Should You Listen To Music While Running? (The Pros and Cons)
Should you listen to music while running or not? We asked a selected group of running and fitness experts to find out
Listening to music while running has become more far common in recent years thanks our devices having become far more portable and lightweight.
It’s well known that tuning in to the right kind of music during your run can help to inspire you through your workout.
However, there are also some potential downsides to putting on your headphones before heading out for your run.
We asked a selected group of experts for their thoughts on both the pros and cons of listening to music during a run.
Here’s what they said.
Music Can Help To Inspire But Don’t Become Reliant On It
Professional Triathlete and Tagalong Pro Running Coach, Brittaney Talbot
There is no doubt that popping in your earphones and turning up the volume can get you inspired.
Plenty of research concludes that music encourages and motivates all kinds of emotions. Listening to music can help you work harder for longer too.
A study published by the International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology reported that using music during training helped participants lower their rate perceived exertion (RPE), especially during low to moderate intensity.
Interestingly, as the intensity of the exercise increases, the effectiveness of the music on RPE decreases.
There could be a few contributing factors. One is mental fatigue. That same stimuli you are using to distract your brain could be overwhelming you and might actually be taking a toll on your mental endurance.
According to research published in the online journal, Public Library of Science, mental fatigue frequently has a negative impact on physical performance and focus.
So while you are trying to focus on your pace or technique, you could start to feel more exhausted because your brain is processing a lot of information all at once.
Aside from how you are feeling, when deciding whether to listen to music while training, think about your environment.
Safety is absolutely paramount. If you are on a highly trafficked road or busy trail, having your ears available could be crucial. Listening out for cyclists, other pedestrians, and vehicles will lower your risk for accidents and keep you running.
If you are in a safe place to run with earphones, here’s something else to consider: will you become reliant on your music? If you use that cathartic build in your favorite pump up song to finish strong, what will happen when you cannot use your music in a race?
Full disclosure: I used to love running to music, but over the past few years have given up the tunes for a number of reasons.
The most convincing argument for me was that I was becoming reliant on music for performance. As a triathlete, any kind of music or device in your ear is illegal.
Since I cannot race with it, training with it started to get in the way. I would even get frustrated and my run session suffered if, let’s say, my headphones stopped working or I was bored with my playlist. That’s when I started to make a shift and for me, it has been a positive improvement.
The switch I made was to start using focused, productive thinking during my training sessions. Instead of looking for distraction, I let myself be all in for the session ahead of me.
Sometimes it was repeating over and over something I wanted to improve in my technique; other times it was reminding myself that I am capable and fully equipped to finish the session with the target goals I set for myself.
If you are considering giving the music a break next run but not quite ready to leave it all behind, here are a few suggestions I use when working with athletes I coach at Tagalong:
Pick a song or two for your warm up, one that will get you in a great mood and set the tone for your session.
Then pause your music and do your run focusing on the goals for that session;
Have a couple of tracks ready to go for a cool down and stretch and bring you back from your training;
You can also be your own researcher. Try listening to music for the first few miles or intervals, then turn it off for the same amount of time. Notice if your splits changed and how you felt during both instances. You might find more even or faster splits because you can out run that bpm on your playlist.
Pro: Music can decrease your rate of perceived exertion for low to moderate intensity training and motive and inspire your workout.
Con: Music is less effective for higher intensity training and can even contribute to mental fatigue and decreased performance. Music can also prevent you from hearing safety cues on roads or trails. Becoming too reliant on music during training might have a negative impact if you are participating in a race without music.
Suggestions: Try using music before or after your main run session to help boost your mood but allow to focus on your session goals. Replace music with positive or productive thoughts you want to cultivate during your training time. Experiment using and not using music to see what kind of impact it has on your run.
Ultimately, as long as you are safe and feel proud of your effort, whatever choice you make for your training is “best.”
You know yourself better than anyone, so make the choices that feel the most authentic and true to what you want from your training.
There is really no limit to the possibilities of your training when you show up for yourself! I hope some of these suggestions help you make the most informed choices. Cannot wait to see you out there absolutely crushing your goals!
Don’t Listen To Music If You’re Running In A Busy Area
Todd Buckingham, PhD, Exercise Physiologist at Mary Free Bed Sports Rehabilitation Performance Lab
Listening to music can be a great way to tune out while you’re running. However, I am more in favor of not listening to music than I am in favor of listening to music.
Here are a few situations that I would and would not recommend listening to music for.
Green light – use headphones:
Listen to music if you have an easy run planned. This can be a great way to distract you and keep your mind occupied while doing an easy run. Just make sure that the music isn’t so upbeat that your pace increases to match the beat of the song. Easy runs are supposed to be easy so make sure they stay that way regardless of the music you’re listening to.
Listen to music if you have a long run and you will need something to keep your mind occupied. If you’re someone who gets bored very easily, listening to music might help the miles tick by faster. This can make them run more enjoyable and be motivation to help get you out the door.
Listen to music before a race. Studies have shown that listening to music can help improve race performance. Pre-race music can stimulate your nervous system, improve your emotional state, and better prepare you for a race than not listening to music.
Red light – don’t use headphones:
Don’t listen to music if you’re running in a busy area where you need to hear what’s going on around you. This includes places that are heavily trafficked with vehicles or other runners/cyclists.
Being able to hear your surroundings is extremely important in these situations in order to mean safety for yourself and the others around you.
Don’t listen to music if you’re doing a hard workout. It’s important to get a sense of how your body reacts to harder workouts. Being able to distinguish changes in your breathing and how loud your breath is, your foot strike and how soft or hard you’re landing, and feeling changes in your heart rate are all important aspects of becoming a better runner. if you’re listening to music while you’re running, you will be unable to detect these changes as easily because you will be distracted by the music.
Don’t listen to music if you have trouble keeping a steady cadence. For some runners, listening to music causes them to stride to the beat of the song. This could cause a slower cadence resulting in over striding (which could lead to injury) or a faster cadence resulting in faster speeds which may be detrimental to your goals.
Don’t listen to music if you have a long run and need to work on mental toughness. During a race you won’t be able to listen to music. The old adage “practice like you play” is true in running as well. It’s important to have several long runs under your belt where it’s just nothing but you and your thoughts. This will help prepare you for race day.
Why You Should Think About Ditching The Headphones
Robert Herbst, Personal Trainer and Wellness Expert
I hate to be a killjoy, but I would recommend one not listen to music while running.
Firstly, if you are running in an urban setting, you put yourself at risk because earphones can prevent you from hearing traffic, car horns or shouts from a cyclist.
At a more subliminal level, music will interfere with your perception of the feedback from your mind and body during the run.
Skilled runners continually monitor things such as how they feel, their pace, and their form. This enables them to run better and derive more fitness benefits.
Also, while running, one can enter the ‘zone’ and enjoy the runner’s high created by the release of endorphins, the ‘natural opiates’ which relieve stress and pain. This can produce a feeling of euphoria where the mind goes free, which can be limited by the constraints imposed by music.
During running, one also takes in the scenery and receives visual and auditory stimulation from the environment, which also can be constrained by music.
Finally, while running, one can enter a ‘Zen-like’ or meditative state where the mind goes free. The unconscious mind can continue to work and one can come up with creative ideas or solve problems they had been thinking about previously. This can also be inhibited by music.
Running is a great way to get away from it all, so one should not bring some of it with them.
Run Without Music And Other Distractions
Lars-Christian Simonsen, Running Coach and Founder of run161.com
Listening to music while running may help to boost your performance. A study from 2012 found that listening to your favourite tunes while running reduced perceived exertion levels, and made the participants run faster.
Another study three years later reached the same conclusions, and also found that music helped improve recovery as well.
Listening to music can help you switch up your cadence. If you’re working on modifying your cadence, for instance to avoid over-striding, music can help.
Compile a playlist of songs at the appropriate tempo (BPM) that aligns with your target cadence, and you’ll quickly fall into the rhythm.
However, there are a couple of noticeable cons to listening to music while running as well.
These are the reasons why I usually recommend my clients to practice running without music, or any other form of distraction.
The first one is that you lose out on getting to know your body. A very important aspect to running, is to get to know your body – to listen to the signals it provides while you’re running, and to get intimately familiar with what the various running training intensities feel like. If you’re listening to music, you become less attuned to these feelings.
It can also decrease the safety of the run. By listening to music while running, you block out part of your surroundings. This can leave you more exposed to dangerous situations. Particularly in traffic, but also with regards to wildlife encounters while running on the trails.
Don’t Run With Headphones Unless You Really Need To
Ben Drew, Founder Of TheWiredRunner.com
I tell runners not to run with headphones unless it’s absolutely necessary, mostly for safety reasons.
When you wear headphones, you can’t hear ambient noise around you. This means you’ll be unaware of cars, people, or dogs approaching.
Not only is it scary to find a dog or person suddenly on you, but in the case of cars you may not be able to get out of the way until it’s too late.
That being said, it’s certainly more enjoyable to run with music. It makes the run go by faster, it’s less boring, and it can help motivate you to run faster and farther.
If you are someone who must run with music, I recommend wearing headphones that allow ambient noise so you can listen to music and hear what’s going on around you.
Some headphones have microphones that add outside sound to the headphone speakers.
But I prefer bone-conduction headphones, like Aftershokz, that don’t block your ears at all.