Music as ergogenic aid

A new UK study on the ergogenic effects of music has tended to muddy the waters of scientific research rather than clarify them. In contrast to previous findings that music benefits performance by reducing perceived exertion, the current study found the opposite to be true.

 Sixteen physically active participants performed two 10k time trials on cycle ergometers under two different conditions, as follows:
  • Without music;
  • With ‘trance’ music played throughout. This form of dance music, which has been described as ‘melodic’, ‘freeform’ and having ‘anthemic’ qualities, is commonly played in nightclubs. However, the tape, with numbers by various artists, was ‘mixed’ so that tempo and volume remained the same for the maximum duration of 28 minutes.

The mean time taken to complete the test was 1,030 seconds with music compared with 1,052 seconds without music – an improvement of 22 seconds (2%). This improvement was explained mostly by an increase in speed in the first 3k.

Somewhat paradoxically, however, ratings of perceived exertion were consistently higher throughout the time trial with music.

‘Interestingly,’ comment the researchers, ‘cycling speed and perceived exertion both were higher during the music trial in the present study, suggesting that the participants were working harder during the music trial, but were fully aware that they were doing so.’

 Previous research demonstrating a reduction in perceived exertion with music has focused on ‘time to exhaustion’ tests carried out at prescribed submaximal exercise intensities. However, time trials are thought to be more externally valid than constant power tests, may be more reliable and allow for selfselected work rates.

Given that it is difficult to fit their observations into current theories about the ergogenic effects of music, the researchers call for further study of their findings.

Meanwhile, they warn that, although the musicinduced improvements in starting speed was favourable to overall times in their study, there could be some race situations in which a fast start might be detrimental.

‘In addition, although the improvement in performance was consistent across participants, and some participants were competitive cyclists, we cannot extrapolate our results directly to high performance cyclists competing in professional races.’

Int J Sports Med 2004;25:611-615

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