Easier Workouts with Interactive Tunes

Musical agency led to reduced perceived exertion in exercisers

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Putting on a favorite album while at the gym seems to make the time go by faster. A recent study shows that musical feedback could also reduce exhaustion while exercising.

Researchers studied exercise machines that respond with music depending on how a participant used them. They measured how tired the participants felt while listening to music during exercise versus "creating" music on the machines.

They found that the participants reported significantly lower levels of exhaustion on the machines that responded with music, even though they worked just as hard and sometimes harder. In some cases, the participants were even able to exert more force while exerting the same amount of energy when they were on the new machines.

"Experiment to see what kind of music helps you exercise longer and harder."

Thomas Hans Fritz of the Department of Neurology in the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences led the experiment to see how music affects the way people exercise.

According to the authors of the article, previous studies have shown that listening to music helps people work out longer and harder, perhaps because it distracts people from the activity.

This experiment looked at how musical agency, or the ability to interact with music while engaging in physical activity, plays a role.

The researchers used 63 participants, ages 18 to 59, who exercised under two conditions. First, they exercised while simply listening to music, then they worked out while listening to music that responded to their bodily movements, or with "musical agency." Some of the participants worked out with musical agency and were instructed to do isometric exercises, or exercises in 10-second bursts with short rest breaks.

The participants were tested on three different fitness machines: a tower, a stomach trainer, and a stepper. For the experiment group, the fitness machines used software that produced music based on how the participant moved.

Participants were instructed to use the fitness machines for six minutes for each condition, with a ten minute rest break between conditions.

During the workout, researchers measured force and oxygen consumption to see how hard the participants were exercising.

After each workout, the participants were given a questionnaire that asked them to rate their level of perceived exertion, or how hard they believed they were working out.

The researchers found that 53 of the participants reported that they exerted less energy while working out on the "musical agency" machines. However, the data from the machines shows that the total force applied to the machines did not differ significantly.

Additionally, the group that did isometric exercises worked out harder at the tower when they were in the musical agency stage of the experiment. However, they found the musical agency stage to be less exhausting than the passive listening stage.

The researchers noted that, throughout the experiment, oxygen consumption remained relatively the same, even though the amount of force applied to the machines changed. During the musical agency stage, participants were able to apply more force to the machines with the same amount of oxygen.

The researchers suggested that the calming affect of music and the role of emotional motor control may explain why musical agency reduced the participants' levels of perceived exertion.

"This study jives with our experience both on the court and in the gym at the Austin Tennis Academy," said Jack Newman, Austin Tennis Academy's Head Coach and CEO. "Players seem to be able to work harder and longer with music playing than without. Because of this, you will often hear music during our on court workouts."

The study was published in PNAS on October 14.

The researchers reported no conflicts of interest and did not disclose funding sources.

Review Date: 
October 25, 2013
Last Updated:
October 28, 2013