Music in CrossFit - A scientific look


Journal: Sports, 2014,2; G. Brupbacher, J. Harder, O. Faude, L. Zahner, L. Donath

Music in CrossFit: Influence on Performance, Physiological and Psychological Parameters

 Abstract: Gaining increasing popularity within the fitness sector, CrossFit® serves as an appealing and efficient high intensity training approach to develop strength and endurance on a functional level; and music is often utilized to produce ergogenic effects. The present randomized, controlled, crossover study aimed at investigating the effects of music vs. non-music on performance, physiological and psychological outcomes. Thirteen (age: 27.5, standard deviation (SD) 6.2 years), healthy, moderately trained subjects performed four identical workouts over two weeks. The order of the four workouts (two with, and two without music, 20 min each) was randomly assigned for each individual. Acute responses in work output, heart rate, blood lactate, rate of perceived exertion, perceived pain, and affective reaction were measured at the 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th min during the training sessions. Training with music resulted in a significantly lower work output (460.3 repetitions, SD 98.1 vs. 497.8 repetitions, SD 103.7; p = 0.03). All other parameters did not differ between both music conditions. This is partly in line with previous findings that instead of providing ergogenic effects, applying music during CrossFit® may serve as a more distractive stimulus. Future studies should separate the influence of music on a more individual basis with larger sample sizes.

Now here is an interesting study! Dan Shrum should have a few thoughts on this topic. The study was looking to see if there was a relationship between music and performance (amount of reps), physiological (heart rate, blood lactate) and psychological parameters (rate of perceived exertion [RPE], perceived level of pain, and affect [valence {joy & anger}, arousal, and dominance]). Experimental designs in the past has focused on the following types of music; movement performed synchronously vs. asynchronously to music, the choice of motivational vs. oudeterous (neutral) music vs. metronome, and the effect of self-selected vs. non-self-selected music. This investigation examined the use of asynchronous music during a self-paced CrossFit workout. 13 participants were selected, 7 males and 6 females with an average age of 27.5 years. They had to be healthy (no cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes or any use of meds) and moderately trained (at least 3 months of CrossFit). The workout selected was “Cindy” (5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 air squats). A total of four training sessions was completed over 2 weeks (2 with music and 2 without music). At the 5th, 10th, 15th, and 20th min the workout was interrupted for a maximum of 30 sec to draw a blood sample and fill out a questionnaire. Here’s where Mr. Shrum may have a problem. The genre of music was rock and roll with the choice of band being AC/DC (the Young brothers being obvious favorites of mine). The songs played were Shoot to Thrill, Rock N’ Roll Damnation, Guns for Hire, Cold Hearted Man, and Back in Black. Apparently this was the choice of music for this box.

    Now for the results and they are a bit surprising! The results illustrate that training with music resulted in a significantly (statistically speaking) lower work output (reps) whereas all other parameters remained constant. That’s right you read correctly, the participants reps actually decreased with music. Heart rate, blood lactate, RPE and affect all remained constant between music vs. no music. The average reps/person summed up to 460 (15 rounds+10 reps) with music and 498 (16 rounds+18 reps) without music. 

HOW?? Well previous studies have found that trained individuals do not profit from music in the same manner untrained individuals do. Athletes who are more experienced seem to choose an associative attention style focusing on inner perceptions of exertion. Meaning, they pay more attention on inner perceptions such as load, stiffness, pain, exertion and focus more on proper execution of movement. So it seems that music can negatively affect workouts that require you to pay attention to what you are doing so you do it properly and do not injury yourself. Whereas music combined with activities such as running or cycling is shown to be beneficial. 

But wait a second there are actually a few limitations in this study, so don’t put away that house music yet. The music chosen was possibly a genre not preferred by the participants or maybe they actually found the music distractive. The researchers did not account for this fact, which I believe whether or not you like the music will affect your performance. They also found the tempo constantly varied. Another huge limitation is the amount of athletes used. 13 participants is an extremely small sample size in any study. It would have also been interesting to analyze the amount of reps done every 5 minutes.

So there you have it, AC/DC + 27.5 year olds + CrossFit = decreased performance. Do not use that equation on your next physics exam, but I would say that music still has a role to play at the box. There is still a need of a ton of research done on this subject for any statistically confident conclusion to be made! Hope you enjoyed the first of many evidence-based article reviews.

Happy and Safe Holidays,
    Dr. Young

Crossfit Bytown