart, blood pressure, and possibly nervous system activation back to baseline more quickly. Likewise, slow music during restorative/active recovery sessions will help keep these measures lower.
After all, it’s not much of a recovery session if it spikes your cortisol.
Choose That Next Song Wisely
Music can definitely have some pronounced benefits on your ability to perform. But how and when it should be used isn’t simple and will vary depending on your temperament. Used correctly, it could improve your workouts as well as speed up recovery.
Just remember, you should never be over-reliant on any external aid. If you find yourself needing one just to get through a normal workout, then your training and/or recovery may need addressing.