31 January, 2011

How music can make a workout more effective:

           Listening to music can make exercise up to 15 per cent more effective, says a well known sports psych - ologist. So what works best?
Black Flag or Bob Marley? It’s a question I often ask myself a few saturated miles in, as the rain hangs in curtains, my muscles feel like overstretched elastic bands and there’s a hill in front of me, glowering like a bully.
But it’s been a long run, it’s getting dark, and I need punk. My wet fingers smudge across the iPod dial and the singer Henry Rollins is there, yelling in my ears like a demented drill sergeant, driving me onwards and upwards through the mud.
For me, running without music is unthinkable. But I’m certainly not the only one who checks that his MP3 player is charged even before he looks for his trainers. Almost everyone who exercises seems to listen to music. Since the arrival of the first Sony Walkman three decades ago, earphones have been essential for those wanting to get fit. But why? And do the right tunes really have a measurable effect on our performance?
“If you co-ordinate your efforts with musical tempo or the rhythmic qualities of music then there will be a significant ergogenic or work-enhancing effect,” says Dr Costas Karageorghis, the head of the Music and Sport Research Group at Brunel University and author of a new book, Inside Sport Psychology. “It colours your perception of effort and enhances mood up to the point of voluntary exhaustion. At low-to-moderate exercise intensities we have found a reduction in perceived exertion of 8-12 per cent with carefully selected music. When you synchronise your work rate to musical tempo you can increase endurance by up to 15 per cent.”
That’s a huge boost to anyone’s training — and it’s no accident that many elite athletes are well-known for using music to prepare for a major event.
“We know anecdotally that the rower James Cracknell, who has won two Olympic gold medals, used to listen to the Red Hot Chili Peppers to create his own bubble, shut out the pre-race hullabaloo and enable him to get into the right aggressive mindset,” says Karageorghis.
Dame Kelly Holmes: two-Olympic Gold Medal winner (2004)
“Other athletes like more sedate music. Dame Kelly Holmes listened to the soulful ballads of Alicia Keys going into the Athens Olympic Games. She found that the lyrical content reflected how she felt. She had been quite depressed going into the Games, having had a spate of injuries, and her participation had been in question. The music prevented her from getting too het up about the task in hand.”
The US swimmer Michael Phelps listened to I’m Me, by the hip-hop star Lil’ Wayne, as he prepared for the Beijing Olympics, finding affirmation and inspiration in the line: “Yes, I’m the best and no I ain’t positive, I’m definite.”
Dr. Costas Karageorghoris (right): Head of Brunel University Sports Science Department
“I like a lot of drum ’n’ bass before a fight,” says Nick “Bang Bang” Blackwell, the current English Middleweight boxing champion. “Either that or hip-hop. Sometimes I’ll listen to soppy stuff when I’m running. It depends whether I want to psyche myself up or chill out.”
According to Dr Karageorghis, the selection of the tunes is critical to achieving the best result: they must not only have the right tempo or rhythm to co-ordinate with your work rate (see box), but also reflect the music you like. Just listening to whatever the gym pumps out won’t work — unless you happen to love chart dance music. We all bring external associations to the music we listen to, and these can be as important as the beat in helping us to get more out of our exercise.
“For example, we often link certain music with heroic feats,” says Karageorghoris. “Lots of athletes use the Vangelis soundtrack to Chariots of Fire; it’s not particularly loud or driving, but they associate it with victory.”
“I definitely find some beats help me,” says Clare Bebber, who has just started circuit training at home. “I’ve always been a swimmer and obviously I couldn’t listen to music doing that. But now I find it motivates me and distracts me from just counting repetitions. Anything upbeat is good — although nothing new, I have to know where it’s going. I listen to a lot of 1990s house music as that has really good associations for me.”
Recapturing the 3am euphoria felt in a sweaty club years ago seems to be a theme for many people, and repetitive beats linked to good memories can be a real boost.
“I like music with a lot of energy,” says Alison Powell who runs distances of 5km. “I often listen to Deadmau5: it makes me smile and that adds to the high of running. I used to go clubbing a lot in my twenties and it reminds me of that — I suppose running is my middle-aged dancing. I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, though. It’s just too distracting. I find running quite a meditative time; it’s when I sort through a lot of things in my head and I don’t want to interfere with that.”
For those wanting to compile the perfect soundtrack to their training, the advice is simple: first find out the beats per minute of your favourite songs — the most straightforward way to do this is to put the title of the song and “beats per minute” into Google, and then use this information to build your playlists from warm-up to high intensity and back down again, making sure that the tempo (the speed and rhythm of the music) matches your running cadence.
“I used to listen to different music when I was running longer distances, such as half marathons,” says Powell.
“I liked slower artists such as Moby. I also needed a lot more variety when running for two or three hours.”
Try to match the music to the activity you are taking part in, and the mood you want to get into. For example, loud, fast, rhythmical music with a lot of bass can be a great preparation before interval training.
If all that sounds like too much work, there are plenty of CDs offering a ready-made running soundtrack, such as the Ministry of Sound’s Running Trax compilations, currently being advertised on TV. But choose carefully, says Dr Karageorghis, who was a consultant on Run to the Beat 2010, a music half-marathon in London: “Look at the track listing. If it conforms with your own preferences then go ahead, it’s likely to have a beneficial effect.”
However, it’s important to remember that silence also has its place.
“We always start off with a quiet gym,” says Tom Crudgington, a strength and conditioning coach at Body Development who trains both professional and amateur athletes. “It’s important to focus on the exercise itself until you can get it right before you turn on the music. You see it all the time in big health clubs: blokes doing bicep curls badly while they look around at all the girls and watch MTV.”
“Try to alternate two sessions with music to one without,” says Dr Karageorghis. “Music works sort of like a drug, and if you use it too much, you are likely to build up a tolerance and reduce its effectiveness.”
It’s also worth remembering that not everyone likes listening to music while they exercise — the Olympian sprinter Daley Thompson says he could only ever listen to his body while training.
But if music works for you, then the advice is to use it: you could train better and longer than without. Who knows? It might even help you to keep those New Year’s resolutions.
Need to know
The Ministry of Sound Pump it Up Body Burn DVD (extract shown at the video tab above) costs £14.99 and is available at HMV and online from www.ministryofsound.com

No comments:

Post a Comment