Running to a different beat

Athletes beware: not all music tracks are created equal when it comes to sporting performance.

Dom Cadden, an Australian National Champion Powerlifter, knows all about the performance potential of music.

“In powerlifting, all your intensity goes into something that might take a matter of seconds, so you need music that's highly agitative. When you're running, you want to keep your mind distracted, but when you're lifting, you want music to get your adrenaline pumping,” he said.

But the latest research shows that not all music tracks are created equal, and by sticking to their tried and tested exercise playlists, athletes could be missing out on powerful performance benefits.

According to Professor Peter Terry, a leading sports psychologist at the University of Southern Queensland, selecting appropriate songs for your exercise routine could help you feel less fatigued, train longer, and even minimise the chance of injury.

Run smarter

For runners, music choice is especially critical said Professor Terry, who has worked with Olympic-class athletes in the UK and Australia for the past 28 years.

Music set at the right tempo can help them crash through walls, take their mind off the distance and feel like they're doing less work, he said. His research has also shown that athletes can run up to 18 per cent further when listening to certain songs.

But these boosts in performance are more than motivational. Professor Terry's most recent study showed that elite athletes who listen to music use 1–2.7 per cent less oxygen than when running the same distance without music.

Although further research is needed, he suggested this effect was likely to be the result of a process known as 'rhythm response', where runners automatically synchronise their pace to the speed and beat of certain songs. This means their movements require less conscious regulation and hence use fewer resources.

“We've shown music is not just putting people in a better frame of mind. When you're listening to music, your body is using your precious physical resources more efficiently and, logically, you'll go on for longer,” he said.

In line with this theory, extensive research has shown the most important factors when picking a track for running are a song's rhythm and tempo, said Dr Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist from Brunel University in London who co-wrote the 2010 book Inside Sports Psychology with Professor Terry.

“Over the last six years we've been looking at exercise heart rate and music preference. There seems to be a sweet spot for exercise that's around 125–140 beats per minute,” he said.

Psych yourself up

The benefits of music don't stop at running. Certain songs have also been shown to help people perform better in strength training and exercise that requires quick bursts of energy.

Cadden said: “I can tell when music is wrong more than when it's good – at night when I work out, the power lifters put on their own music and that's good – in the morning we have the radio on and I really notice the difference then - the music doesn't help. It's more distracting than good.”

Amateur body builder Vance Ang said the positive effects were not about personal taste: "Someone put on their iPod the other day and it was a whole lot of hip hop and RnB and because I hated it it made me annoyed but it also made me train harder.

"I definitely notice physical changes with music. One particular song that has done that is The Darkness - One way ticket to hell and back. I was doing a heavy set to that mouthing the lyrics and it seemed to nullify the pain.

Instead of causing a rhythm response, the most beneficial songs for these activities are those that psych you up before a workout, said Professor Terry.

So what should you listen to in order to achieve the best results? Experts say this is a personal decision, as the lyrics and meaning of songs are more important to this type of exercise than beats per minute.

Your song choice should also reflect the mentality you want to carry into performance. For example, American Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps typically listens to rap music before a race as it puts him in a 'no one can touch me' state of mind.

“It's an interesting way of convincing yourself you're invincible,” said Professor Terry.

Once the hard work is over, music may also aid recovery, said Dr Karageorghis, who is currently researching the recuperative effects of music.

“Our tentative results suggest that slow, sedative music might enhance the rejuvenation process and help to heal injuries. But this research is at a fledgling state,” he said.

Tailor-made tracks

With the benefits of music now based in science, a handful of companies are seizing the moment, devising unique products specifically for different forms of workout.

The Ministry of Sounds releases a regular compilation called Running Trax, which has carefully selected songs to suit walking, jogging or running. And Australian company Run2Rhythm ( sells original songs that match your desired running speed.

Water company Mizone is going a step further and has had Australian artists create four unique tracks based on Professor Terry's research, designed to suit a range of specific endurance activities.

Professor Terry believes that, despite not being familiar to the listener, these unique workout tracks can help them to get better results. His research has even found that you can get the physiological benefits of exercise even when listening to music you don't know or like.

“This might show people what type of music is effective and, even if they don't like it, they can get ideas for their own playlists. It broadens people's horizons,” he said.

Tips for creating your own ultimate workout playlist:

 ❏If you're going for a run, choose songs that are around 125-140 beats per minute (bpm) with a strong rhythm.

 ❏To get better results from weight training, listen to music you associate with success to get you into a powerful mindset before you begin.

 ❏While it's good to exercise to songs that like, don't be afraid to try new tracks.

 ❏Try exercising to songs and CDs that have been specifically designed to enhance exercise.

 ❏Prepare for a long-distance runs or bike rides by creating a playlist that contains powerful, motivating songs at points you know you're likely to struggle. Apps such as Nike+ GPS can help you to match these tracks to your location.

Music for running:

Dr Karageorghis' suggested playlist

Moves like Jagger by Maroon 5 featuring Christina Aguilera (128 bpm)

I'm sexy and I know it by LMFAO (130 bpm)

We found love by Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris (126 bpm)

On the floor by Jennifer Lopez featuring Pitbull (130 bpm)

Music for strength training:

Dom Cadden's playlist

Only the strong by Midnight Oil

Anything by Grand Master Flash

Vance Ang's playlist

The Darkness


Tim McGraw

Brooks & Dunn

twitter Follow ExecutiveStyle on Twitter