We hear about folks all the time getting caught.
Using banned performance enhancing drugs to get an edge over the competition. To beef up or slim down, to cheat their body in some way or another.
There are plenty of legal options any of us can choose from. Because really, nearly any supplement you take could be considered “performance enhancing.” After all, why would you take it if it wasn’t making your body healthier or stronger in some way. Yes, I’m talking to you multivitamin and fish oil. We take those to enhance our function.
But – here’s one legal drug of choice that most people totally forget about.
And it could be more powerful than any drug on the market (even the black ones) for changing your performance.
Music is a powerful thing, regardless of whether it’s changing your mood or your fitness. And because of how our bodies respond to it – yes, it is considered performance enhancing.
Music and exercise are completely intertwined. And the research on the relationship goes back to 1911 when some American brainiac found out that cyclists peddled faster when there was a band playing music than when things were silent.
It was an ah-ha moment in the world of boosting performance.
Music distracts people from pain and fatigue, elevates the mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. And if you put those benefits into your workout, I guarantee you’re coming out on the other side better than you went in.
Here’s what it does from a more biological level:
Most of us have an instinct to synchronize our movements to music. We nod our heads, tap our feet or strum our fingers when a song plays. More often than not, those things happen without us even realizing it. And that’s because the body has an innate ability to move rhythmically. Our body prefers the rhythmic movement because it means we can conserve energy better and our brain can stay prepared, we don’t have to make as many adjustments to external cues. It’s easier for the brain and body to stay in homeostasis and rhythmic movement helps keep the cadence.
Now, that rhythmic moving can have another benefit when you’re training.
In one study, researchers looked a group of cyclists. Half listened to music. The other half had silence. The folks who cycled to music used 7% less oxygen than their non-music listening counterparts (a good thing – that means they weren’t out of breath as quickly when they trained).
The music acted as a metronome. It kept the cyclist “on beat,” they had steady and consistent peddling, allowing the body to use energy more efficiently and stop the waste of any excess energy. They almost had homeostasis while cycling because their brain knew exactly what to expect with very little shifts or changes.
So not only were they pacing themselves and conserving energy, but the rhythmic training did something else. It gave them a second benefit that enhanced their performance.
Music Acts as a Positive Distraction.
The human body is constantly assessing itself – taking in cues from the environment, from the muscles and nerves, getting feedback about what is currently happening and what shifts need to be made. After some time of training, fatigue sets in and the body starts to recognize the signals – increasing lactate in the muscles, faster heart rates, increased sweat production – they all come together and the brain thinks “it’s probably time for a break.”
But music can distract that thought. Music competes for the brain’s attention. So it takes your brain a little bit longer to recognize those fatigue symptoms and take that break, allowing you to train longer without noticing the extra effort.
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So for those cyclists – not only were they conserving energy so they could train longer, but when the fatigue started to hit, the music distracted their thoughts of tiredness. The music competed for the brain’s attention to stall those calls for rest a little bit longer. And the end results – the cyclists peddled faster, they conserved energy, their training felt easier AND they lasted longer before needing a break.
All from a little music.
But what if you aren’t a cyclist? What does this mean for the average gym-goer?
The same benefits apply. And that is why all of us have probably showed up to the gym, realized we forgot our headphones and decided to go home and get them instead of working out in silence.
Music is powerful.
Because our bodies are designed to move rhythmically, any training can benefit from having a metronome.
And because our brains still recognize pain and fatigue and call for breaks, music can act as a distraction in anyone’s fitness program.
So if you’re looking for a way to boost your performance legally (or you are justifying your drive home just to get your headphones) – you have it. Music and movement are entangled in the brain. And blasting Beyonce can do more than just make you happy and boost your emotions – it can increase your electrical activity in your cerebellum and basal ganglia to enhance your training – legally.
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