How Music Can Supercharge Your Gains

Look Beyond the Confines of  Convention For More Muscle Growth

When I ask you to think of your two or three favorite sports supplements, what comes to mind?

Creatine … beta alanine … protein powder, maybe?

When we think of a performance-boosting supplement, typically what comes to mind is something we ingest, like creatine. However, science has shown us that if we bother to look beyond the confines of convention, what we find is a whole other realm of “ergogenic aids,” which don’t come in powders or pills.  Among the most potent of these unconventional performance “supplements,” according to recent research, is music.

The fact that we’re influenced by music should come as no big shocker.

 Those who work out to techno or head-bangin’ rock ’n’ roll have long recognized the intoxicating power of an adrenaline spiking song. But recent studies show that music does more than just get us going or “pump us up.” It may actually alter the body’s physiology, or as Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Famer Carlos Santana puts it, “rearrange the molecular structure of the listener.”

The most recent of these studies investigating this peculiar phenomenon comes from the Department of Life Sciences at England’s Nottingham Trent University. In this study, published last year in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, Dr. Attila Szabo and colleagues set out to investigate whether musical tempo and its manipulation during exercise affect maximal workload (measured in watts) achieved during progressive cycling. 

To test this, the researchers recruited 24 male and female college students and had them each cycle in five separate test sessions that included exercising to no music (control); slow music; fast music; slow-to-fast music and finally fast-to-slow music. In the last two conditions, musical tempo was changed when the participant’s heart rate reached 70 percent of maximum.

In all test sessions, the participants started to cycle at 50 watts and then the workload was increased in increments of 25 watts every minute until self-declared exhaustion. Maximal-effort cycling was defined as the workload at the last completed minute of exercise.

 Dr. Szabo's Conclusion:

According to Dr. Szabo, results showed that a significantly higher workload was accomplished when the participants worked out to progressively “faster-paced” music. “The participants preferred the slow-to-fast music sessions more than the other sessions,” says Dr. Szabo. “Switching to slow-to-fast music during progressive exercise results in the accomplishment of more work without proportional changes in heart rate.”

 Whether these effects are due to an actual “rearrangement of the molecular structure” of the exerciser or simply to distraction from fatigue isn’t clear. What is apparent, however, is the powerful effect progressively faster paced music can have on increasing exercise workload. And, when you think about it, that’s all most conventional sports supplements do. Remember, typical supplements like creatine, for instance, have little direct effect on muscle size and strength. Instead, the accrual of strength is a response related to a greater workload and intensity of training that can be achieved.

 Of course, with creatine, or any other supplement for that matter, consistency is the key to achieving a desired result. So, it stands to reason, if done consistently over a period of months, listening to progressively faster-paced, uplifting music during your workouts could very well be associated with an enhanced accrual of not only cardiovascular conditioning (as shown in this study) but perhaps even muscle strength in intense weight-training programs.