For many athletes, training without music is like running naked – they could do it, but they’d feel uncomfortable and just a little distracted. With recent research suggesting music can actually boost performance, there’s never been a better time to pump the tunes.
In the past 10 years, there has been a big upswing in the amount of research on workout music, and the connection between exercise and music. In a 2012 review of much of this research, Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that music could be considered “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”
In a 2012 study by C. J. Bacon of Sheffield Hallam University, participants who cycled in time to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as cyclists who didn’t synchronise their movements with background music. The study suggested music not only acted like a metronome for their foot strikes to help athletes maintain a steady pace, it could reduce false steps and decrease energy expenditure.
Music distracts us from pain and fatigue, elevates mood, increases endurance, reduces perceived effort and may even promote metabolic efficiency. When listening to music, we run further, bike longer and swim faster than usual – often without realising it.
There has long been an association between music with a fast beat (high BPM) and high-intensity activity, but research suggests this hits a ceiling at about 145 beats per minute – anything higher doesn’t add to motivation or running performance.
HERE’S HOW IT WORKS
Karageorghis has claimed that music can “reduce the perception of effort significantly and increase endurance by as much as 15%.” Here’s why: signs of extreme exertion, such as rising levels of lactate in the muscles, higher heart rate and heavy sweating tell your body it needs a break. Music competes with this physiological feedback for the brain’s conscious attention, distracting the body’s urge to stop. At the same time, music can change our perception of effort while training because we focus less on our breathing and other signs of exertion.
In a report by the American Council on Exercise, Carl Foster from the University of Wisconsin wrote “all things being equal, I think the stronger and more obvious the beat is, the more likely you will be to follow it.”
DOES THE TYPE OF MUSIC MATTER?
While any kind of music will help distract and stimulate your brain while you run, the positive effects of running music will be much more evident if you choose upbeat songs rather than slow tunes. You don’t want to play something that will make you fall asleep mid-stride.
The rhythm and cadence of both the backbeat and lyrics of the music matter as well. For example, as mentioned above, something with a stronger, higher tempo but still a steady beat will help you subconsciously meter out your strides so you run more consistently.
If you have an imaginative mind, it can also be fun to listen to the theme songs from your favorite movies, shows, or video games and imagine you are running through a different world, trying to escape a villain. For more grounded runners, fun, upbeat songs you enjoy are the way to go. Popular workout genres include hip-hop, rock, and pop.
You should also consider any strong memories or feelings associated with certain songs before adding them to your playlist. You want to choose songs that evoke positive, motivational feelings, not songs that will bring your energy down. The same goes for the content of the lyrics; if they’re sad and emotional, you may be less likely to speed through your run with increased gusto.
If you’re completely lost in trying to build a playlist or don’t know much about music, don’t worry. You can always start by searching up running playlists on whatever music service you use and then figure out which songs you like best. Within just a few runs, you can easily curate your playlist to provide you with the best running experience possible.
We also have developed a playlist to help you discover great running songs. Check out the 2XU Run playlist on Spotify on your next run. Some of these hits might even become your new favorite tunes.
While upbeat music is the best way to simultaneously distract your mind while energizing your body, there are other options if you find that listening to music while running is unenjoyable for whatever reason.
These alternatives include podcasts, audiobooks, and ambient sounds, which can all be easily listened to through headphones and earbuds like music. Podcasts and audiobooks are great because they give you a story to follow and plot lines to keep up with, ensuring your attention stays devoted to what will happen next rather than your exhaustion from a hard workout.
Ambient sounds may distract you a little, but they likely won’t hold your attention throughout the entirety of a long-distance run. The only downside to all three of these alternative options is that there is no steady backbeat to help guide the tempo of your run, which is one of the major benefits of running to music.
But still, the mental stimulation and distraction you will receive from these alternatives is better than running in silence.
In order to listen to music, you will need to bring your phone, iPod, or other music device with you for your training run or race day. One of the keys to running as efficiently as possible is ensuring no extra bulk or weight is dragging you down. Sticking your phone in the waistband of your shorts or even in a pocket that flaps up and down while you run can become incredibly detrimental and distracting.
A great way to combat this problem is to find athletic gear with skin-tight pockets that will ensure your phone or music device stays glued to your body and is all but invisible to prevent you from losing focus.
2XU ACTIVEWEAR - POCKETS
We have a wide range of athletic gear containing pockets designed to securely hold your music device in place while still allowing for a headphone attachment if needed. Our Light Speed collection is designed for runners and has a wide selection of tops and bottoms that contain the perfect pockets for your music needs.
If you’re looking for compression tights for running so you can experience all of the performance and recovery benefits of this great technology, our selection of compression tights has you covered while many options also include secure pockets for phone storage.
2XU RUN ARMBAND
Our armband is the perfect companion for any runner looking to run to the music. It fits comfortably on your arm, with a velcro fastening for a custom fit and a water-resistant seal for rain protection.
It also sits flat against you to prevent distracting flapping so you can focus on your favorite tunes. Included reflective highlights help boost visibility and keep you safer in low light, making the band versatile for all conditions. It will fit up to an iPhone 6+ or a Samsung Note 7.
WIRED VS. WIRELESS HEADPHONES, WHAT’S THE DEAL?
Nowadays, it is common for athletes and people, in general, to have wireless Bluetoothearbuds or headphones, so the need for a cord is gone. But for runners that don’t already have a pair, is it necessary to purchase one?
The truth is that there are a lot of benefits to working out or running with headphones. The cord of wired earbuds often dangles down your front and can flap around, getting in the way of your pumping arms. The wired connection also forces your phone or music device to be within a certain distance of your head to ensure the connection remains intact.
Wireless earbuds will allow you to run freely, practically as if you weren’t wearing earbuds at all, ensuring your range of motion is entirely uninhibited. Of course, the Bluetooth connection still has a certain range to it, but it will be farther than that of wired headphones.
But there are some drawbacks. Particularly for small, wireless earbuds, they can be easily susceptible to falling out of your ears without warning, and they are very small and can be hard to find. You also have to charge them, and if the battery dies mid-run, you will be left with nothing but your thoughts to take you the rest of the way. Wireless headphones can also be uncomfortable around the ears, so find a pair that fits your head comfortably.
So what about wired earbuds? If you properly set them up, they can make a fine running companion. To minimize distractions, simply tuck the wire under your shirt if possible. Wired earbuds also don’t require charging, meaning they are guaranteed to last your entire run, and if they slip out of your ears, the wire will catch them and prevent them from hitting the ground.
So ultimately, the choice is up to you. Both will help you smash your workout and feel the beat throughout it all.