This is another one of those ‘getting a bit outside my area of expertise‘ topics, so I not going to say a lot about it. It did catch my eye, especially in the context of all the recent research on running cadence and all the commentary on the role of changing the cadence to manage some specific overuse injuries:
The Power of Auditory-Motor Synchronization in Sports: Enhancing Running Performance by Coupling Cadence with the Right Beats.
Bood RJ, Nijssen M, van der Kamp J, Roerdink M
PLoS ONE 8(8): e70758. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070758 (2013)
Acoustic stimuli, like music and metronomes, are often used in sports. Adjusting movement tempo to acoustic stimuli (i.e., auditory-motor synchronization) may be beneficial for sports performance. However, music also possesses motivational qualities that may further enhance performance. Our objective was to examine the relative effects of auditory-motor synchronization and the motivational impact of acoustic stimuli on running performance. To this end, 19 participants ran to exhaustion on a treadmill in 1) a control condition without acoustic stimuli, 2) a metronome condition with a sequence of beeps matching participants’ cadence (synchronization), and 3) a music condition with synchronous motivational music matched to participants’ cadence (synchronization+motivation). Conditions were counterbalanced and measurements were taken on separate days. As expected, time to exhaustion was significantly longer with acoustic stimuli than without. Unexpectedly, however, time to exhaustion did not differ between metronome and motivational music conditions, despite differences in motivational quality. Motivational music slightly reduced perceived exertion of sub-maximal running intensity and heart rates of (near-)maximal running intensity. The beat of the stimuli –which was most salient during the metronome condition– helped runners to maintain a consistent pace by coupling cadence to the prescribed tempo. Thus, acoustic stimuli may have enhanced running performance because runners worked harder as a result of motivational aspects (most pronounced with motivational music) and more efficiently as a result of auditory-motor synchronization (most notable with metronome beeps). These findings imply that running to motivational music with a very prominent and consistent beat matched to the runner’s cadence will likely yield optimal effects because it helps to elevate physiological effort at a high perceived exertion, whereas the consistent and correct cadence induced by auditory-motor synchronization helps to optimize running economy.
The full text of this research can be read at the PLoS ONE site. The introductory paragraph is catching:
On February 18th 1998, the Ethiopian athlete Haile Gebrselassie astonished sport spectators when he achieved a world best time of 4:52.86 min in the 2000 m. Shortly after the race, Gebrselassie indicated that he had coupled his running cadence with the beat of the pop song Scatman by the late Scatman John, which was played throughout his race at Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena, UK.
I freely admit that auditory-motor synchronization is not exactly a topic I know much about, but reviewing the paper I see no issues in the methodological set-up, analysis and interpretation of the results to raise any red flags.
The only potential issue is that this was a very controlled laboratory experiment and may not necessarily translate to the ‘field’, but there is no reason to believe that it won’t.
As always, I go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise and this evidence suggests that on my longer runs I probably should stop listening to the podcast from the Skeptics Guide to the Universe and start listening to Scatman (…who?)!
ood RJ, Nijssen M, van der Kamp J, Roerdink M (2013). The Power of Auditory-Motor Synchronization in Sports: Enhancing Running Performance by Coupling Cadence with the Right Beats PLoS ONE DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070758