In recent years there’s been a growing body of research showing that music can have dramatic and positive effects on exercise performance, particularly when it comes to motivation and altering perceptions of fatigue.

It’s hardly surprising, then, 
that music is almost 
‘de rigueur’ for those 
demanding indoor 
sessions on the rollers/turbo. Studies show that listening to music can divert attention away from feelings of tiredness and fatigue, and that the right tunes can increase 
positive moods and decrease negative ones, thereby increasing your motivation to get stuck in.

However, with the explosion of technology (including smartphones and tablets capable of streaming and playing video), the options to keep yourself motivated have never been greater. So, what’s better for those gruelling workouts – 
listening to music or watching and listening 
to videos?’ Well, this is exactly the question that 
scientists in Taiwan have been investigating in a newly published study.

The science
The study consisted of two parts. In the first section, the researchers examined the effects of different combinations of audio and video on physical performance and rating of perceived effort (RPE): meaning how hard a given exercise intensity feels.

To do this, 20 students performed a 12-minute cycling task on four 
different occasions. The four tasks were done under identical 
conditions and, in each instance, they were asked to pedal as hard as they could throughout.

However, each task varied in terms of what the cyclists could listen to and/or watch as follows: music only, video only, music and video or as a
control group without either music or video.
The second part of the study examined how music preference 
influenced physical 
performance, but instead used a running task (where subjects were asked to run as hard as possible). Seventy-five 
students completed the task on five occasions and in each task, the music was varied as follows:

1. Music that each subject preferred and which was ranked as motivational (with an uplifting effect).
2. Music that each subject preferred, but was ranked as non-motivational (with a calming effect).
3. Music that each subject didn’t particularly prefer, but which was still 
ranked as motivational.
4. Music that each subject didn’t particularly prefer, and which was ranked as non-motivational.
5. No music.

In a nutshell
The main findings from the first section were that 
listening to music and watching video both helped to reduce the 
level of perceived 
exertion during the task compared to no music or video. However, when the researchers analysed the results further, they found out that listening to music had a significantly greater fatigue-reducing effect than video.

When it came to part two and what type of music was best at 
reducing the perception of effort, it was clear that what counted was the subjects’ own musical 
preferences. It didn’t 
matter whether the music was ranked as uplifting or calming, it was how much the subjects preferred 
that type of music that determined how effective it was at reducing the 
perception of effort.

So what?
The message from this study is fairly clear cut. First, if you want something to get you through a tough workout, cranking up the stereo (or sticking some headphones on if you like your neighbours) is likely to be a better option than watching something on a screen.

Secondly, choosing the music that will work best for you is simple – just choose what you really like, regardless of what it is, and don’t be suckered into buying ‘motivational’ compilations, which are unlikely to be as effective.

J Sports Sci Med. 2013 Sep 1;12 (3): 388-93

This article was first published in the December 12 issue of Cycling Weekly. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!