Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Generating music during exercise lessens sense of physical effort.

A fascinating bit of work from Fritz et al. makes one wonder whether our human love of music is based in part on its ability to ease physical effort.  They looked not at the effects not of simple passive listening to music during exercise, which is a feature of many gym environments, but of creating music generated by an electronic kit integrated into the internal workings of weight-training machines (such as stair steppers or weight machines with bars pulled up or down).   Subjects in effect became their own disk jockeys, creating sounds that mirrored their physical efforts.  From Reynolds review, the fascinating observation was:
...that most of the volunteers had generated significantly greater muscular force while working at the musically equipped machines than the unmodified ones. They also had used less oxygen to generate that force and reported that their exertions had felt less strenuous. Their movements were also more smooth in general, resulting in a steadier flow of music.
This suggests that:
A similar dynamic may have motivated early humans to whistle or hum while they hunted or tilled and later to raise their voices in song during barn raisings and other intense physical labor.
The abstract of the work:
Here we present a data set demonstrating that musical agency greatly decreases the perceived exertion during strenuous activity. We believe these findings are a major contribution to how we consider the role of music in the emergence of human societies. Furthermore, these findings are timely because they crucially help to understand the therapeutic power of music, a scientific field about to unfold. Although one would expect this workout with musical feedback (jymmin') to be a rather unconventional and dimensionally constrained (each instrument one-dimensionally regulates a musical signal) way to experience musical agency, the experience of the performers suggests an intimate entwinement of ecstatic pleasure and exertion during the performance.


  1. Wow, I would love to try this. Simply listening to music while running makes me able to run so much faster than running in silence.

  2. Michelle: indeed. I noticed the same thing recently. I am thinking about compiling run times comparing music to non-music, or even one music genre (e.g., pop music) to another genre (e.g., classical). So far pop music especially correlates with faster pace/mile, (but I do not have enough observations for proper power yet).

  3. Time to hang chimes from my free weights and put bells on my running shoes!