How Music Boosts Performance

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As we saw last week, music can actually impact our feelings and performance in regard to athletic activity. It can also help keep us moving during times of strenuous exercise, and contribute to a faster and more effective recovery. As we continue to explore this theme, we spoke with experts about the specific types of music that may boost pre-workout motivation, performance, and post-session recovery.

According to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, author of upcoming book “Applying Music in Exercise and Sport,” music has a “pervasive” influence in the realm of sports. Intent on highlighting the many ways in which music can enhance or motivate our own performance, Dr. Karageorghis has devoted a lifetime to the study of both subjects.

If, as Dr. Karageorghis advises, music must be chosen “effectively, with personal factors and situational factors in mind,” crafting that perfect playlist may actually make or break a gym session.

To boost mood and get hyped pre-performance, experts suggest music that presents inspirational lyrical affirmations. Just as Karageorghis observed Michael Phelps prepping at the Olympics with Lil Wayne’s song “I’m Me,” songs that act as motivators and mood-boosters incorporate lyrical elements that reaffirm confidence and happiness.

Furthermore, songs that help in preparing for some kind of performance or sport may stem from a surprising variety of genres. As long as the lyrics pump up your enegery level and help you to forget upcoming difficulty, the song does its job.

For example, one of the songs from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “Hamilton,” a Broadway musical influenced by classic rap and hip-hop, utilizes wording that inspires movement and action from the mouth of a determined young man: “I’m past patiently waitin’/I’m passionately smashing every expectation/Every action’s an act of creation/I’m laughing in the face of casualties and sorrow/For the first time I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow/and I am not throwing away my shot.”

This example does make use of rap and hip-hop beats, but more important is the message the song’s lyrics reaffirm: determination, hard work, and unfailing enthusiasm for the task at hand. Additionally, the repetition present in the chorus allows the listener to seamlessly sing along without difficulty, distracting them from any doubts or negative thoughts.

Lyrics, regardless of the genre of music that presents them, can often highlight and enhance our feelings and determination before we jump in to our chosen activity.

So then, what kind of music works best in boosting performance during athletic activity?

“The optimum tempo range when music is playing in the background, is between 120 and 140 beats per minute,” says Dr. Karageorghis.

This “sweet spot,” he explains, allows us to perform at an optimal rate, reacting to the tempo and adjusting our performance in a way that keeps us moving and distracts us from discomfort or pain. During this time, songs that combine the right tempo with inspirational lyrics, or even simply repetitive lyrics, will do the trick.

Wiz Khalifa’s “Word Hard, Play Hard,” which plays at 140 beats per minute, may suffice; if not, maybe Michael Jackson’s “Beat It,” or 3OH!3’s “Starstruckk.”

Finally, we consider the songs that may facilitate a faster and smoother recovery. While Dr. Karageorghis anticipates conducting much research on the subject in future, current research doesn’t point to a perfect musical solution for unwinding after heavy exercise. Let this stage of the process come out of personal preference; any music that deepens and slows your breathing, allowing you to feel relaxed, will help you along.

Perhaps in this arena we can focus less on empirical data, and rather rely on songs that allow us to calm down by boosting cheerfulness and pleasure.

After speaking with various experts on the subject, the best advice we can give would be to spend time formulating that perfect playlist by trial-and-error. Compile numerous inspirational and upbeat songs together, deleting as you go in order to streamline what works best for you.

Don’t feel like making your own playlist? Check out our fitness motivation show Xtreme Endurance, carefully crafted to keep you pumped all workout through.