Part two in a series of posts celebrating the Rio Olympics 2016 and the rich relationship between music and athletics

Music Moves:
In The Olympic Flow


Following on from last week's post, Warmup: there’s a period in a training session or during peak performance where movement feels effortless – that moment where you feel like you could carry on forever. This state is known as ‘flow’, and getting into it is not as easy as it might sound.


Flow states happen when there is a complete immersion in the activity – when the athlete feels they are functioning on autopilot. What’s actually happening is that mind and body are playing a balancing act: there's a challenge to rise to, but you feel like you can overcome it – you're in an ultimate motivational state. Andy Lane, Professor of Sport Psychology, University of Wolverhampton says: “Getting into a flow state is possible when there is a balance between the demands of the task and perceived ability. Music could help by changing arousal and through changing emotional state, helps people feel they can achieve a demanding goal.”

Research has shown that music can be particularly effective when movement is synced to it rhythmically. Famously, Haile Gebrselassie broke the 10,000m world record by syncing his running to Scatman John. Lane says: “Synchronous music is when you move to the beat. This tends to be fast and a high intensity and needs to be carefully selected in relation to what you are doing. Consider "The Scatman" with the track “We Are The Champions” by Queen; powerful lyrics, but a slow tempo would make synchronisation very difficult. Asynchronous music is background music, and where there is no attempt to synchronise. “We Are The Champions” has powerful lyrics and so listening to the track can help uplift mood.”


Dr Peter Terry, Professor of Psychology and Director of Research Training and Development at the University of Southern Queensland says that listening to music can help raise or lower your heart rate and affects brain chemistry: “There is some evidence that synchronous music – where exercise occurs in time to the music – can improve the efficiency of oxygen utilisation, which would explain the performance benefits of music in endurance tasks.”

More important though, is to match music to the task at hand. Terry says: “Stimulative music is best suited to power and strength tasks, whereas relaxing music is more appropriate for tasks involving fine muscle control.”

To this end, Sekou Kaba from the Canadian track and field team listens to “Hop Skip & Jump" by Pete Rock; British Gold medalist Jessica Ennis-Hill listens to Jay-Z when doing cycling training; 1500m runner Nicole Sifuentes plays Maroon 5, Taylor Swift and Frou Frou, as she knows they will set her a 6-minute mile pace.  


For runners, music can set the pace: counting steps can help you work out a suitable BPM. Professor Lane also trains for marathons and runs to punk: “bands like the UK Subs, Crass, Discharge – punk bands from the 1980s,” he says. “I was in several punk bands over this time, but it’s not for everyone. My wife runs marathons. Her iPod is the same as mine and is easy to mistake. If we pick up the wrong one there is an uproar – she listens to ABBA, Queen, and pop music. If we looked at the tempo, there would be little difference but the personal meaning behind each song is huge.”



Inspired to count out your BPMs and get into the flow state?

Check out our line of headphones, beautiful sounding music for whatever activity you choose.

Read part one in the Music Moves series, Warmup, here


Music Moves: Pushing Through the Wall

Nathaniel Budzinski

Music Moves: Olympic Warmup

Nathaniel Budzinski