Jack Bobridge’s UCI Hour Record attempt had him riding to a chosen soundtrack with a series of selected songs. Twitter found some of the songs amusing but there’s a performance aspect as music can make you go faster. Many riders, like Mike Teunissen above, use it during a warm-up.
The velodrome is unique because a rider can have music played to them during competition. Should Rohan Dennis compile a playlist?
It’s hard to combine music and cycling. You might use it in training but in competition it’s hard. Even if you had a race radio during a time trial chances are the tune would be interrupted. It might be possible to get away with an MP3 player in a time trial too but it’s rare if not unheard of. This is why the velodrome is different, it has a sound system and music can and is often played.
Music is powerful. Whether it’s a film soundtrack, a national anthem or the bass beat in a club, the power of music goes well beyond an appreciation of harmony and rhythm. It’s exploited to condition human behaviour, whether obvious examples like a DJ in a club or, more sneakily, the ambient music in a shop, for example play French music in a wine shop and sales of French wine increase. In sports science it’s a well-researched topic with numerous studies, probably hundreds, suggesting music before and during effort can boost performance.
“During repetitive, endurance-type activities, self-selected, motivational and stimulative music has been shown to enhance affect, reduce ratings of perceived exertion, improve energy efficiency and lead to increased work output. There is evidence to suggest that carefully selected music can promote ergogenic and psychological benefits during high-intensity exercise”
–International Review of Sport and Exercise, December 2011
To summarise these benefits occur because they boost the mind and can delay fatigue, and the beat can help co-ordinate the body too. But like all summaries, it’s not so simple: there are a range of specific factors which vary according to activity, intensity and experience. Just listening to your top tunes isn’t guaranteed to work and the beat is the big factor, the melody and lyrics are secondary. There are even apps to sync music with effort like Spring and RockMyRun. There is also an association with success or effort, listening to the a song with the right beat but the wrong message might give you the blues just as academics from Texas A&M university suggest:
“extra-musical association could very well promote thoughts that inspire physical activity or relaxation within the athlete. For example, an athlete may associate vigorous exercise with the theme from the popular “Rocky” movie series“
The Rocky theme is often cited by sports scientists as a good song – proving taste is put aside – thanks to its triumphant cords and relentless beat. It’s got 95 beats per minute which suggests a good cadence. Distance runner Haile Gebrselassie asked for “The Scatman” to be played during his record attempts because he found the beat was perfect for pacing.
For a rider lapping a velodrome repeatedly for an hour some music might help the time go by but research suggests differences between couch dwellers and elite athletes. Those unused to exercise might find music helps them push on further, perhaps because they’re unused to going for a run or a ride. But while it helped Gebrselassie there’s some work to say it’s distracting for trained athletes. Here’s Dr Karageorghis of Brunel University in Britain, an expert on the subject:
“Research has shown that when you cross the anaerobic threshold, which happens at 70 to 80 per cent of maximum heart rate, music is less effective. Also, elite runners tend to be associators, which means they focus inwardly on regulating their bodies, rather than outwardly to stimuli such as music. Above 85 per cent, silence may be golden“
This might well apply to track cyclists bidding for the Hour where it’s all about a threshold effort, pacing and focusing on the line and the corners. You don’t need to be psyched for this, in fact you need to be measured and consistent. So silence can help but, thinking aloud, perhaps tracks with a regular beat can still help.
Where music can help is the warm-up. It’s common to see riders warming-up for a time trial with music. It helps block out the world, wandering fans can distract the rider but if carefully selected the music should help with focus. Again the choice has to be right, the last thing needed is a rider pumped to the max as they finish their warm-up and ready to bolt from the start house. Instead motivation and focus on the effort ahead are needed.
While Bobridge’s taste in music was up for discussion last week, for all we know it might have been carefully picked to provide the optimal beat or maybe he started with too many rousing anthems and got carried away? Probably not but music does have an effect on performance, it is a stimulus. This piece only touches on the sports science, there are many studies out there but the conclusion is that it does help.
In cycling it’s rare because it takes place outdoors but the velodrome is the exception and music can be used. Should Rohan Dennis have playlist? It could help for his warm-up, yes but all the rest is just a marginal detail beside training, aerodynamics and pacing.