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Music and Sports Performance – To tune in or out?

In the world of competitive sport where athletes are at times separated only by the smallest of margins we look for strategies to enhance physical performance.  Over the last decade there has been an increased interest in the role that music can play in the performance of athletes during training and competition.  Athletes across every sporting domain will attest to the fact that listening to music during training and competition can elicit a powerful effect on mental focus and drive them to push through pain barriers and mental fatigue.

But what does the research say about this and what empirical evidence do we have to support these claims?

Below are four key ways that music can help us to bolster physical performance:

1. Dissociation
During certain types of exercise (sub maximal) music can be successful in narrowing attention and assisting us to divert our attention away from sensations of fatigue. This phenomenon is known as dissociation. Dissociation is marked by a heightened mood state in which we focus on the more positive aspects of our physical state leading to feelings of vigor and happiness.

2. Arousal Regulation
Music can assist us to manipulate arousal state. During training and competition music can be used as a stimulant, in most cases loud, upbeat music is a successful  “psych up” strategy. Softer selections are mostly used to “chill out” in order to calm anxiety and has proven to reduce stress, improve the ability to relax, and aid recovery and meditative techniques. Either way, music can influence preparation and competitive performances by improving control of arousal regulation fostering an optimal mindset.

3. Synchronization
Sports involving repetition of movement such as rowing, swimming, cycling, cross-country skiing, and running have used music to improve performance. More specifically, when these repetitive movements are sychronised with music a greater work output results. Music tempo can also ensure more prolonged effort through the regulation of movement and more efficiency in movement.

4. Acquisition of Motor Skills
There are many ways in which music assist in the acquisition of motor skills.  Clinical studies have found that exercising to music increased brain power, brain function, and verbal fluency through the positive stimulation of the nervous system. People affected by neuromuscular disorders while listening to faster tempo music will also benefit through enhancing gross motor skills like walking and facilitating the rehabilitation process. In the more competitive sporting domain theories for improved skill acquisition include the following. Music replicates forms of bodily rhythm and many aspects of human locomotion. Hence, music can transport the body through effective movement patterns; the body providing an apparent visual analogue of the sound. Second, the lyrics from well-chosen music can reinforce essential aspects of a sporting technique. For instance, in track and field, the track “Push It” (by Salt-n-Pepa) is ideal for reinforcing the idea that the shot should be put, not thrown; throwing the shot is the most common technical error. Third, music makes the learning environment more fun, increasing players’ intrinsic motivation to master key skills.

Of course it is important that you select the right music for your sport and exercise. Many athletes are already using music during training and competition but often in a very haphazard way. Your sport psychologist will be able to assist you to do this based on the type of activity, the intensity of the activity, how your music will be delivered and how to go about implementing a selection procedure to arrive at your optimal music mix.

Book an appointment with one of our sport psychologists to discuss how music can help your sports performance at The Knee Joint Sports Physiotherapy on the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia.