Is music beneficial to sports stars when training?

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When you think of sports, whether that be football, basketball, hockey or even the bizarre Indian game of kabaddi, what do you think of? There are probably a number of things that we can guess.

The big name players? The most successful teams? Top online sportsbook sites? Maybe even a specific brand of clothing? But how many people would think about music when someone starts talking to them about sports?

Sure, there are times where music makes an appearance. You have things like the NFL Super Bowl half-time show, synonymous with some of the greatest musical performances known to man. Some stadiums are renowned for playing anthems, such as Liverpool FC’s Anfield who play Gerry and The Pacemakers song, You’ll Never Walk Alone, before every game, and is sung by their fans at the end of every match.

You may even see players stepping off their team coaches wearing headphones as they zone out all distractions around them to get into the zone for their upcoming game. But did you know that when many sports stars train, they do so by listening to music? But why is that? Is it purely for some background noise? Or could it actually be beneficial to them? Well, we’re going to investigate that right now.

What are the benefits?

There are said to be numerous benefits to training whilst listening to music, but what does the science behind it say? Well, science would seem to agree when it comes to people feeling fitter, with research showing that listening to music whilst exercising can improve your endurance by 15%. However, recent research from Liverpool John Moores University did state that the tempo of the music can have an impact.

People who listen to slower music experienced decreased heart rate and distance covered when exercising on a bike. As opposed to those who listened to music with higher beats per minute (BPM), whose heart rate increased, and distance covered was longer. Participants in research around this have also stated that they feel they enjoyed exercising more when listening to upbeat music too, as opposed to low temp music, or no sound at all.

Another area that research shows us where music helps an athlete train is on the mental side, rather than physical. Quite often, doubt can creep into our minds, you may panic or worry about facing an opponent in an upcoming game. Music can help distract from that, preventing them from self-sabotage and hindering their performances.

As well as distracting from negative thoughts, it can also give people a chance to control their emotions. They can listen to certain music that will get them pumped up and ready for a fight. Or they can listen to something slow or powerful like a ballad to relax, allowing them to focus and reach peak performance at whatever event it is they are going to take part in.

Another mental benefit is it can with some athletes put them in an almost auto-pilot mode. Now this may not be beneficial in team games if you’re ignoring your teammates, but it can be excellent for individual sports. As demonstrated in a study where elite golfers were asked to listen to music, and putt as quickly as they could. The results of the research found that these golfers had a higher success rate operating on autofocus than when they took their time to line up and take a shot.

There can be downsides too though

Where there are always pros to something, you can guarantee there will be cons as well. And listening to music whilst training has its fair share, some of which contradict research findings, or at least offer a different view to what music does.

For example, whilst music can create a welcome distraction to some, there are plenty of athletes who think it can be too distracting. Elite runners are one group who don’t always listen to music, because they would prefer to listen to what their body is telling them. Whilst distracted by music, they may not fully notice their heart rate or any twinges in their body that would be signs to ease up. By having zero music, it allows them to focus much more.

Is it all just psychological?

Because there is no physical change to an athletes body for boosting performance, like with performance enhancing steroids, the evidence does suggest that music does have an impact psychologically. It’s the belief that the music gives to someone that allows them to perform better, which could be why some research contradicts others, because every individual is different.

There was an interesting study conducted to prove that the impact of music whilst training was psychological. Two groups were told to listen to music, one group were told it would help them perform better, the other were told it would make them train worse. They both performed as told. The only issue here is they weren’t told to train without music first, to see if it did impact the individuals. Because for all we know, each individual could have performed at their usual levels.

Either way, it seems that for some people, it can actually benefit their training. Others, less so. It all comes down to personal preference.

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