Can the right tunes improve your workout? The Sync Project wants to find out


Look around you at any gym, and it’s obvious that many people consider earphones and a solid workout mix to be as essential to fitness as a pair of sneakers.

Maybe they’re onto something. A Boston startup called the Sync Project is teaming up with HINTSA Performance, a group that coaches professional athletes, to learn if the right music playlist can improve a training session.

“We already know people listen to music while exercising, but there is very little use of biofeedback,” said Marko Ahtisaari, the Sync Project’s CEO and co-founder. The aim, Ahtisaari said, is to use science and data to create “a soundtrack to make your workouts measurably better.”

The grand goal of the project, founded this spring with noted music and brain researchers on board, is to probe a central question: Does the music threaded into every aspect of human experience serve any biological role?

The Sync Project

There have been previous brief, small studies by philosophers and scientists, examining handfuls of people in hour-long lab sessions. But tech advances have created new opportunities for investigation. Companies like Spotify and Pandora have gathered a trove of data on music preferences. Trackers of biometrics like heart rate and body temperature have grown more sophisticated while shrinking in size and cost. Finally, the right app can transform the smartphone into a pocket lab, collecting real-time data and streaming it to waiting researchers.

For the new study, the plan is to recruit 20 athletes into the program. As they train on running tracks, treadmills, and exercise bikes, music will be piped in via headphones and a wrist tracker will trace their heart rate through the course of the sessions.

In a first observational period, researchers will note the music preferences of athletes as they go through an interval training session, and, separately, use a heart-rate tracker to record how their body responds to a variety of tunes. In a second phase, the researchers will create a playlist tailored to each athlete’s preferences and body rhythms. Their goal is to amplify the heart rate peaks and mellow out the lows.

“The research question we looked at is, Can we more reliably moderate heart rate?” Ahtisaari said.

Sometime next year, the researchers at the Sync Project hope to release an app and recruit volunteers across the globe. By gathering information on participants’ favorite streaming radio stations and their heart rate while listening to them, the researchers plan to fill a database that can then be mined for answers to how music tempers the everyday rhythms of our lives.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at
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