How Listening to Music Affects Athletic Performances



Are you one of those who go for a swim or a run with your earphones blaring your favourite music? Preferably music with an upbeat tempo to get your athletic performance going? Many swear by listening to music to help them increase their workout. In fact, professional runners protested at the USA Track and Field’s ban on the use of headphones and portable audio players at its official racers in 2007 to ensure safety and to prevent runners from having a competitive edge. But, how does listening to music actually affect athletic performances?


A Performance Enhancer


Dr. Costas Karageorghis, a leading researcher on music for performance suggested that music can be seen as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.” Music does enhance athletic performance and it can help improve how one relates to their actual performance and end result.


For example, research by Brunel University has found that listening to music while exercising can reduce your rate of perceived effort by 12% and improve your endurance by 15%. The findings from Liverpool John Moores University discovered that slowing the tempo of the music decreased the participant’s heart rate and distance covered on a bike while increasing the tempo increased the heart rate, distance, and also the enjoyment of both music and exercise.


Disassociation from Negative Emotions


Music has been known to help us regulate our emotions and it also diverts the mind from fatigue that creeps in during the performance. Music can also improve an athlete’s performance by distracting them from negative thoughts that can consume the mind during the performance. The research found that basketball players converted more free-throw shots when they listened to an upbeat piece of music beforehand as this distracted them from the pressures of performing in front of a crowd.



Music Activates Flow States


The flow state in positive psychology refers to an altered state of awareness during activity. A person in flow is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity without striving. It seems that in this state, the mind and body can function on “auto-pilot” with minimal conscious effort.


Coaches and athletes refer to the flow state as being “in the zone” as an athlete can feel trance-like. Some athletes utilize music in diverse ways to achieve a certain level of focus and concentration. Music allows athletes to put aside various distractions to concentrate and envision what they want to accomplish during their game.


Music can distract


Despite the many advantages of listening to music to increase performance, it can also become a distraction. There are many elite runners who do not listen to music so as to be able to concentrate on what their bodies are telling them. This focus can help them become alert and be aware of what is happening around them so that they can implement tactics in order to compete at their peak.


Lack of Impact on Motivation


Although music may increase our heartbeat and may even increase our performance, research has shown that listening to music during warmup does not lift athletes’ moods or impact their motivation. Another study found that listening to motivational music had no effect on the performance of elite swimmers.


Music can affect us at different moments and bring on memories. Although it can have an effect on athletes’ performance, the research does not provide a clear answer on its positive impact on the sport. Whether or not music enhances performances is really dependent on individual athletes and their abilities.


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