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!

  • francis odoherty

    You should never use ipods or any type of ear phones while training on your bike indoors or out doors.Heres my story for what it is worth. Several years ago. When the cycling season came to the end around October say. That was it u hung up the bike for a while. And if you did not have an indoor trainer .You where training less no worries so did everyone else. Then as cycling became more popular and the club, s and the club membership’s grew. Everyone started to train longer harder and earlier in the year. So if you did not get out in the winter and you did not have an indoor trainer. When the season started you where starting on the back foot. So I got a trainer and started to use it a lot. But found it very boring’s I had this great idea. Move the trainer from my garage into the kitchen then I could at least play a cd.And that’s what I did. But to avoid annoying everyone else in the house I was forced to keep the volume down. So then came along where you could burn tracks onto a cd and make up one that would suite your interval training session.Fab this really worked and yes the more intense the music. The harder you peddled. My cadence was shooting up. But the noise of the trainer etc became disruptive to the music after a whilw. It seemed the more intense I trained the louder I needed the music.

    Then came the ipod this now took the training to a new leval.Now i could make up play lists etc and have the whole world shut out.Everyone happy But the harder i trained the more volume i found I required and the more volume I got the less boring it became.Class then a few years at this. one morning after a training session the previous night my whole world came crashing it. When i woke up heard this high pitch ringing in my right ear.Continous high pitch frequency sound. It was and still is terrible IT HAS DEVISTATED MY LIFE And you do not want this monkey on your back. It has taken several months to try and come to terms with it. After seeing my doctor and a ear specialist they said it is permanent and caused by sound you have tinnitus .How stupid have i been how did i allow this to happen to me. There are days i say how can i live with this for the rest of my life. There is not much info out there. no adds on the TV there is know info no warning,s.Why? Because it will not kill you. It dose not have any respect for age. I Have noticed lately when the pros are warming up they to are using ipods in there ears. My advice to you my fellow cyclist DO NOT DO IT. It is equivalent to throwing dice. You just need to throw 2 sixes. How hard and how long do you think you would have to throw for them to come up. One minute you could be ok the next your world could come crashing it. Just like me .The only time you will Google this word will be when u find you have a ringing in one or both of you ears and the word is TINNITUS and then it is to late.They say a ipod at near full volume is equal to the sound of a 747 takeing off as you stand beside it without any ear protection on.I Hope cycling weekley can carry this story. thanks for reading .


    A common cause of tinnitus is inner ear cell damage. Tiny, delicate hairs in your inner ear move in relation to the pressure of sound waves. This triggers ear cells to release an electrical signal through a nerve from your ear (auditory nerve) to your brain. Your brain interprets these signals as sound. If the hairs inside your inner ear are bent or broken, they can “leak” random electrical impulses to your brain, causing tinnitus.
    Exposure to loud noise. Loud noises, such as those from heavy equipment, chain saws and firearms, are common sources of noise-related hearing loss. Portable music devices, such as MP3 players or iPods, also can cause noise-related hearing loss if played loudly for long periods. Tinnitus caused by short-term exposure, such as attending a loud concert, usually goes away; long-term exposure to loud sound can cause permanent damage.

  • lee

    I always listen to music on the bike…its never off, though mostly its the radio for traffic etc and i can hear traffic as its NEVER loud. But obviously wouldnt recommend for safety reasons.