Three studies on the effects of music on athletic ability, which have been accepted for publication in journals next year, show that James Brown, Steppenwolf or even Vivaldi can make you quicker, stronger and more focused during sport.
Research by Costas Karageorghis, a sports psychologist at Brunel University, suggests that the right music can lift a person’s athletic performance by as much as 20 per cent. Dr Karageorghis found that athletes who ran while listening to “synchronous” music — when the beats fitted with the rhythm of body movement — could endure a fifth more exertion than those without.
Tunes heard “asynchronously” (as background music) also acted to arouse a person or calm nerves to enhance sporting performance by as much as 10 per cent. “Pre-task” music — heard before an event — was also highly effective at creating internal focus or raising an athlete to an optimum level of arousal.
Many sports stars have taken to listening to music, including the long-distance runner Haile Gebreselassie, the Olympic marksman Richard Faulds and the heavyweight boxer Audley Harrison. Gebreselassie, who has set 18 world records during his career, asked for Scatman, a techno track, to be played at a race in Birmingham where he set the world indoor record for 2,000 meters.
James Cracknell, the Olympic oarsman, found a different form of stimulation through music, famously sitting through a blast of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, an album by the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, before helping Britain to win Gold at the Athens Olympics. Harrison, in contrast, has used Japanese classical music to help him to relax, focus and cast aside his big fight nerves.
According to Dr Karageorghis, the right tune can help anyone exercising at a gym to run faster on a treadmill or lift heavier weights.
His research, to be published in the Journal of Sports Sciences and the Research Quarterly for Exercise and Sport, “ shows that music is a powerful but often untapped resource for both sports’ competitors and exercise participants.”
The psychologist suggests four basic ways in which music can aid athletic performance. In repetitive exercise, such as running, it can narrow a performer’s attention and as a consequence divert attention away from sensations of fatigue. Music also alters arousal levels and can therefore be used as a form of stimulant prior to competition or as a sedative to calm over-anxious athletes.
A third benefit is found in synchronizing rhythm and human movement to increase endurance, and it can also be used to enhance the learning of effective movement skills.
Dr Karageorghis said that gyms should consider playing different types of music to their members depending on the equipment they were using and their level of intensity. Individuals should also create their own playlist.
WHAT TO CHOOSE
** Exercise Intensity: 55 per cent of maximum heart rate (a gentle jog) Rock: The Best, Tina Turner Pop: Lifted, The Lighthouse Family Soul/RnB: Back to Life, Soul II Soul Classical: Spring from The Four Seasons, Vivaldi
** 65 per cent (gentle run) Rock: Keep on Running, Spencer Davis Group Pop: Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough, Michael Jackson Soul/RnB: I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor Classical: Radetzky March, Johann Strauss
** 75 per cent (hard run) Rock: Born to be Wild, Steppenwolf Pop: Movin’ Too Fast, Artful Dodger & Romina Johnson Soul/RnB: I Feel Good, James Brown Classical: Troika, Prokofiev ? 85 per cent (flat-out run) Rock: The Heat Is On, Glenn Frey Pop: Reach, S Club 7 Soul/RnB: Everybody Needs Somebody to Love, Blues Brothers Classical: William Tell Overture, Rossini