The Power of Music in Sport

Haile Gebrselassie is one of the greatest and most successful runners of all time. In 1998 Haile took the Indoor World Record for 2,000 metres…whilst ‘I’m the scatman, ski bi dibby dib yo da’ boomed into the Birmingham arena.  At Haile’s request.

I’ve always enjoyed running with music, not only does it help me switch off and drift into my own thoughts, but it can also be a powerful motivator through the tough miles.  My Dad always says running with music is for wimps. Well, I guess me and Haile have something in common…because apparently we’re both wimps!

But what is it about this rather odd track that Haile likes?

It’s nice music, it’s fast written, that’s why I could break a world record, by that music…’I’m a Scatman! Dum dum’ and then you know the timing and at the same time your style changes immediately.

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Are there performance gains to be had from running with music?  If so, why do you see so many faster runners listening to the sounds of their own bodies rather than their favourite tunes?  Most importantly, could my Dad be wrong??

Last weekend, Currys invited me to a workshop that would help me find the answers to these very questions.  With the rise of events such as Run to the Beat and the increasing frequency of live music along race routes, there must be some science behind the power of music?

I met some other fitness bloggers, and Dr Costas Karageorghis (who has spent years researching the psychological effects of music on running), for a fun afternoon learning how it can be beneficial to athletic performance.

A little warm up game!

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There have been strong links between music and sport for a long time – the National Anthem is always played during international competitions, the All Blacks perform an intimidating Haka before playing rugby, and who doesn’t feel energetic as soon as they hear the theme tune from Rocky?!

RockyBalboa5

So, everyone loves music but what exactly does music do during exercise?  After explaining the different constituents, tempo, rhythm, melody etc, Dr Karageorghis revealed that listening to your favourite tunes on the run can have the following benefits:

  • Lowers perception of effort
  • Can trick your mind into feeling less tired
  • Encourages positive thoughts and mood
  • Can increase endurance by 20% if you sync your body to the music (that’s a BIG claim!)

Whilst the beat is important, and syncing your movements to the music has the most positive impact, the lyrics can also be very powerful. Words can carry strong personal messages that help to motivate and focus.  I was surprised that several very successful athletes listen to specific tracks before they go into competition to help mentally prime them:

  • Michael Phelps got in the zone at London 2012 with Lil’ Wayne’s ‘I Am Me’ before taking home 6 medals
    • “Ain’t nobody f**king with me man…I know the game is crazy, it’s more crazy than it’s ever been”
  • Iwan Thomas uses music as part of his pre-run routine on the start line with Prodigy, ‘Firestarter’
    • “I’m the trouble starter, punking instigator, I’m the fear addicted, danger illustrated”
  • James Cracknell – favours Red Hot Chili Peppers, ‘Get on Top’
    • Get on top, get on top, hit me, come get me, I bite but she bit me”

These are all very stimulating tracks and, generally, the more stimulating the music, the more active you feel.  However, sedative music can also have a very beneficial & calming effect.

Before the 2004 Athens Olympics, Dame Kelly Holmes had been feeling very anxious following a period of injury.  She used music to help control her pre-race anxiety and block everything out by listening to the soulful Alicia Keys.

Kelly Holmes Athens 2004

Interestingly, Olympic gold medalist, Audley Harrison combated pre-fight nerves by listening to Japanese classical music to induce relaxation & focus, and Whitney Houston’s ‘One Moment in Time’ has been cited as the track used to calm the GB Bobsleigh team whilst still being mentally stimulating through the lyrics:

I want one moment in time
When I’m more than I thought I could be
When all of my dreams are a heartbeat away
And the answers are all up to me

It’s not just before and during sport where music can be helpful.  There are also gains to be had from listening to slow, sedated music post exercise which can help slow the heart rate and reduce stress. I’m definitely going to be giving that a try!

By the end of the session I was left with no doubt in my mind that music is a very powerful tool and I’m absolutely convinced of the benefits (sorry Dad!)

We were then introduced to Monster headphones.  Monster make a range of sports specific headphones, iSport, that are designed to stay in the ear, be sweat proof, shock proof and comfortable. There are several models available but they were keen to show us their wireless SuperSlim which are fairly new to the UK.

The iSport SuperSlim are a bluetooth headphone that claim to deliver exceptional sound quality and stay in the ear with a unique SportClip no matter activity your doing, despite being so small.  We were all lucky enough to be given a pair to try!  I’ll give these a full review when I’ve had a chance to try them properly after the London Marathon – no matter how powerful music is, it will never be as powerful as a London Marathon crowd!

Monster iSport SuperSlim

There’s nothing I love more than an easy run in the sunshine with some upbeat tunes in my ear – here are my top 10 running tracks:

  • Til I Collapse – Eminem
  • Paris – Jay Z & Kanye
  • Party Right – Lethal Bizzle
  • Berzerk – Eminem
  • Eye of the Tiger – Survivor
  • What a Feeling – The Hughes Corporation
  • Not Giving In – Rudimental
  • Keep Your Head Up – Ben Howard
  • Don’t You Know who I Think I Am? – Fall Out Boy
  • Hitz – Chase & Status

I guess number 11 should probably be Scatman…!

I would like to thank Currys for the opportunity to attend this workshop, all views are my own.  You can read more about the Currys event here.

Thanks for the awesome goody bag!

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6 thoughts on “The Power of Music in Sport

  1. It’s funny that you say that about your dad – I often listen to music when running, especially during a race or when I want to go faster, but I’ve always seen it as something I need to wean myself off if I want to become a “proper runner”…

    On a separate note, I love that Haile Gebrselassie was allowed to request a song for the PA and I love even more that he chose Scatman. What a legend.

  2. It’s odd that this subject should fascinate me so much because I never run with music. I tried it once and it’s true – my perceived effort was much lower than usual. I ended up killing my tempo run thanks to a few choice power metal songs. It was actually very disconcerting, almost frightening. It was so remarkably easy to trick my brain, which comes with its own downsides.

    Anyway, I wrote my own article on this a few years ago and we cited very similar people! http://dans-marathon.com/2013/08/05/music-a-legal-and-healthy-performance-enhancer/

    1. I find it really interesting, I always run with music when I’m on my own but I don’t mind if I don’t have it. I was surprised how many athletes listen to specific songs to allow them to focus. I enjoyed your article!

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