According to Human Kinetics and Recreation master's student Meaghan Maddigan, the most pervasive theory is that listening to music allows the individual to separate thought from feelings, thereby altering one's perception of the unpleasant physiological responses to exercise. "If there is a really good song on my iPod it seems to make training just that much easier, and looking around at the gym I noticed that I might not be the only one that thinks that."
But Maddigan, who has been an athlete all her life, noticed there was not much research on whether listening to music has an effect on the body's physiological responses to exercise, specifically high intensity exercise.
So, Maddigan along with her supervisor Dr. Dave Behm set out to look at the physiological responses to exercise. Responses such as heart rate, ventilatory kinetics, how long it takes to fatigue and blood lactate levels. They looked at how people are affected when listening to music while interval training at 80 per cent of their maximal oxygen consumption, a fairly high intensity, on a stationary bicycle.
What they found was that heart rate recovery was significantly faster post-exercise and blood lactate levels increased. Also, on average, participants were able to exercise for a full minute longer when listening to music during exercise. "Recent studies on interval training have shown that even a ten second bout of high intensity exercise can have benefits to your health thus an extra minute at this high intensity should also have great benefits," Maddigan noted.
To the average person this means that if you are listening to high tempo music while doing cardiovascular training you should be able to exercise for longer, work harder, feel better and recover faster.
Maddigan is hoping this may get a few more people motivated. "If you're having trouble getting the internal motivation to push yourself just a little bit harder during training or even just for everyday exercise, maybe weight loss or simply for health benefit goals, what do you have to lose by trying some external motivation in the form of some high tempo music to give you just a little boost?"