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Musical motivation

By MASON BLANFORD mblanford@paducahsun.com

hether academic or anecdotal, most will agree music has its effects on athletic performance.

In recent years a plethora of studies have emerged regarding music's correlation to health and as a motivator for athletic achievement.

As program director of athletic training at Murray State University, Kristan Erdmann said her work has focused on injury rehabilitation. In that time, she's gained some insight into how music contributes to recovery.

"I think when (patients) have the ability to listen to music during the rehab process, they're better able to calm down and imagine the healing process for an injury improving," Erdmann said. "If they can create that positive image in their mind, they typically do better in rehab."

At MSU, Erdmann's Therapeutic Modalities class teaches the effects of music on pain threshold and tolerance.

Students listen to music they choose while dipping one ankle in an ice bucket for 15 to 20 minutes. Afterward, they repeat the task without music, comparing pain level assessments.

"Their (reported) pain levels definitely decreased while they had music on in the background," she said. "It's motivational in the sense they had something else to occupy their mind, and they're not as concerned with the pain they're experiencing from cold water."

The music also aided the students' endurance, she said.

"We were kind of singing along to the music as a group and laughing about it," Erdmann said. "I do think for some people ... (it's a) method of focusing and pain reduction."

How much emotional context plays a role in physical achievement is debatable, but it's addressed in a 2013 "Scientific American" article about the psychology of effective workout music:

"One should also consider the memories, emotions and associations that different songs evoke."

Erdmann agreed, saying music could be a catalyst to pushing an athlete to better outcomes, higher success.

"I know a coach who has used imagery with athletes before athletic events," Erdmann said. "With music in the background, she would have them picture what they wanted the outcome of the event to be, right after they went out on the floor."

In a 2012 study on PubMed, colleagues observed that participants cycling in sync with music used "7 percent less oxygen" to accomplish the same as cyclists going without background music.

The conclusion was that music can provide an effective "metronome" -- aiding athletes in keeping a steady pace.

"It's more about timing during a race," said MSU senior Emily Evans, a track and cross country athlete.

"There are certain ways to prepare, but during running or training upbeat music is better because you're going to be (going) at a faster pace."

A 2008 study published in "The Sport Journal" named several key ways in which music can influence preparation for athletic performances, citing attainment of "flow" as one.

In recent years, the term has been coined in psychology to define when a person feels fully calm and actively focused -- absorbed in their activity.

Evans said she's seen plenty of fellow student athletes use music to attain that mental state.

"I think (flow) plays a big effect in it," she said. "All the people I know prefer music, not just preparing for an event, but also during. It helps mentally to get out of your head and not 'overthink' about what you're going to do."

Evans admitted she was something of a contrarian -- preferring the calmness of silence in exercise. However, music is still a go-to on the rougher days.

"Many (I know) listen to upbeat music or hip-hop while preparing for a race or something," Evans said. "I'm a little different, because I want music that will make me feel more relaxed."

Erdmann thinks it's a topic warranting further exploration.

"I think it's definitely an area that still needs to be explored (more)," Erdmann said. "I think it's something that involves a lot of things -- not only sports and exercise, but the psychological and physiological aspects of it as well."

Still, Erdmann said the therapeutic effects of music for some are clear to see.

"I've had family members who were in the hospital recovering from various things," Erdmann said. "I feel like their (general) mental function and capacity improved when I've had music playing."

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