Dr Costas Karageorghis, calls music sport’s “legal drug”, capable of increasing performance by 20 per cent while reducing an athlete’s perception of effort by 10 per cent.
As head of Brunel University’s music in sport research department and the author of more than 100 academic papers on the subject including several published in the Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Karageorghis is well qualified to make these pronouncements.
He also practises what he preaches as the head coach of the British students athletics team.“Carefully selected music can make you more efficient by reducing your oxygen uptake by as much as 7 per cent for the same performance,” he says, before listing a host of other benefits, from erasing the pain of exercise to banishing pre-race nerves.
There are several elements involved. The first is music’s ability to promote an optimal state of mental absorption that psychologists call “flow”, which is why top runners such as Paula Radcliffe use music to prepare for intense training sessions.
“For a lot of elite athletes music is irrelevant,” Karageorghis says. “Research has shown that when you cross the anaerobic threshold, which happens at 70 to 80 per cent of maximum heart rate, music is less effective.
Also, elite runners tend to be associators, which means they focus inwardly on regulating their bodies, rather than outwardly to stimuli such as music. Above 85 per cent, silence may be golden.”
Backing this up are studies, including one from the University of North Carolina’s psychology and sport science departments, that found that “listening to fast, upbeat music during exercise may be beneficial for untrained runners but counterproductive for trained runners”.