Did you know that tennis player Novak Djokovic is a classical music fan? Djokovic, who is currently ranked second in the world and has won six Grand Slam titles, grew up listening to classical music with his first coach, Jelena Gencic. In an interview recounted in The New York Times, Gencic gave an example of how she taught Djokovic to use classical music to sharpen his tennis game:
Gencic said she explained that one particular piece was like a tennis match: “You start slowly and then stronger, stronger, stronger,” she said.
Tchaikovsky’s “1812 Overture” left a particularly deep impact. “I could see he thought it was wonderful,” Gencic said. “And I explained to him, ‘When you play a match, Novak, and this is very important, when you play a match and suddenly you feel not very good, remember this music, remember how much adrenaline you have in your stomach and your body. Let this music push you to play stronger and stronger.’”
“He understood,” Gencic said. “He was 11 years old, but he understood.”[i]
In a 2012 interview, Djokovic mentioned that he still enjoys classical music and that it helps him relax after training.[ii] Like Djokovic, many athletes use music to prepare for or recover from a workout or competition. To learn a little more about the scientific evidence supporting and guiding the use of music before and after exercise, I spent the past few days looking for research on these topics. Unfortunately, although there is plenty of anecdotal evidence of people finding music helpful in these situations, we have few scientific recommendations for choosing pre- and post-workout music.
Let’s discuss pre-workout music first. A handful of studies have compared the effects of using energizing music, relaxing music, and/or no music before workouts. Based on these studies, the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences recently stated the following: “Pre-task music has been shown to act as an effective stimulant that can optimize arousal level and psychological states.”[iii] While initial research is promising and suggests that energizing music may help get people ready for exercise by increasing their heart rates and enhancing mental preparation and motivation, there aren’t yet any standardized guidelines for choosing appropriate pre-workout music.
Even less research exists about post-workout music. According to a 2011 literature review, two inaugural studies suggest that music may be useful after a workout, but these studies have methodological limitations.[iv] Nevertheless, music and exercise researchers Terry and Karageorghis have suggested initial guidelines for choosing music to help you recover from competition, injury, or training. They recommend that you select music that is calming in nature with a tempo matching your resting heart rate, a predictable and straightforward beat, a simple and repetitive melody, and calming affect.[v] Based on the characteristics they suggest, you could use pieces like “Nimrod” from Elgar’s Enigma Variations or Copland’s “Saturday Night Waltz” from Rodeo to aid in your cool down and recovery.
In spite of the limited research about pre- and post-workout music, many people still use music before and after workouts and sporting events. Do you use music to help with your warm-up or recovery? If so, tell us about your favorite song choices in the comments, and together we can learn more about pre- and post-workout music!
[i] Clarey, Christopher. “Youth Coach Helped Djokovic Fulfill Many of His Hopes.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 2 Jun. 2013. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.
[ii] “Novak Djokovic.” Red Bull. Red Bull, 27 Jun. 2012. Web. 5 Nov. 2013.
[iii] Karageorghis, Costas I., Peter C. Terry, Andrew M. Lane, Daniel T. Bishop, and David-Lee Priest. “The BASES Expert Statement on the Use of Music in Exercise.” The Sport and Exercise Scientist 28 (2011) : 18-19. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.
[iv] Karageorghis, Costas I., and David-Lee Priest. “Music in the exercise domain: a review and synthesis (Part II).” International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology 5.1 (2012) : 67-84. Web. 20 Feb. 2013.