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Effect of Rhythm on the Recovery From Intense Exercise

Eliakim, Michal1; Bodner, Ehud1; Meckel, Yoav2; Nemet, Dan3; Eliakim, Alon2,3

Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: April 2013 - Volume 27 - Issue 4 - p 1019–1024
doi: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e318260b829
Original Research
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Eliakim, M, Bodner, E, Meckel, Y, Nemet, D, and Eliakim, A. Effect of rhythm on the recovery from intense exercise. J Strength Cond Res 27(4): 1019–1024, 2013—Motivational music (music that stimulates physical activity) was previously shown to enhance the recovery from intense exercise. The aim of the present study was to isolate the effect of rhythm (presumed to be the most effective factor of motivational music) on the recovery from intense exercise. Ten young adult active men (age: 26.1 ± 1.7 years) performed 6-minute run at peak oxygen consumption speed, at 3 separate visits (random order). At 1 visit, no music was played during the recovery after exercise. In the other visits, participants listened to motivational music that was previously shown to enhance recovery (a Western CD collection of greatest hits of all times converted to dance style, 140 b·min−1, strong bit, played by portable MP3 device using headphones at a volume of 70 dB) or only to the rhythm beats derived from the same songs. Mean heart rate (HR), rating of perceived exertion (RPE), number of steps (measured by step counter) and blood lactate concentrations were determined at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 minutes of the recovery. There was no difference in HR changes during the recovery at all conditions. Compared with the recovery without music, listening to motivational music during recovery was associated with significant greater number of steps, lower absolute lactate levels, and greater mean decrease of RPE. Listening only to rhythm beats, derived from the same music, during the recovery was associated with significant greater number of steps and lower absolute lactate levels compared to recovery without music. Music was significantly more effective than rhythm only in the absolute mean number of steps. The beneficial effect of both music and rhythm was greater toward the end of the recovery period. Results suggest that listening to music during nonstructured recovery can be used by professional athletes to enhance recovery from intense exercise. Rhythm plays a very important role in the effect of music on recovery and can be used to enhance nonstructured recovery when music is unavailable or when cultural barriers and individual music preferences may apply. The optimal music and rhythm selection is yet to be determined.

1Department of Music Therapy, Interdisciplinary Department of Social Sciences, Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, Israel

2Department of Life Science, Zinman College of Physical Education, Wingate Institute, Netanya, Israel

3Child Health and Sport Center, Pediatric Department, Meir Medical Center, Sackler School of Medicine, Tel-Aviv University, Kfar-Saba, Israel

Address correspondence to Alon Eliakim, eliakim.alon@clalit.org.il.

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Introduction

Athletes from many sports disciplines use music to increase motivation and improve aerobic and anaerobic performance (13). Previous studies examined mainly the effects of music on submaximal aerobic performance (1,5,6,12,14,15,19,20), and most of them reported positive effects on motivation, mood state, and rating of perceived exertion (RPE) (5,12,15,19). Very few studies examined the effect of music on supramaximal exercise, showing conflicting results (7,16). It has been suggested that the timing and type of music, the type of exercise, and the athlete's fitness level may all affect response to music (2,16).

The majority of previous studies examined the effect of music during the exercise task on athletic performance. However, interpretation of these results for competitive athletes is not applicable, because, according to competition rules, athletes cannot listen to music during competition, and can use music only during warm-up or recovery from exercise.

Recently, we demonstrated that listening to motivational music (a Western CD collection of greatest hits of all times converted to dance style, 140 b·min−1, strong bit, played by portable MP3 device using headphones at music volume of 70 dB) during the recovery from intense exercise was associated with increased activity, faster lactate clearance, and reduced RPE (9). We suggested, therefore, that motivational music might be used by athletes in their effort to enhance recovery.

Several possible mechanisms may explain the beneficial effect of music on exercise: (a) music distracts the athlete's attention from the exercise intensity; (b) different types of music may arouse psychomotoric response, before, during, or after different types of exercise; and (c) the human body tends to synchronize with the rhythmic elements of music (22). It was suggested that 4 factors (in hierarchical order) contribute to the psychophysical motivational qualities of music: the natural reaction to the rhythm and tempo, the musicality (melody and harmony), the suitability of music to the sociocultural background of the athlete, and the extramusical associations triggered by music. Therefore, the aim of the present study was to examine the isolated effect of rhythm (the suggested most important contributing factor) on the recovery from exhaustive exercise (22).

Based on the above-mentioned literature, we hypothesized that listening to rhythm beats during nonstructured recovery from exhaustive exercise (6-minute run at peak oxygen consumption) will be associated with a more active recovery (determined by step counts during 15 minutes of recovery), and as a consequence, with a faster and greater decrease of blood lactate level and RPE compared to the recovery without any auditory stimuli but less effective than the recovery with music.

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Methods

Experimental Approach to the Problem

We recently demonstrated that listening to motivational music during the recovery from intense exercise was associated with increased activity, faster lactate clearance, and reduced RPE (9). The aim of the present study was to determine the relative isolated contribution of rhythm to the effect of music on the recovery from intense exercise in 10 young adult male physical education students. We used the same music that was previously shown to enhance recovery. Briefly, music was selected from a Western CD collection of greatest hits of all times converted to dance style, at 140 b·min−1, played by a portable MP3 device using headphones at a volume of 70 dB (9). The rhythm only tracks were isolated by a professional musician from the same music selection and were played during the recovery from exercise at a similar tempo and volume. To mimic competitive conditions, music and the isolated rhythm beats were played only during the recovery period after the exercise session.

Participants were physical education students and not professional athletes but performed exercise regularly between 5–8 hours per week. Exercise consisted of 6-minute treadmill run at peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max speed that was determined from a prior maximal exercise test. Exercise was performed at the beginning of the school year, when participants are relatively less fit. To avoid possible learning and training effect, the 3 exercise sessions during the recovery (with music, with rhythm beats only, or without music/rhythm beats) were performed at random order, around noon, after controlling for nutritional and hydration state, separated by 5–7 days to ensure full recovery of the participants. Participants were also asked to refrain from intensive training during the day before each session.

We examined the effect of music/rhythm on nonstructured recovery. Thus, at the end of exercise, participants were instructed to "walk freely in the exercise laboratory" (a large size room of 20 × 40 m). During the recovery, we measured heart rate (HR) (using Polar heart rate monitor), RPE using the modified Borg scale (3), steps number (using step counter), and fingerprick lactate concentration (using portable lactate analyzer). All measurements were performed at 3, 6, 9, 12, and 15 minutes of the recovery period.

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Subjects

Ten male physical education students (age: 26.1 ± 1.7 years; weight: 73.7 ± 5.7 kg; height: 181.0 ± 8.3 cm; body fat: 13.0 ± 2.8%), from the Zinman College at the Wingate Institute, participated in the study. Participants were not professional athletes but performed exercise regularly between 5 and 8 hours per week. The majority of the participant training were performed during physical education classes at the college and included mainly moderate-intensity endurance-type exercise without resistance training (about 50% aerobic-type exercise like walking, cross-country jogging and cycling, and about 50% ball games such as soccer, basketball, and volleyball). The study was performed during the beginning of the college academic year, when participants are relatively less fit. The study was approved by the institutional review board, and appropriate informed consent was obtained from all the participants.

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Procedure

Anthropometric measurements, standard, calibrated scales, and stadiometers, were used to determine height, weight, and body mass index (kg·m−2) during the first visit to the exercise laboratory. Triceps, biceps, suprailiac, and subscapular skin folds were measured to the nearest 0.1 mm, using Holtain skin folds caliper (CMS Weighing Equipment Ltd, Crymych, United Kingdom). Measurements were made on the right side of the body. All measurements were taken by the same technician. Calculation of percent body fat was derived using standard equations (18).

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Exercise Protocol

In the first visit to the exercise laboratory, each participant performed an incremental maximal running test on a motor-driven treadmill (PPS MED; Woodway, Weil am Rhein, Germany) to determine the peak aerobic power (peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max). The initial conditions of the treadmill belt (speed and inclination) were set at 9 km·h−1 and 0%, respectively. Speed was increased by 1 km·h−1 every minute, whereas grade was maintained at 0% throughout the test. Vigorous verbal encouragement was given to participants during the high-intensity phases of the exercise protocol until they reached volitional exhaustion. Gas exchange was measured breath by breath, and the peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max was calculated using the Sensor Medics Metabolic System (Sensor Medics, Yorba Linda, CA, USA). Each individual's speed at peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max was used in the following exercise sessions to study the effect of music, and the isolated effect of rhythm, on the recovery from exercise.

During the exercise sessions, each participant ran 6 minutes at peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max speed on a treadmill (mean peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max: 54.2 ± 2.6 ml·kg−1·min−1, mean peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max speed: 17.1 ± 1.2 km·h−1). Exercise with music, with rhythm beats only or without music/rhythm during the recovery, was performed at random order. All exercise sessions were performed around noon. Participants were asked not to eat and/or drink (except for water) for 3 hours before each session. To control for hydration, participants were asked to drink 500 ml of water 1 hour before each session.

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Recovery Procedure

We examined the effect of music/rhythm on nonstructured recovery. Thus, participants stepped off the treadmill at the end of exercise and were instructed to "walk freely in the exercise laboratory." The laboratory temperature was kept at 24° C. Participants were not allowed to exit the laboratory, and only the participant and the laboratory technician (who was not aware of the purpose of the study) were allowed to stay in the room.

Heart rate was measured using a Polar heart rate monitor (Polar Accurex Plus; Polar Electro, Woodbury, NY, USA) during the exercise task, and the highest measurement was recorded. In addition, HR was determined during the recovery period, and the average recovery HR was calculated. Rating of perceived exertion was ranked using the modified (1–10) Borg scale (3). Rating of perceived exertion was determined at the end of exercise and during the recovery period. The average recovery RPE and the percentage decrease of RPE were also calculated. The number of steps during the recovery was measured using a step counter (Omron Healthcare Co, Kyoto, Japan). Fingerprick blood lactate level was measured during the recovery period using a portable lactate analyzer (Accusport; Boehringer, Mannheim, Germany).

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Music Selection

A Western CD collection of greatest hits of all times converted to dance style with a rhythm of 32 and tempo of 140 b·min−1 (aerobimix spinning, IMP Records Ltd., 2004) was used. The first 4 previously ranked tracks (10) from this CD (numbers 3, 5, 8, and 13) with accumulated time of 15 minutes were selected ("Freed from Desire"—Gala, 1996, "Time after Time"—Cyndi Lauper, 1984, "California Dreaming"—The Mamas and the Papas, 1965, and "Heaven"—Bryan Adams, 1983). In addition, to mimic competition conditions, music was played by portable MP3 device using headphones. As previously described (9), the music volume was equal to 70 dB. The rhythm-only tracks were isolated by a professional musician from the same music selection and were played during the recovery from exercise at a similar tempo (140 b·min−1) and volume (70 dB).

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Statistical Analyses

To examine the effect of music and rhythm during recovery on HR, RPE, number of steps, and lactate level changes, a two-way repeated measure analysis of variance with Bonferroni post hoc test was used. In addition, a paired t-test was used to compare average changes in lactate, RPE, HR, and step number during the recovery with music, with rhythm beats only, or without music or rhythm. Sample size calculation for this study was based on our previously reported (9) changes in the number of steps. With a 2-sided 0.05 significance level (α = 0.05), a sample size of 8 participants was needed to detect a significant difference at a 90% power. Because of the complexity of multiple laboratory visits, we added 2 participants. Fortunately, all participants completed the study. Data are presented as mean ± SD. Statistical significance was set at p ≤ 0.05.

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Results

Changes in HR during the recovery from intense exercise are shown in Figure 1. There was a significant decrease in HR during all types of recovery (F 4,36 = 10.48, p ≤ 0.001, ηp2 = 0.54). There was no significant difference in end-exercise HR, in the decrease in HR during all stages of the recovery, and the end recovery (15 minutes) HR between recoveries with music, with rhythm only, or without music or rhythm (control).

Figure 1

Figure 1

The number of steps during the recovery period is shown in Figure 2. There was a significant increase in the number of steps during all types of recovery (F 4,36 = 28.90, p ≤ 0.001, ηp2 = 0.76). The number of steps was significantly greater during the recovery with music compared with the control (F 8,72 = 3.5, p ≤ 0.002, ηp2 = 0.28). The number of steps was not significantly greater in the recovery with rhythm compared to control and in the recovery with music compared to rhythm (upper panel). The average step number during the recovery with music was significantly greater than during the recovery with rhythm and during the control (p < 0.05 for both). The average step number during the recovery with rhythm only was also significantly greater compared with the control (p < 0.05, lower panel).

Figure 2

Figure 2

Absolute and average lactate levels during the recovery period are shown in Figure 3. There was a significant decrease in absolute lactate levels during all types of recovery (F 4,32 = 46.5, p ≤ 0.001, ηp2 = 0.85). The decrease in lactate level was significantly greater during the recovery with music and with rhythm only compared to the control (F 2,16 = 4.93, p ≤ 0.002, ηp2 = 0.38). There was no statistically significant difference in lactate decrease between recovery with music compared to recovery with rhythm (upper panel). The average blood lactate concentration was significantly lower during recovery with music and rhythm, compared to the control (lower panel).

Figure 3

Figure 3

The decrease in RPE during the recovery is shown in Figure 4. There was a significant decrease in RPE during all types of recovery (F 4,36 = 43.1, p ≤ 0.001, ηp2 = 0.83). Average percentage RPE decrease was significantly greater during recovery with music, compared to the control (lower panel). There was no significant difference in mean percentage of RPE decrease between recovery with rhythm and the control or between recovery with music and rhythm.

Figure 4

Figure 4

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Discussion

Recovery from exercise can be either active or passive. In active recovery, athletes perform submaximal physical activity such as walking or jogging, whereas in passive recovery, the athlete sits or lies down. It is now well established that active recovery is more efficient than passive for lactate removal and for restoring exercise capacity (8). Thus, an active recovery after intense exercise is recommended by most coaches. However, whereas many coaches instruct their athletes to perform a detailed structured recovery, others give only general recommendation for active recovery. Despite this recommendation, some athletes are not willing or able to keep a dynamic active recovery after intense exercise. Recently, we demonstrated that listening to motivational music, during nonstructured recovery from intense exercise, was associated with increased activity, faster lactate clearance, and reduced RPE, compared with recovery without auditory stimulation (9). Therefore, we suggested that motivational music can be used by athletes in their effort to enhance recovery.

Four factors were suggested to contribute to music's psychophysical motivational qualities: the natural reaction to the rhythm and tempo, the musicality (melody and harmony), the suitability of music to the sociocultural background of the performer, and the extramusical associations triggered by music. Moreover, these factors were shown to be hierarchical, with rhythm response being the most important and extramusical association the least (22). Following our previous study indicating the beneficial effect of listening to music during the recovery from exhaustive exercise (9), the present study examined the isolated relative effect of rhythm (suggested as the most important factor that determine "motivational music" (13)) on the recovery from exhaustive exercise. Consistent with our hypothesis, we found that playing only rhythm beats was associated with greater average number of steps and greater decrease in total and average lactate levels compared to recovery without auditory stimulation. Music was significantly more effective than rhythm only in average number of steps.

Interestingly, both music and rhythm were effective mainly toward the end of the recovery period, suggesting that in the early phases of the recovery, during conditions of marked fatigue, external auditory stimuli are not beneficial, and it becomes beneficial only when fatigue decreases. Several mechanisms may explain the reduced or lack of impact during phases of postexercise extreme fatigue: Listening to music or rhythm distracts the athlete from the sensation of fatigue (the parallel processing model (17)). This mechanism operates mainly during low levels of exhaustion, when external cues can compete with internal cues. Immediately after high-intensity exercise, internal cues, such as fatigue, have a stronger impact on mental status and the effectiveness of external distracter, such as music, is limited. Lack of effect of music on RPE and emotional state, during very intense exercise, has been previously shown by several investigators (14,21,23).

Interestingly, despite a greater average number of steps during the recovery with music compared to rhythm only, there was no significant difference in the decrease in lactate level between the 2 recovery modalities. These results suggest that other mechanisms may be involved in the effect of music and rhythm on lactate clearance during the recovery from exercise besides the effect on activity level.

Our results suggest that rhythm plays an important role in the beneficial effect of music, not only during exercise but also in the recovery from intense exercise. It is not clear whether the natural reaction to the rhythm and tempo is the only mechanism for this effect. Interestingly, when our participants were asked about their feelings during the recovery with rhythm beats only, most of them said that listening to the rhythm beats after the exhaustive exercise was very unpleasant and made them angry. Whether anger or other feelings play a role in the activity reaction to rhythm during the recovery from exercise needs to be further studied. The results suggest, however, that when music is not available, even dictating a rhythm may assist in enhancing the recovery process. Moreover, using rhythm only may be beneficial when cultural barriers and differences in music preference may apply.

We chose the same music that was shown previously to enhance recovery (9). However, because the response to music is highly variable, it is still unknown whether this type of music is optimal for enhancing recovery or whether a gradual decrease in music rhythm and tempo to match the gradual decrease in HR during the recovery, or whether the use of relaxing music, may prove more beneficial. Moreover, because musical preferences are individualistic in nature, it is possible that a better response could have been achieved if each participant selected his personal “favorite” music and loudness. Moreover, we examined the effect of motivational music during nonstructured recovery from intense exercise. It is possible that in a structured recovery given by the coach, music may be less or noneffective.

It is important to note that the present study participants' fitness level was moderate (peak V[Combining Dot Above]O2max level 54.2 ± 2.6 ml·kg·−1min−1), and the study was performed in the beginning of the academic college year when students are relatively less fit. Previous reports demonstrated that music effects were inversely related to the fitness level of the participant, were significantly more effective in untrained subjects, and were more effective during initial stages of training (4,11). Thus, the applicability of our findings regarding the effects of motivational music and rhythm during recovery from intense exercise should be studied also in elite highly trained athletes and during other phases of the competitive season.

In summary, listening to rhythm beats, derived from previous beneficially proven motivational music, during nonstructured recovery from intense exercise was associated with increased spontaneous activity and faster reduction in lactate levels. The results suggest that rhythm plays an important role in the enhancing effect of music during the recovery from exercise as well.

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Practical Applications

  • Listening to motivational music played during nonstructured recovery from intense exercise was associated with an increase in activity level, greater decrease in blood lactate concentration, and greater decrease of RPE in young active men. Thus, motivational music may be used by athletes to improve recovery and performance.
  • Listening to rhythm beats that were derived from the same music at a similar tempo and loudness during nonstructured recovery from intense exercise led also to increased activity level and to a faster decrease in lactate concentration. This suggests that when music is not available, or when cultural barriers and individual music preferences may apply, dictating rhythm, using simple methods, at a desired tempo and loudness, may assist in enhancing recovery.
  • Further research is needed to select the optimal music and rhythm to enhance recovery from intense exercise (other music types, individual music selection, loudness, etc.), and to clarify whether music and rhythm will have similar beneficial effect in elite athletes and in structured recovery.
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Keywords:

motivational music; rhythm; tempo; recovery; competitive sports

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