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Music, Running and Motivation - The Lunch Hour Athlete

Training Log For: 12/02/09

Picking up your running pace, kicking your workout up. Click Here.

Posted by Matthew

For as long as I can remember music has been a huge part of my life. I started playing guitar when I was 9 years old and continued to play in bands and in school throughout college. I always understood that music somehow had an important emotional link to events in my life. The Smashing Pumpkins helped get me through the awkward years of middle school and pop-punk music and mosh pits helped channel my abundant energy in my late teens. When I started working out consistently in college my ears were always covered with headphones that constantly fed my ears with either heavy metal or hard rock.

I have read articles online and in psychology courses that described current studies that are linking music and the emotional centers of our brains. Not only does music have very specific and very real connections with our brains but it seems that listening to music also has physiological affects on sports performance. One specific study tested swimmer's performance by monitoring groups of swimmers while they swam and listened to music or while they swam without music. The results showed significant performance improvements in the groups that swam while listening to music.

It would seem that the genre of music listened to also has an impact on the performance enhancement experienced. Music with faster tempos generally resulted in increased physical exertion whereas slower more consistent tempos resulted in increased relaxation and consistent exertion. Recently, I downloaded a new album on iTunes and incorporated it into my running mix. To give you an idea of how much I like the song, it's rate of play in iTunes is about 10x that of most other songs in my music library. At the end of a 6 mile run I decided to put that song on for a "boost" during the last 1/2 mile. When we stopped running Mike said to me, "did you have a good song on or something, you were running fast".

Usually I just throw songs onto my mp3 player and then start running. However, after reading several online articles I think it would be smarter to create a couple playlists based on the length of a run. For instance, I know a 6 mile run takes me about 1 hour and a 3 mile run is around 25 minutes. Knowing that the last mile is usually the hardest to get through due to mental and physical exhaustion, it would make sense to have the first 45 minutes of music have a steady yet upbeat tempo. The last 15 minutes of music should have an even quicker tempo than the first 45 minutes. Hopefully, experimenting with different arrangements of songs should lead me to find an ideal combination of music that can motivate and enhance my level of exertion while exercising.

As with anything in life, if you expose yourself to the same music over and over, it will lose it's ability to motivate you. Try switching the song order or genres to avoid becoming habituated to the stimulus. Buy a new CD every week or two. Most exercise enthusiasts will shell out a lot of money on memberships, food and supplements. Maybe setting up a music budget would be worth the benefits of having increased motivation from week to week.