Get in tune for fitness

Jessica Rothwell

20km walker Jessica Rothwell selects some tunes. Picture: Zoe Harrison Source: Herald Sun

LISTENING to music can greatly boost a person's ability to exercise - so much that Olympians and weekend joggers can actually go faster, higher and stronger with the right tune.

Research by Olympic sports psychologist Prof Peter Terry shows elite athletes can run 18 per cent longer when listening to music, with the effect on their body so profound there is a measurable difference in their oxygen requirements.

"We are not sure quite what the mechanism is, but one possibility is that the music has a relaxation response that increases blood flow," Prof Terry said.

"Once your body gets in tune with it, music can regulate the efficiency of your physiological system.

"It is to do with the effect you are after - to go farther, faster or to just have a more pleasurable experience.

"The key is the tempo of the music matches precisely either the stride rate, or the rate at which you are exercising."

Revealing his research at the International Congress of Applied psychology conference in Melbourne, Prof Terry said many elite athletes incorporated music into their training, with psychologists matching music to the activity to boost their performance by altering tempo and lyrics.

Prof Terry, who has helped more than 1500 sports stars across 40 sports, said there was an art to matching music, such as using Red Hot Chilli Peppers to prepare rowers and Japanese classical music to train boxers.

During a University of Southern Queensland study Prof Terry found elite triathletes running on a treadmill could extend themselves for 18 per cent longer if they listened to music in tempo with their stride.

But he said choosing music with inspiring lyrics could also work despite its tempo, particularly for pre-match warm-ups which are important to set an appropriate tone and not necessarily increasing adrenalin or excitment.

"Sometimes the music people choose is counter-intuitive," he said.

"A boxer I worked with won an Olympic gold medal and he used Japanese classical music because he wanted to go out and out-box people rather than out-fight them and that music had a lightness and precision to it to get his hands moving faster and precisely."

The power of music was first discovered in 1911 during a New York six-day cycle race, when researchers noticed the riders went faster when a band was playing.

Today there are several websites that can match stride patterns and exercises with specific music, or even compose music to suit individual needs.