Workout the rhythm
The benefits of exercising to music were explored as far back as 1911, when Leonard Eyres found that cyclists pedalled faster while a band was playing than when the band was silent/passed out.
It was difficult to find saxophonists and drummers who could stay with the peloton while playing, however, and strapping a wind-up gramophone to cycling tops never really took off. As music-playing technology grew more compact, many more studies were done and clear conclusions began to emerge. The world-leading researcher on music for performance, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, who has authored over 100 studies, even refers to music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
The positive effects of music on exercise is a complex and multi-faceted topic, with no clear single origin for the benefits. Several different types of brain-body connections occur when we listen to music, and the most effective ways to use music can vary depending on the activity type you do. Researchers have been able to more clearly demonstrate a positive performance effect from music on steady-state cardio activity compared to sprints or short bursts of high intensity or maximal effort activity. It’s clear that power and sprint athletes still benefit from music, it’s just harder to quantify because of the many varying and subjective factors.
The rhythm response
This is a frequently-studied phenomenon where the body likes to move its respiration rate and heartbeat roughly in time to the temp of the music its exposed to. It’s not an exact science, but the general tempo of the music can help you maintain a steady pace and increase efficiency/decrease energy expenditure. Researchers often try to find the ‘perfect’ beats per minute (bpm) range for different activities, but of course this will vary with your environment, fitness level, pace, etc. Some recommended ranges are:
- Power walking - 123-139 bpm
- Running - 147-190 bpm
- Cycling - 125-170 bpm
AIRWAYS AND EXISTING HEALTH ISSUES
Despite what you may have heard, there is no such thing as "frozen lungs" – or at least not while you are still breathing. Sure, many people can get "skier’s hack" (a passing cough) during or after training in the cold. Research at Marywood University in Pennsylvania proved that this comes from the dryness of cold air, which causes the "airway narrowing" that produces the cough. Lead researcher Ken Rundell suggests a quick fix is to use a scarf over your mouth and nose to trap your natural water vapor when you exhale, and then allow you to "recycle" it when you inhale.
If you have asthma, heart problems or Raynaud’s disease, then you should consult your doctor before cold-weather running.
WARM UP INDOORS
Your muscles can’t warm up as effectively on a cold day, making connective tissues more brittle, keeping muscles from relaxing fully, and reducing synovial fluid (lubrication) in the joints. So when it’s cold, take time to do at least part of your warm-up indoors, and aim to do a little more warm-up than you would in warmer weather.
Triathletes I talk to also report having a few slower songs they can shuffle to on their iPod so they can bring down their pace if they think they’re going too hard – think Air Supply (true story!).
In some surveys, rap and hip-hop music come out as the most popular music genre to train to, yet often its beat range is just 80-100 bpm. So how does that work? Researchers speculate that people work on a double beat or synch their cadence (e.g. timing the beat to the right leg hitting the ground running or pushing a pedal) but more importantly, it works well because the beat is very prominent in the music.
Work out with 2XU – a selection of songs to get you moving available on Spotify now: https://open.spotify.com/user/2xu.