Music promotes greater effort during exercise

  • Music apparently helps athletes to forget about their aches and pains.
  • It also reduces energy expenditure.
  • The study was carried out by the University of Ghent.

Many elite athletes train with music blasting in their ears. It enables them to place themselves in a figurative bubble, and it also allows them to ignore the consequences of their physical effort (breathlessness, muscular pain etc.) by focusing on the music instead of the activity, which evidently makes the “task” less painful. This is, apparently, the reason why prisoners in chain gangs breaking rocks and slaves toiling in cotton fields sing while they work. Indeed, blues music is thought to have originated from this phenomenon. In prisons or fields voices and movements come together with the same rhythm.

But in reality, music does more than mentally help people to endure tough experiences.It also reduces the impact of their efforts on their bodies. This is what researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences and the University of Ghent have just demonstrated in a study published in the October edition of American journal PNAS.

In carrying out their experiment the scientists made use of three muscle-strengthening fitness machines. Sixty-one people who took part in the study were asked to exercise on the machines while listening to music. They then tried again, but this time the machines were connected to a sound engine which produced music according to the effort put in by the amateur athletes. It could be said that they were “creating” their own music.

In both cases researchers calculated the levels of effort produced and oxygen consumed. They also questioned participants about how tired they felt.

“Music changes the way people move”

The result? The strength exerted did not change from one scenario to the next, but 53 out of 61 participants felt less tired when producing music as compared to listening passively. Finally, the athletes also consumed less oxygen when they were generating the music themselves. This means that they were able to produce the same effort while using up a smaller amount of oxygen. Consequently, their muscles expended less energy, and they were also able to maintain an effort for a longer time (lifting weights in the air, for example).

This empirical study regarding the causes of the music’s actions does no more than formulate hypotheses. As previous studies have shown, it suggests that by relaxing athletes, music can reduce muscular tension, and therefore guarantee more effective oxygenation. But why is it different when athletes create the music themselves?

As Marc Leman, a musicologist who is the director of the Institute for Psychoacoustics and Electronic Music at the University of Ghent and one of the authors of the study, explains: “It’s the fact that they have the impression of controlling the production of music, which supplies their strength. When they produce the music themselves, athletes are more effective in terms of the energy they expend. Music can, in fact, change the way in which people move by making them perform more efficient movements.” It is therefore the impression of putting in the effort required to produce music that creates the necessary energy for athletes, who consequently draw on fewer of their own resources. This theory could, one day, be put to good use in the sporting sphere. 

VIOLAINE JADOUL

 

 

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