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Should you listen to music whilst cycling?

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Alberto Contador

Ever since the Walkman appearance in the 70s, music and training have gone hand in hand. Is it beneficial though?

Listening to music while exercising doesn’t just relieve boredom — it can help improve the quality of your workout by increasing your stamina and putting you in a better mood.

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.

Evidence from a study by Porcai and colleagues, which was presented at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation in Kansas backs this up.

In the study in 2003, healthy volunteers were given music to listen to while they pedaled on gym bikes. The findings showed that the pedaling rate of the cylists increased as the music tempo increased.

If that evidence isn’t enough to convince you, then this fact might: the great Ethiopian, Haile Gebreselassie, is said to have set an indoor world record for the 2,000m in 1998 by synchronizing his stride rate to what he was listening to.

Several studies have shown how the exact tempo, as measured in beats per minute, affects one’s level of exercise. These studies determined that the ideal tempo necessary for maximum performance depends on the type of exercise.

A 2011 study showed that in order to achieve the best performance for cycling, the preferred tempo is between 125 and 140 beats per minute (bpm). A study published in 2014 showed that the best music tempo for enhanced performance on the treadmill is between 123 and 131 bpm.

A plausible reason for why different types of exercise have different ideal tempos is related to one’s ability to keep time with the beat of the music, synchronizing strides or pedaling to the beat of the music. Since pace differs on the treadmill versus the exercise bike or elliptical, music of different tempos is needed to achieve ideal performance for various workouts.

Whatever your training goals are, listening to music will almost certainly help rather than hinder your performance. What you listen to should be your choice as music that works for some may not work for you. If you’ve never tried training to music, why not give it a go and see how it impacts on your performance?

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.