The Impact of Music on Athletes

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The impact of music on athletes. Guy running with headphones on

Music plays an important role in many people's lives, especially when it comes to exercise and sports. Most athletes enjoy listening to music as they workout or before a competition. But, can music improve athletic performance? In fact, in 2007 USA Track and Field banned the use of headphones and audio players in official marathon races to ensure the safety of athletes and prevent runners from having a competitive edge. So this leads us to ask…  what exactly is the impact of music on athletes?

Music Diverts Our Minds

We all know that feeling when we’re working out and we begin to feel the fatigue creeping in. It takes a special type of mental strength to continue to push through this pain. However, listening to music can help divert our minds away from the sensation of fatigue. This process is known as dissociation. Research shows that music can improve performance during endurance activities, such as running, cycling or swimming, by directing our attention away from feelings of fatigue or pain. A study conducted in 2008 showed that cyclists used 7% less oxygen when they rode in time to music than when they didn’t have anything playing. The takeaway? Music can help improve our athletic performance by taking our minds off our fatigue, and by allowing us to perform more efficiently to save energy.

Music Helps Regulate Our Emotions and Moods

Many athletes turn to music before their competition to help them get in “the zone.” Plugging in headphones before performing or working out can help regulate emotions and mood, because music reshapes emotional and physiological arousal, allowing it to be used as either a stimulant or as a sedative. Loud upbeat music will help an athlete get psyched up, whereas softer music can help them calm down.

Researchers from Georgia Southern University have measured how music affected Division I college athletes. They watched how these athletes performed with and without music. They noticed that music controlled how stimulated the athletes were, helping them prepare before competing. They also noticed that music helped these athletes control their moods and create a sense of camaraderie during competition.

Music can have a serious influence on our mood by elevating positive aspects such as vigor, excitement and happiness, and reducing tension, anger and fatigue. So, next time you need to lift your mood and get in the zone to perform, or even workout, pop in those headphones and listen to music to psych you up or calm you down.

Women running while listening to music

Music Helps Synchronize Rhythm and Tempo

Have you ever started listening to a song that just makes you want to dance? Most people have an instinct to synchronize their movements to the music they’re listening to. This could be a simple head nod or a tap of the toes. The type of music an athlete listens to can cause them to synchronize their movements during their workout. For example, a song with a fast tempo, can make an athlete increase their movement to a faster pace. The opposite is also true, in that a slower tempo will produce slower movements. Ethiopian Olympic runner, Haile Gebrselassie, is famous for having the song “Scatman” playing when he ran the 10,000 meters. He claimed the rhythm was perfect for running and breaking world records. Although a faster tempo can increase your movements to a faster pace, there is a limit. Research has shown that a ceiling effect occurs around 145 beats per minute (bpm). A higher tempo than 145 bpm doesn’t seem to add any additional motivation. The next time you workout, try to pick songs that have a tempo that goes with your activity and pace.

Music Uses the Entire Brain

As we’ve seen, music can help distract us, regulate our emotions and moods, and synchronize our movements. This is all because music activates several major parts of the brain at once. Costa Karageorghis’ research shows that music affects all the areas of the brain that are crucial for athletic performance. These areas include the parietal lobe, the occipital lobe, the temporal lobe, the frontal lobe and the cerebellum. For example, music helps control stress by reducing cortisol levels, the stress hormone. The temporal lobe is the part of the brain responsible for releasing cortisol. Music also helps coordinate our limbs during exercise by helping with the motor cortex, which is in the parietal lobe. These are just a few examples, but listening to music lights up our brain like a Christmas tree, which is why it helps improve performance.


Music can be powerful, and it’s no wonder so many athletes use music as a preparation tool for their workouts and competitions. The impact music has on sports can be very beneficial for not only athletes, but for anyone who wants to get active. So, the next time you’re going to workout or preparing for a big competition, plug in those headphones, and let the music help you succeed.