Music can boost your workout by distracting you from pain and fatigue, but it's not a boon to every workout. Depending on your personality and your sport, you may be better off skipping distractions.
Picture: Kai Chan Vong
Elite runner Adharanand Finn writes at the Guardian about the effects of music at a Rock'n'Roll half-marathon. He doesn't think music helped, but many other participants loved it. Sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis explains:
"Elite athletes," says Karageorghis, "are usually 'associators', which means they tend to focus inwardly when they are running." Most other runners, he says, are "dissociators" (or are somewhere between the two). This means they look for stimulus and distraction from what is going on around them.
Distraction, including from music, is great for dissociators, but can keep associators from their best performance. (It's possible that dissociators need to take on an associator personality or strategy as they improve, but that's a topic for another time.) So, for recreational runners, music typically helps more than it hurts.
The type of sport may matter too. Music works well for sports like running and cycling where your main job is adjusting pace: if the music gets you to pedal faster, that's all you need for a better performance. On the other hand, music can be too much of a distraction for more complicated sports. There's not a lot of research on this idea, but one study done in a Swiss Crossfit gym lends support. There, participants did a timed "Cindy" workout of pull-ups, push-ups and squats. The researchers were surprised to find that the Crossfitters could bust out more reps when they were working in silence than when rocking out to a playlist of AC/DC tunes (a particular favourite at that gym).
Why didn't the music help? Possibly because the exercises required more attention to proper form than running does, and possibly because the participants needed to accurately judge their levels of fatigue to figure out if they can push themselves for one more rep. At that point, if music distracts you from your fatigue, it may be more of a minus than a plus.
Does Music Help You to Run Faster? [The Guardian]