Do you listen to music while exercising? Does music make you feel stronger, faster, and/or more focused? You’re not alone, as research suggests that music can improve performance in endurance, sprint, and resistance exercise. This is due to a combination of psychological and physiological effects such as more positive affect, lower subjective fatigue, and increased cardiac output and oxygen consumption.
Given this evidence, I decided to listen to music during a recent ride. On that “musical ride”, I felt more comfortable on the bike, faster on the course, and more willing to take on difficult obstacles. Time also seemed to pass quickly, and the climbs were less of a slog. While I felt different on this ride, the objective data indicated my performance (e.g., average pace, maximum speed, elevation gained) was about the same as my previous, sans music, rides. Of course, this was only one session and there are several factors that were not controlled for such as course conditions, sleep, nutrition, hydration, and even exact tire pressure. Still, the subjective feeling of awesomeness contrasted with my actual mediocre performance is worth exploring.
The feeling awesome part of my ride can likely be attributed to music’s ability to elevate mood and motivate, making those uphill sections less dreadful and increasing my will to tackle a challenging section. The music may have also served as a positive distraction from my tired legs. I was, at times, in a flow state, fully immersed with a focus on the activity and a reduced self-consciousness about effective execution.
There are several explanations for why the music did not result in improved performance despite the elevated feelings. While music helped me focus and be less conscious of fatigue, my skills remained at a novice level. Difficult obstacles are were difficult and time-consuming, even if I was more willing to take them on with the help of artists such as Linkin Park. The tunes may have also diverted too much attention from the task, such as not allowing for mental rehearsal as I entered a technical trail section.
Interestingly, music preference can mediate exercise performance benefits. For the ride in question, I went with a curated “mountain biking” Spotify playlist where I enjoyed some of the songs but many were skips. This may have limited the sustained benefits of music on this ride. Incidentally, reaching for the skip button on my earbuds may have created an additional distraction, reducing speed and taking me out of my flow state.
While the research points to psychological and physiological benefits of listening to music while exercising, do not expect that to translate immediately into objective performance gains. To that end, there is no substitute for proper instruction (see previous musing “Can YouTube Teach Me How to Ride?”) and deliberate practice to develop your competency. Music can be a great companion as you log those hours, and a motivator as you test your skills on increasingly challenging technical sections. So keep grooving and enjoy the ride!
We're going to take next week off; Happy Independence Day! We'll follow up with the final post in the series on the value of Groups in training, the following week!
Have you used YouTube to learn a new skill? According to a 2018 Pew Research Center study, over 50% of U.S. YouTube users, which is approximately 35% of all U.S. adults, indicated “the site is very important when it comes to figuring out how to do things they haven’t done before.” I can just hear my Instructional Designer friends saying “yes, but videos on their own may not be enough.”
After purchasing a shiny new mountain bike and waiting for it to be shipped, I started consuming YouTube videos centered on the fundamentals of mountain bike riding. There are numerous videos on the topic, and many are quite good, with clear explanations and demonstrations in real-time and slow motion. When my bike arrived, I felt confident and ready to tear up the trails with my newly acquired YouTube-based knowledge.
Not so fast! In fact, my first ride was quite slow and objectively pretty bad. The video-based instruction not transferring to real-world performance of a complex psychomotor skill is not surprising. An obvious issue is that I did not perform the task immediately after video demonstration. For instance, I could have watched a video on a specific skill, such as cornering, at the top of the hill then attempt to execute while careening down. Still, time from demonstration to practice does not seem like the complete answer. I thought about M. David Merrill’s First Principles of Instruction, described below, and why videos are just part of a more comprehensive learning strategy.
Task / Problem Centered: Learning must be in the context of a real-world problem. One limitation is that I did not have baseline data, so my approach to viewing online content was broad rather than focusing on a specific task or problem, such as cornering or braking techniques.
Activation: New knowledge must be built on prior learning. YouTube video creators are appealing to a general audience without the luxury of a learner analysis. That leaves it to the viewer to reflect on their prior knowledge and see where the new learning fits. It would have been beneficial to think about what I know, such as riding a road bike, and how that may apply to what I saw in the videos.
Demonstration: Videos can effectively provide learners with practical demonstrations of specific skills and proper techniques. The mountain bike training videos typically included a verbal explanation followed by an on-bike practical demonstration, often with narration. The challenge was not having my own experience as a point of reference, such as how demonstrated techniques “feel” on a bike.
Application: Use the new knowledge in a meaningful way, through practical application. While riding, I identified knowledge and skill gaps based on indicators such as apprehension and mistakes then made mental notes that I wrote down after the ride.
Integration: Continue to apply the new knowledge and build on it. This principle highlights the main flaw in my original thinking. It is unreasonable to expect to go from watching videos to proficiency. Similarly, practice alone is not enough. I consider Merrill’s First Principles a cyclical process of continually defining and refining the problem to be solved, building on prior knowledge, viewing demonstrations with an emphasis on targeted areas for improvement, and deliberate practice toward mastery.
The next time you want to learn a new skill and are about to type some words into that YouTube search bar, take a moment to think about how the videos fit into a more comprehensive approach. With so much web content readily available, including engaging videos, it is easy to forget that demonstration is just part of the whole. In a world that expects immediate results, as I mistakenly did, it is also easy to forget that complex skills require extensive practice, so keep learning and enjoy the ride!
In the next post we'll take a look at music and peformance!
These posts are written or shared by QIC team members. We find this stuff interesting, exciting, and totally awesome! We hope you do too!