Forget costly personal trainers: according to the results of a 21-year study, your MP3 playlist could be the only fitness instructor that you will ever need. In the mid-1980s, scientists became convinced of the ability of music to transform our workout; one sports psychologist has dedicated more than two decades of research to finding the reason why.
Costas Karageorghis, who led the study, has discovered that training to music lowers your perception of effort and can trick your mind into feeling less fatigued during a workout. The result is that you are less likely to suffer from the breathlessness that can stop you completing that “uphill” setting on the treadmill.
The results of the Brunel University study reveal how the cardiovascular benefits of training can be boosted by running in time to your favourite beats. Matching the beat of the music with the tempo of the exercise can also regulate your movement and reduce the oxygen required during running by up to 6 per cent.
Athletes have long suspected that music boosts their performance: the marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie reportedly trains to the 1994 dance smash Scatman. Some athletes consider music with a fast tempo to be a legal drug with no unwanted side-effects and use it to pump them up before competition, or use slower music to calm their nerves and help them to focus.
But this is the first time research has looked in detail at the phenomenon. The results, published in the Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, reveal that plugging into correctly paced music increases stamina on a treadmill by 20 per cent. They also show that listening to music that matches the pace of your footfall can give you such a psychological boost at critical points of exhaustion and fatigue that it helps you to fight through the pain barrier.