Boost Your Running Performance With Music


Judging by the people I pass on a weekly basis about half of those who run or jog do so whilst listening to music. Personally I could bear to run for an hour and a half without any kind of distraction at all, I find that time drags unless I have some music on. I don’t mind being alone with my thoughts but when my thoughts mostly consist of ‘my feet hurt’ and ‘this is boring’ it soon gets a bit grating.

Considering that the London Marathon is fast approaching (it takes place on the 25th of April which is only 6 weeks away, time to panic if you have a place!) I thought it would be interesting to find out if listening to music actually boosts performance as well as relieving boredom. I decided against doing a personal study as that would involve running without music and I really don’t want to do that. Instead I had a look online to see what the general consensus was.

According to James S. Fell of listening to music whist running is a good idea for the casual runner but not for those focused improving their performance:

“Blasting the tunes creates what is called a dissociative state; it distracts you from all the aforementioned unpleasantness to make the entire running experience more enjoyable. I’ll admit that I’m bummed if I’m out for a run and the battery in my iPod dies.
Conversely, competitive runners perform better in an associative state. They don’t want to distract themselves from the experience, but actually pay close attention to what is going on with their bodies in order to improve running efficiency”

He goes on to cite a study from 1992 that found that those who ran in an ‘associative state’ breathed more efficiently thereby improving their performance.

An old BBC article from 2005 contradicts this and suggests that listening to the right sort of music can boost performance significantly. The article concerns a study by Dr Costas Karageorghis of Brunel University which described a 20% increase in performance when participants listened to music before and during exercising. Dr Karageorghis says that the tempo of the music is important:

“Individuals need to create their own play list according to their personal music preferences and the intensity of activity in which they are engaged. Just before sport, loud, up-beat music can be used as a stimulant or slow, soft music can be used to calm pre-performance nerves.”

He also says that the genre of music which is most effective will be different depending on the runner’s personal taste:  “Songs are particular to an individual – they are not prescriptive. So it’s up to the individual to select songs that drive them and inspire them.”

There seems to be a general consensus that upbeat, positive music is the best thing to maintain an upbeat, positive frame of mind whilst running. The tempo of the songs you listen to don’t necessarily have to match the tempo of your running however, I find that songs with a very quick beat or riff work best even when they go much faster than I do. A downbeat lyrical attitude might not work however as it can be easy to feel negative whist pushing yourself physically.

Tom Horan of the Telegraph finds slower, but still upbeat songs work best for him:

The first point to note is that beat is paramount, but it doesn’t have to match your stride pattern precisely. There are certainly some up-tempo songs – soulful house music of the Eighties and Nineties, for example – that are good to lock on to, stride for stride. But, curiously, it is often much slower music – soul, hip-hop or dancehall reggae, say – that instils most strongly the sensation of having your feet propelled by the beat of a drum. Somehow, the brain makes the footfalls work just ahead of or behind the beat. This riding of a beat is what gives music a sense of swing. And, once you’re swinging, running becomes a pleasure, not a chore.

I often listen to Podcasts when running as they are great at keeping your focus off the task in hand. There is clearly no benefit in terms of keeping a beat so music is likely to be better for those starting out. If I do listen to music it is normally either something very fast and loud like Converge or something upbeat and positive like The Bouncing Souls. Feel free to add a comment with what you listen to or even link to a Spotify playlist etc.

Its worth noting that if you’re planning on taking part in organized events (including marathons) most wont let you run with your headphones in as you need to be able to be aware of those around you and the instructions from race officials.


One Response to “Boost Your Running Performance With Music”

  1. 1 Boost Your Running Performance With Music | Words About Things

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