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'Jymmin' Turns Gym Equipment Into Musical Instruments

It apparently allows you to exert yourself more without feeling as much pain.

In 2005, researcher Thomas Fritz visited Cameroon on a music-ethnological research trip and observed the way in which the Mafa—who live in the remote, mountainous region of northern Cameroon—played flutes together. Each of their flutes made a different sound and their performance required a decent amount of physical exertion, leading to what they describe as a state of musical euphoria. When Fritz returned, he started thinking about how he could translate this for Western culture, and how it could help patients heal more effectively in rehab settings.


From there, Fritz and the other scientists at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences have come up with a novel way of working out. It's called Jymmin (a combination of the words 'gym' and 'jammin' that your dad might fabricate) and is based on neuroscience insights on how to maximize the use of music in sports and rehabilitation. The new method uses technology that allows you to create music using gym equipment. Get a group of people together on different apparatuses, and you have the least-smooth jam session in existence.

Watching people "Jym" makes for a strange sight, since we're used to seeing people use gym equipment in a repetitive way, often with constipated looks on their faces. However, Jymmin players can control the tempo and sounds generated by the equipment through their movements, so, the theory goes, they act in less strained, more physically expressive ways.

Although scientists have long demonstrated the positive effects of listening to music while working out, such as reduced perception of exhaustion (think running to something with a sick beat), it appears that generating music while working out could be even more effective. One study showed that during Jymmin, perceived exhaustion was approximately half of what it was during exercise in which people passively listened to music.

"There is a great motivational influence, because music-making during sports gives you a greater amount of emotional motor control, which is neurologically very different from deliberate motor control," says Fritz, who is one of the authors of the study. The activity enables users to achieve a feeling of euphoria similar to a runner's high, improving endurance and creating an enhanced mood that lasts for around two hours due to the specially effective release of endorphins, he says.


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"Jymmin represents a paradigm shift in the use of music in physical activity and effectively turns the exerciser into a musician of sorts," says Costas Karageorghis, professor of sports psychology at Brunel University London and author of Applying Music in Exercise and Sport. "There is a strong ludic element that separates it from other forms of physical activity with music. For some, it can enhance the exercise experience and make it more pleasurable."

"There's a lot of correspondence in how body signals and music signals are processed in the brain. So, one relatively simple and common example is the way in which the tempo and baseline beat of music corresponds to the heartbeat. But that's just the tip of the iceberg," Fritz says.

For him, one of the most surprising results came from research with drug users in rehab. Many of the participants were addicted to crystal meth and heroin, and two thirds of them were serving a prison sentence. Jymmin improved the mood of participants, increased their self confidence, and decreased their drug cravings. Some of them enjoyed the workout so much that they wanted to record one of their sessions—and when they listened to the recording of their music-making, their internal locus of control increased (as in what people believe they can control), which is something that is crucial for people in any kind of rehabilitation, Fritz says.

Research and uses for Jymmin–which will be a fully operating company in 2018—are still being explored. A recent experiment measured creativity induction through musical agency during sport. "We think this would be a very interesting warm-up procedure for team sports," Fritz says. At the moment, the scientists are working with specialized rehabilitation and sports centers, such as an Olympic training center in Thailand to help athletes enhance their performance.

"I'm looking forward to seeing it evolve further and enter the mainstream over the next decade," Karageorghis says.

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