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Monday, October 18, 2021

Column: Workout music

Sweat dripping onto the formulas of a Math 22A textbook, eardrums blasting due to Keri Hilson and biking at 13 miles per hour – a common scene at the ARC during finals week. We attempt to cure our frazzled nerves with music and endorphins. But when it comes to getting an effective workout, can tunes do more than boost our mood? Researchers at the University of Wisconsin definitely think so.

Dr. Carl Foster and Dr. John Porcari from UW have conducted several studies, all confirming the same theory. Faster music produces higher intensity exercise. The increased tempo increases arousal, making exercise seem easier than it would without that type of music.

One of the reasons group exercise classes are so popular is that when all the elements come together – upbeat music, an encouraging instructor and the group environment – the work suddenly seems effortless and … dare I say, fun! Those who may have taken a cardio or spinning group exercise class: imagine the class without music (or with instrumentals). In this scenario, your kicks would probably not be as strong and your jumping jacks might look more like sloppy joes.

When we exercise, our mind creates a certain “perception of effort,” how hard we think our body is working. This means that when you are on the elliptical, in a group exercise class or even running outdoors, your mind calculates how hard it thinks the body is working. However, research shows that there is something that can trick our minds into decreasing the perception of effort. Music!

Faster music can decrease perception of effort and increase endurance by 15 percent, according to Dr. Costas Karageorghis from London’s Brunel University School of Sport and Education. And as Dr. Porcari says, “By listening to music, people tend to enjoy exercise more because they focus less on their breathing and perceive it to be less taxing. Music can encourage people to exercise harder.” Whether it’s that new Jeremiah song on our iPod or a remix in spin class, music distracts the mind from all the effort we are putting into the work, making it seem easier and enjoyable.

The ancient Greek gymnasium (“gymnos” meaning naked) was seen as a place of education, perfection of mind and body. Apollo, the god of athletics, is also the god of music; athletes strove to be as god-like as possible and therefore trained to music.

UW researchers provide a more scientific explanation of the benefits of music – music tempo helps structure workouts and keeps people on beat. The principle of synchronization states that the brain and body naturally follow a tempo (similar to rowers rowing to the beat of a drum). Music becomes the orchestra conductor, the thing that guides people’s movements.

However, taking the proven benefits of music into account, there is potential that music can neglect some important aspects of our bodies. According to Dr. Karageorghis, music can influence exercise by providing a distraction from discomfort. If we are too absorbed in the music during spin class to notice an aching knee, we leave the door open for a more serious injury.

Not just listening to music but also watching TV while exercising can be another distraction; and chances are if you are paying attention to the game on TV, it takes away from the effort you could be putting into your workout. Also, music can cause participants to focus less on their breathing.

Take, for example, a friend I used to go to the gym with – she could not enter the ARC weight room without her iPod. Yes, she was addicted. And when she was on that high (of music), Usain Bolt almost had some competition. With her music, she transformed into this fearless being, an Energizer bunny with endless reserves of energy. Let’s not get into all the times that she was injured…

If you are this intense, it could be really beneficial to have your favorite songs on a playlist at a few particular times. When you feel that listening to music might be the key to breaking through a plateau, then it may do more good than harm. Also, having music as a “distraction” if your workouts seem too low-intensity could help give them a boost.

If you’re like me and getting to the gym is last on your list of things to do on a rainy day, a couple brand new songs on the iPod could definitely be motivation enough to hit the gym.

But once you have established a somewhat consistent workout routine, try ditching the tunes a few times to learn what your body is feeling.

MEGHA BHATT will be doing some intense stair intervals in the Pavilion this week, sans her iPod. Tell her what good music she’s missing out on at mybhatt@ucdavis.edu.

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