The Effects of Music Before, During and After Running

New research supports using music to get fired up before running, and suggests that listening to music after a run can speed recovery. The research, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, also backs previous findings that you probably get less benefit from music the harder you run.

Brazilian researchers tested the effect of music on 15 runners before, during and after they ran a 5K time trial on the track. The study participants had been runners for an average of just under five years, and averaged about an hour of training per day.

The researchers measured things such as pre-run brain activity, arousal and heart-rate variability; during-run perceived effort and time; and post-run mood and heart-rate variability. There were four tests with music: pre-run motivational music (110-150 beats per minute); running with slow music (80-100 beats per minute); running with fast music (140-160 beats per minute); post-run calming music (95-110 beats per minute); and no music.

Pre-run music led to a decrease in vagal tone, which is a brain process related to the autonomic, or involuntary, nervous system; vagal tone affects the operation of internal organs, including the heart. In practical terms, a decreased vagal tone means that pre-run music aroused the runners and, according to the researchers, better prepared them for their 5K time trials.

On the 5Ks when the runners listened to music, they ran their first two laps (of 12.5) faster than when they ran with no music. After that, the differences in lap times between the music and no-music conditions greatly decreased.

This finding is consistent with earlier research, which has concluded that the higher your effort level, the less effect music has on performance. As the researchers put it, “Initially, participants were affected by music since they needed a time period to process all afferent information regarding peripheral receptors. As soon as the brain realised the exercise intensity, a mechanism called attentional switching occurred by directing attention to the most important signals.”

On average, the runners covered the 5Ks faster when they listened to music before and during. The time differences weren’t considered statistically significant, but what’s significant in a research paper and in a runner’s diary can differ. In the no-music condition, the average 5K time was just under 27:20. In the pre-run condition, it was 26:45. When the runners listened to fast music during the 5K, their average time was just over 26:00. In what’s perhaps a counterintuitive result, the fastest average time, 26:00, came when the runners listened to slow music during their 5Ks.

When the runners listened to music after their 5Ks, it had the opposite effect of pre-run music on vagal tone – music increased it compared to not listening to music post-run. According to the researchers, this means that the runners’ internal systems, including heart rate, were more quickly returning to normal. Because the goal of post-run recovery measures, such as hydration, nutrition and gentle exercise, is to speed the body’s return to its pre-workout state, this finding suggests that slow music after a hard run can help in that process.


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