The power of auditory-motor synchronization in sports: enhancing running performance by coupling cadence with the right beats

PLoS One. 2013 Aug 7;8(8):e70758. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070758. eCollection 2013.


Acoustic stimuli, like music and metronomes, are often used in sports. Adjusting movement tempo to acoustic stimuli (i.e., auditory-motor synchronization) may be beneficial for sports performance. However, music also possesses motivational qualities that may further enhance performance. Our objective was to examine the relative effects of auditory-motor synchronization and the motivational impact of acoustic stimuli on running performance. To this end, 19 participants ran to exhaustion on a treadmill in 1) a control condition without acoustic stimuli, 2) a metronome condition with a sequence of beeps matching participants' cadence (synchronization), and 3) a music condition with synchronous motivational music matched to participants' cadence (synchronization+motivation). Conditions were counterbalanced and measurements were taken on separate days. As expected, time to exhaustion was significantly longer with acoustic stimuli than without. Unexpectedly, however, time to exhaustion did not differ between metronome and motivational music conditions, despite differences in motivational quality. Motivational music slightly reduced perceived exertion of sub-maximal running intensity and heart rates of (near-)maximal running intensity. The beat of the stimuli -which was most salient during the metronome condition- helped runners to maintain a consistent pace by coupling cadence to the prescribed tempo. Thus, acoustic stimuli may have enhanced running performance because runners worked harder as a result of motivational aspects (most pronounced with motivational music) and more efficiently as a result of auditory-motor synchronization (most notable with metronome beeps). These findings imply that running to motivational music with a very prominent and consistent beat matched to the runner's cadence will likely yield optimal effects because it helps to elevate physiological effort at a high perceived exertion, whereas the consistent and correct cadence induced by auditory-motor synchronization helps to optimize running economy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation / methods*
  • Adult
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Exercise Test
  • Female
  • Heart Rate / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Music*
  • Physical Exertion / physiology*
  • Running / physiology*
  • Running / psychology
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult

Grant support

The contribution of Melvyn Roerdink was supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO, Veni Grant 451-09-024). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.