Exercise and Music

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From a personal perspective this month Jason looks at the facilitative effects of music when training or competing.

Fallible forties

An unfortunate aspect of ageing, but one which most of us need to acknowledge in order to facilitate the longevity of our joints, is the lengthening of recovery time required following participation in endurance sport or training. Come forty, unless you’ve inherited a certain level of genetic serendipity, most people’s knees are less than willing to comply with distance running on several consecutive days.

Smarter not harder

Non-impact cross-training activity is an ideal way to circumvent this effect and personally I’ve taken to rowing at the gym as a substitute for running. Having finally got round to searching You Tube for footage of ‘good rowing technique’  to resolve the low back pain I was experiencing after just ten minutes on a Concept indoor rowing machine, after six months practice and by increasing the length of sessions by 10-15% per week, I can now just about manage an hours continuous rowing.

Music and exercise

There is however only so many times you can inexorably slide one metre back and forth to/from a bare white wall, save for a huge clock face sadistically grinning as it reluctantly gives up each passing second, before buttock-numbing exercise ennui takes hold.
While I’ve always recognised the importance of listening to music when working out at the gym, and in particular the impact it has on mood and effort, it’s only since I’ve been rowing that the motivational effect has been brought into fuller relief. That being the case I thought I would perform a mini-academic review of research on the subject.

Research findings

I was quite surprised to discover that most (not all) studies suggest no causal link between greater effort and music; or at least to a level of statistical significance in terms of improving individuals’ performance during maximal effort sessions, when compared to control conditions.
However one article produced by Brunel University did seem to provide the answers that concurred with my own anecdotal experience in terms of supporting repetitive endurance training. The piece is written by the same Professor Costas Karageorghis featured in the recent Guardian story which Lakeside tweeted. You do visit the @lakesidephyserg Twitter page don’t you?

How music facilitates effort

According to research it would appears that music wields five effects on the psyche:

  • Dissociation
  • Arousal
  • Synchronisation
  • Motor skill acquisition
  • Attainment of flow

To précis, music diverts your attention from certain levels of fatigue via a positive effect on mood; stimulates emotional arousal through ‘extra-musical associations’ e.g. inspiring or aggressive lyrics; facilitates repetitive movement through appropriate musical tempo and, assuming you’ve chosen the right selection of tracks, coalesces all the above to help achieve ‘flow’ or move you into what is now widely referred to as ‘the zone’.

Track selection

The key of course, as just alluded, is your selection of tracks. It appears you need to think carefully about what sporting activity you’re going to do, for how long, the effort to be expended, and other features such as a constant repetitive pace and/or mixed with short bursts of intense activity i.e. interval training. On that basis if you’re looking to achieve a specific effect then clearly you’re not going to be setting your Ipod to shuffle mode, nor playing your Joy Division back catalogue if you're searching for a sporting surge.

Jason’s (MP3) Jukebox

Bearing that in mind I looked at my rowing playlist and found a pattern had developed over a few weeks which seemed to support the theory. I tend to feel the first signs of fatigue when rowing around the 35-40 minute mark. Up until that point my list tends to be a mix of upbeat tunes both in terms of tempo (Ladytron) and lyrical content (Pearl Jam).
However eventually the ‘heavy metal cavalry’ rides over the hill to help get me over the finish line (especially Sepultura and Van Halen – see below) with some inspirational tracks from Shinedown (great video, check it out below) and Kate Bush helping to reach some kind of ‘exercise epiphany’. What? You want to know the full list? Ok, here goes, and don't forget to crank up your speakers!

The Lakeside Rowing List

As you can see below it’s an eclectic mix and most likely not to everyone’s taste, but I’ve found this does the business for me when exercising over a long period in the gym and now know the reasons why. If you have any tunes to suggest for future use then please send them to me via the Contact us page or add a comment below. Keep checking back as the list will change monthly!

Until next time, thanks for reading (and listening), Jason

1. Cyber Waltz - Neurotech

2. Bright Lights – Placebo

3. Rapture – Killing Joke

4. Cease2Exist – Ladytron 

5. Life of Riley  - Lightning Seeds

6. Country Girl – Primal Scream

7. Down – Pearl Jam   

8. Guns for Hire - AC/DC

9. Repentless - Slayer

10. Down Down - Status Quo

11. Steeler (Live) – Judas Priest    

12. Whiplash – Metallica    

13. Wanderer - Amorphis

14. Run to the Hills – Iron Maiden

15. The Threat is Real - Megadeth

16. Get Up – Van Halen

17. Be Good to Yourself - Journey 

18. Unity – Shinedown   

19.  Wuthering Heights - Kate Bush


Impressive playlist - good mix, thanks Jason!


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