Does Bone-Conducted Music Improve Swimming Performance?

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When it comes to sports and athletics you will often see athletes of all kinds with their headphones on at the start line. The same applies to recreational athletes. The reason for this is simple – the effect of music on motivation is well-known. Also, according to some studies music improves the endurance results by 15% and drastically reduces stress. And another good thing is that repetitive exercises (like swimming) are not boring any more.

Photo courtesy of しろうるりOwn work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link

Bone Conducted Music and Swimming

Most studies which were conducted with the intention to prove that music increases the performance and had one huge problem. They were all conducted in a non-aquatic environment just as many similar studies before. This was the reason why another study was conducted where a specific device was used which was able to transmit the sounds using the bone conduction technology.

In case you are into swimming and you want to listen to your favorite songs while having a swim you are a bit limited in the options. You can use your iPod, earphones or bone conduction headphones. These are designed to send the sound through the bones of your skull.

To be more precise, bone-conducting headphones and earbuds bypass the outer ear by sending the sounds directly to the inner ear. This is achieved by using the skull bones to transfer the sound vibrations to the cochlea and guess what? The swimmer can listen to music underwater.

And what’s even better, the bone conduction sound is not of poor quality at all. You will see a significant improvement of the sound quality when your head is completely underwater. Of course, you can’t swim like that all the time, so instead use a pair of earplugs for swimming.

The Study and the Results

The main goal of this study was to determine whether music has the same positive effect on the performance and motivation on swimmers just as it has on other athletes.

It was a bit difficult to apply the study for swimmers although the effects of music on the performance of athletes are well known. The music had some effects on the warm-up periods, but now it was important to see whether the effects are the same while swimming.

Some swimming coaches have previously used click devices. A “click” device is a device that is designed to improve the rhythm of repetitive strokes. For example, such devices are used in cycling and they represent a very good way to dictate the proper tempo. In our study, with bone conduction headphones or similar devices, there was a chance to use music to dictate the tempo.

In the study we are speaking about at the moment, the swimmers were instructed on how to download and create their playlists for the case study. They were free to choose the type of music and they were not instructed which tempo would work best for them.

As a result, we could see that listening to the music you prefer definitely helps to improve the performance, and at the same time the tempo and type of music also have a positive effect on the results. For example, the swimmers succeeded to swim a few more laps than normal. Of course, it is definitely better when the music matches the type of exercise as well as the intensity of the exercise. After all, adding some beats to the swimming routine makes a difference. For example, for aerobics, it is ideal to listen to music that gradually increases the tempo. Another example would be circuit training. For this type of exercise, it is better to listen to music which has both faster and slower tempo that change one after the other.

The bone conduction device used in the study didn’t have any drastic effects on the enjoyment and motivation. This was noticed in professional swimmers, but we are sure that music massively increases the motivation in beginner athletes and the recreational ones.

Some Limitations of the Study

Although this study was very good it still had some limitations.

For example, if the tempo and type of music were standardized maybe the results would be different. Maybe the swimmers could coordinate their movements with the rhythm of the music and achieve optimal results. Swimming is considered to be a rhythmic exercise, so a well synchronized music tempo would definitely help in achieving better results.

Another thing that directly affects the result was the number of participants. In this case, the number was quite small and limited to professional swimmers. We are sure that with a greater number of swimmers with different experiences, the results would be much better.

And finally, we have noticed that the study was conducted in practice routines. In case the bone conduction device has been used regularly for a longer period of time, maybe the results would be different.

These are just some of the limitations we are sure would be resolved in a next study. Until then we have to be satisfied with the results we have now.

Final Words

Using the bone conduction sound would definitely be a unique addition to the swimming practice. Swimmers would definitely find value in the improvement of their results, and coaches can easily use the music to enrich their training.

After all, the swimmers in the study were much more focused. The rhythm of the music was the main thing that moved them on. It would be a good idea to use specially composed music that will tell the swimmer when to rise the stroke rate and when to ease. And finally, the best result of the study was to confirm that music does improve performance.

Guest post by Chris Howard

About Author

Production engineer and certified swim coach. Full-time IT consultant, spare-time swimming aficionado. 2 sons, 2 daughters and a wife. President of the Faroe Islands Swimming Association. Likes to run :-)

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