A blog by runners. For runners.

Crank up the tunes: the “best” music for running

Whether to run with music or not is a hot debate. Wearing headphones may inhibit alertness when we’re out on the roads, but hearing a playlist of our favorite tunes may be just what we need to reach a finish line.

Music to our ears

One thing’s for sure, though: music can have a profound effect on exercise performance.

Studies show running with music can:

  • Reduce perceived exertion by up to 10 percent. Music increases arousal and makes us want to move instead of sit. Since we want to move it may not feel like we’re working as hard.
  • Increase endurance, possibly by as much as 15 percent. Music acts as a distraction so we may not realize how long we’ve been running or how much our knee hurts, for example, when a song we like is playing.
  • Help you hold a certain pace, since we tend to step at the rate the dominant beat is playing.

The “best” beats

Some athletes wonder, is one type of music better than others when it comes to athletic performance? Researchers have long known the faster the music’s dominant beat, the greater the exercise intensity. Meaning you can run faster and harder when fast, upbeat music is playing.

But assuming the beat is the same tempo, is a certain genre of music better than others? Possibly so, says new research. In the study, walkers listened to songs with a tempo of 130 beats per minute. Some styles of music made them walk faster, while others were associated with a slower leg turnover.

The researchers analyzed the songs and the walkers’ performance and found:

  • “Activating” music was associated with faster walking. This type of music features constant loudness, little variation, a downbeat (meaning emphasis is on the first and third beats in a four-beat measure), and short notes that are repeated over and over. Basically, more simplistic music is better for working out. Think pop or techno genres.
  • “Relaxing” music was associated with slower walking. This music style has a greater contrast in volume levels, more variation, longer melodies, and an upbeat (emphasis is on the second and fourth beats). Jazz and reggae are examples of relaxing music.

Do you agree with this study? Keep in mind that your personal music preferences matter a lot more than the research. If I heard a techno song with a fast beat, I can guarantee that it wouldn’t make me run faster; I’d just get a headache! But play some Pink or Bon Jovi over my headphones and I’ll get moving.

The “best” running playlist (according to science)

Listen — and add to the playlist — here

Written by Jen Matz.

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