Can running with music make you faster?
We’ve all felt the perceived performance benefits when you put on a favorite track during physical exercise, but does listening to music as you run actually make you faster – or is it all in your head?
In this guest post, Taylor Nugent (MS, LAT, ATC, CES) dives into the science behind using music as a performance enhancer – and shares her tips for making the most of your favorite songs!
As you’re running, it can be important to maintain motivation, endurance, and focus in order to reach your personal goals.
A specific track, style or upbeat playlist can help runners stay motivated and focused on the next mile ahead of them. By keeping their headphones on and their music turned up, runners can stay on track and limit outside distractions.
Benefits of Listening to Music While Running
Aside from enjoying your favorite tunes during one of your running sessions, it’s also helpful to understand the positive benefits of listening to music while on a run.
These benefits include:
- Improved mood
- Reduced outside distractions
- Improve performance
Listening to a fresh playlist filled with brand new music or using your go-to exercise playlist can drastically change your outlook and mood on a run.
Listening to positive or upbeat music can help your mind “feel good”, improving serotonin levels in the brain, and improving an individual’s mood during exercise.
While making you feel good during a run, music can also limit any distractions that may occur. During any kind of intense or prolonged exercise, mental and physical fatigue can set in.
As your muscles are burning, your lungs are fighting for air, your brain is telling you “this is enough”. This is when exhaustion can set in.
Music can help distract you from these feelings of fatigue and muscle soreness while keeping your mind focused on the mile or task at hand. In fact, a study performed by Bonnette et al. in 2012 examined how running while listening to music would affect runners’ perceptions of exertion, as well as performance.
In their study, they found that runners that listened to music on a 1.5 mile run had higher rates of perceived exertion, but recorded lower rates of exhaustion and fatigue than individuals who did not listen to music.
In the same study, while tempo or style of music was left up to the runners, participants who listened to music on their run ran at a higher rate than those who didn’t.
Whether it’s the upbeat style of music, keeping pace with the baseline, or simply focusing on the lyrics of each song, your mind is in a feel-good state. Effectively tricking your mind to let you push further on a run and focus on your performance rather than fatigue.
By improving your mood and limiting your distractions, your performance can greatly improve by listening to music.
Can You Run Faster Listening to Music?
As an elite, moderate or novice runner, it’s important to determine your individual running goals.
Whether you want to run longer or improve your pace, music can be a factor in working to reach these goals. In terms of running faster, music can be a key component to increased speed and endurance.
Sport psychologist Costas Karageorghis states that, “music can be used as a legal drug” to improve performance.
He explains that by finding a runner’s natural running pace and pairing them with certain music with one to two beats faster, “…it gets runners to work a bit harder without being conscious of it”.
By coordinating one’s strides with the beat of the music, it’s possible to improve pace while also creating efficient movement, whether the runner is conscious of it or not.
Can You Run Longer Listening to Music?
With reduced distractions while listening to music on a run, you can disassociate and help block negative thoughts associated with the run and limit perceptions of physical and mental fatigue.
By stimulating your mind, ears and movements with the beat or tempo of the music, you can push yourself to run longer and more efficiently.
Whether you’re focused on the lyrics or beats of your playlist, your runs can be less boring and tedious and can even be more enjoyable and (somewhat) pleasurable.
Ideal Tempo or Style of Music
The contents of a good running playlist can depend on tempo, beats per minute, motivation lyrics and individual preference. In terms of beats per minute, most dance and rock music have the proper range of beats per minute (120 to 140) to help correspond to an individual’s stride, heart rate and cadence.
Though these types of music may be the “ideal” style and tempo for increased pace or duration of a running session, music is not a one size fits all luxury for runners.
Preferred taste in exercise playlists can be entirely based on an individual’s stimulus and motivation.
While one runner needs heavy metal music to have peak performance, another individual may listen to a podcast to completely disassociate from the duration of their run and focus on the topic they are listening to.
Create Your Running Playlist
Setting up your perfect playlist may take more effort than typing “90s Jock Jams” into your favorite music app. In order to find music that best matches your bpm, it’s important to first determine your natural running bpm.
Determine your running bpm by;
- Running on a treadmill at a normal, easy pace. Being on the treadmill allows for less distractions and more controlled environment.
- Setting a stopwatch for 60 seconds, recording each time your right foot strikes the treadmill. It’s important to use a friend/fellow runner to help you record these foot strikes.
- Multiply that number by 2.
Suggested Running Playlists
Searching through your favorite music app can be an easy avenue for finding the perfect running playlist that suits your music taste while also providing the best tempo and bpm for your upcoming run.
By knowing your natural running bpm, it is easier to find a running playlist more tailored to your running style.
You can also find music with higher bpm in order to set a faster running pace and improve your running speed.
Here are some ready-to-go running playlists for you to plug straight into:
Get the Right Headphones
Since you likely won’t be running with a giant boombox or bluetooth speaker on your shoulder, finding the right headphones to wear on your run can be just as important as choosing the right shoes for your running route.
Wireless headphones are commonly the gold standard for runners as they reduce the likelihood of damage from dropping your music device or ripping out an ear plug by accident on an intense run. These headphones should fit snugly, comfortably, and maintain their position even while you’re sweating heavily from your run.
Some helpful factors when looking for the best headphones for runners include:
- In-ear: earbuds or ear-hook model. These headphones allow for a firm and comfortable fit for exercise-based environments. Airpods are an awesome investment.
- Sound Quality- as music blasts in your ears on your run, it’s important to have a pair of headphones with great sound quality to enhance your run. Poor sound quality can be detrimental to your mood and arousal, effectively decreasing your running performance.
- Battery Life: while wireless headphones are the best option for runners, they require a battery charge every so often. While pricey, headphones with the best battery life allow you to run multiple times in between charges while still maintaining proper sound quality.
- Weight- especially with earbuds or ear-hook models, lightweight headphones offer less stress placed on the head or neck, while still providing a comfortable fit.
Block Out Distractions While Staying Safe
With any physical activity, it’s important to take proper precautions to ensure safety during your exercise session. In terms of running with music, following some helpful tips to maintain your safety while staying focused on your progress can be beneficial. These tips include:
- Avoid noise-canceling headphones– being aware of your surroundings is important for runners, especially if you’re running in a heavy-traffic or crowded area. While listening to music can help you block out distractions, being blocked off from your surroundings can be dangerous for you and those around you.
- Use headphones with reflective material– if you plan your runs at dusk or dawn, it’s a good idea to have reflective material on your headphones to alert any drivers of your presence.
- Find a running group- as music can block out distractions of the outside world, it’s helpful to have the security and peace of mind of running within a group. The comradery and proximity of another person on your run can help alleviate any anxiety or worry that may come from running alone.
- Keep volume down – while blasting music in your ears can be a motivator to run for one more track or pick up speed, it can gradually affect your hearing and completely block out your surroundings. Keeping music at a safe volume can help you be aware of your surroundings while also reducing perceptions of fatigue and soreness.
- Avoid heavy traffic areas- if you plan on running while listening to music, it’s incredibly important to be aware of your surroundings. As music provides a helpful distraction to block out perceptions of fatigue and exhaustion, it can also limit the perception of potential hazards around you. Limiting runs in heavy traffic areas can help ensure a safe and productive run.
Find Your Playlist to Reach Peak Performance
As a runner, it’s important to have proper motivation to perform at your best for the duration of your running session. Whether it’s running longer or faster, music can be a helpful tool to help put you in the right frame of mind to improve your performance and reach your goals.
However, it’s vital to find the best playlist that suits you as an athlete, not just a playlist with the perfect bpm. Finding your own playlist (or podcast) that keeps you aroused, your mood lifted and your mind free of distractions can help you thrive, not just survive, your running session.