Running With Music

woman wearing black The North Face jacket and white headphones

I’ve always felt that running with music makes things easier, and if you’re like me, then you probably will grab a music player and headphones before you head out for a run and potentially your favorite playlist. The question is, can music make you a better runner?

How Running With Music Affects The Brain

Though there have been a number of recent studies on the relationship between music and exercise, research on this subject dates back until at least 1911 when Leonard Ayres found that cyclists pedalled faster while music was playing than when things were silent. Over 100 years later, in 2012, another piece of research showed that cyclists who listened to music required 7% less oxygen to do the same work as those who cycled in silence without music. So not only does music help us to push ourselves further and faster, it can also help us use our energy more efficiently.

Studies have also shown that when athletes work with music they often work harder for more sustained periods of time, as illustrated below.

Running with music

A type of legal performance-enhancing drug

Music changes people’s perception of their own effort throughout a workout. Simply put, music distracts us from pain and fatigue, elevates our mood and increases endurance. Dr Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University in London, one of the world’s leading experts on the psychology of exercise music, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

The image below shows our brain at rest vs. our brain when reacting to music. You see a much wider region that is activated when music is playing.

Running with music


Another way music increases endurance is by bringing out our emotions. We all have certain songs that remind us of special occasions, motivate us and make us awash with emotion. Music competes for the brain’s conscious attention and helps us get lost in the moment—instead of our focus being on the miles we’re covering and the distance to go, we can instead escape to a place the music takes us. If we strongly identify with the song we’re listening to it can increase our motivation and focus too.

What’s the most popular workout music? According to a study of college students the most popular types of music listened to during exercise are Hip Hop (27.7%), Rock (24%), Pop (20.3%), and Country (12.7%).

Music Tempo and Volume

It’s clear that music does affect our running ability, but can different types of music have different affects on us? A study by Judy Edworthy and Hannah Waring at the University of Plymouth looked to answer that exact question. Using the two variables, tempo and loudness they 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.

What they found was that 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.

Tip: While compiling your next running playlist it could be worth keeping in mind that there’s a ceiling effect on music at around 145 bpm – anything higher doesn’t seem to add much motivation.

Take Away

Music doesn’t make the strain exercise puts on our bodies any less severe, but it makes it more bearable. It gives us a way to escape from the signals of fatigue and helps us to become stronger, faster and even braver in the pursuit of the finish line. At the highest levels, where athletes are finely tuned for performance and at the top of their game the effects of music are minimal, but for those of us who aren’t professional runners it can make a profound difference to our mentality and results.

So what is on YOUR list? Let us know, I’m always on the lookout for more tunes to add to the list! Here’s a sample of my play list:

  • Bloc Party – Eating Glass
  • I See Monstas – Evolution
  • Madeon – The City
  • High Contrast – Hometown Glory
  • Avicii – Levels
  • Oliver Heldens – Overdrive
  • DJ Fresh – Hypercaine & Gold Dust
  • Chase & Status – Count On Me
  • Sub Focus – Tidal Wave
  • Jakwob – Fade

Send us a message or leave a comment and let us know if you have any questions! We all have our own thoughts on the matter, and we all have something different that suits us.

See what’s up next week for our #RunFormFriday tip! For more in depth understanding on how to put this into practise, get in touch and we’ll see how we can help!

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