Music and Running

While it works for many of us, music isn’t for every runner. Some might find it a distraction, certain races prohibit headphone use and safety is a consideration as music can shut out nearby noises or marshall instructions. Unless you are slogging it out on a treadmill, the volume should always be low enough to hear fellow runners and some of the melodies of nature.

But, the science shows a marked improvement in speed and enjoyment when the mix is right. In terms of beats per minute (BPM), the theory is that 180 is ideal if you want to match steps per minute, but BPM isn’t the only factor.  Some runners tune in to the melody, others the lyrics. Podcasts have also become popular as a way of getting through dark patches in ultra distance races.

In an article posted by Runners Connect  a study on focussed on tempo and volume yielded interesting results.

“As you might suspect, there are so many factors to take into account when considering how music affects performance that scientists have a hard time comparing studies directly. Music can be fast, slow, loud, quiet, or anywhere in between. To help clear up some of the confusion, Judy Edworthy and Hannah Waring at the University of Plymouth in the UK authored a 2006 study on the effects of music tempo and loudness.

Using two variables, music tempo and music volume, Edworthy and Waring tested 30 “physically active” participants in five conditions (loud/fast, loud/slow, quiet/fast, quiet/slow, and no music) at a self-selected pace for 10min on a treadmill.

The results showed that both loudness and tempo boosted the participants’ speeds and heart rates in a predictable manner. Louder and faster music resulted in the subjects selecting a faster treadmill pace than slower and quieter music.”

Running with music is like Marmite: some people love it and some people hate it. No one should run with music if they don’t enjoy it or find it helpful, but the long dark stretches in a race can be shortened by means of a musical distraction, and if you are doing hill repeats in your training – can you even attempt that without some kind of motivational melody?

There is a growing body of evidence that running with music can increase performance and enjoyment, and even recovery. A 2015 study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning showed that music can improve performance and accelerate recovery during and after a 5K. Another from Psychology of Sports and Exercise found that runners engaged in high-intensity running may benefit from music as a motivational tool. According to Running USA’s 2017 report, 55 percent of 7,000 runners surveyed listen to music during their miles.

You can also watch the findings reported by the BBC here from research conducted by Professor Costas Karageorghis that confirms the importance of beat.

So, as with so many running debates, it boils down to personal choice. But if you are going to add beats and melody to your running pursuits, make it count. Top tunes using top gear!

We’re compiling a playlist of Ultimate Mountain Running Tunes, which we’ll publish here in due course. Every reader who submits a recommendation will gain one entry in to a draw for a pair of Jaybird Freedom Special Edition pair of wireless headphones. To enter, keep an eye out on our Mountain Challenge Series Facebook page. Compo drops soon!