Should you listen to music while running?

By Joyce Reyes-Aguila

Some say running takes them to a different place. Indeed, it can provide much-needed calm, a boost of energy, or a sense of unbelievable freedom. Even Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt once admitted that he “[loses] sight of what’s around [him]” when he’s out on the track. 

While shutting the world off can be easy for some, others find it crucial to listen to music. But does it really help or does it take away from the experience? There are cases for and against listening to music while out on a run. Check the following out and decide for yourself.

Pro: Music boosts performance. Music motivates an athlete, encouraging the brain to risk a bit more and perform better. Matt Fitzgerald of active.com writes that “the brain essentially chooses to impose fatigue based on a prediction of where the body’s true physiological limits lie; the brain has some flexibility in setting performance limits.” In his article “Music Makes You a Better Runner,” he says that a person’s motivation improves because of many factors and “music is one of them.” Music can add motivation and elevate a person’s mood, enabling anyone to run longer or faster.

Pro: Music synchronizes movement. In his piece, “Let’s Get Physical: The Psychology of Effective Workout Music,” Ferris Jabr of scientificamerican.com affirms that music and exercise “make such a good team.” He explains that the tempo of a song and the rhythm response of our bodies drive our instincts to move with the music. Jabr adds “psychologists have suggested that people have an innate preference for rhythms at a frequency of two hertz, which is equivalent to 120 beats per minute (bpm) or two beats per second. When running on a treadmill, however, most people seem to favor music around 160 bpm.”

These all matter because “synchrony may help the body use energy more efficiently,” he says. Moving to a beat, he adds, may not require as many adjustments from your body. “Music, it seems, can function as a metronome, helping someone maintain a steady pace, reducing false steps, and decreasing energy expenditure.”

Anti: Music distracts you from your environment. Some believe that tunes do not rid your mind of pain but of awareness. With your ears covered, your brain processes the music as well, taking full attention away from your surroundings. You may not hear vehicles behind you. You may not hear other runners who will ask you to give way or even snarling dogs approaching you.

Anti: Music hinders your appreciation for the sport. “Running without music blasting in my ears has given me a whole new appreciation for the sport,” Scott Martin of runnersworld.com says. In the article “Should You Listen to Music While Running?” where he debated with fellow runner Caitlin Giddings, Martin attests to being more in tune with his body during sprints after he stopped listening to music. Further, Martin says he can pay more attention to his breathing and focus on his effort level. Poll results in response to the title of their article reveal that 74 percent of respondents or 8,354 said runners should listen to music.

Compromise: Listening to music when on a run with someone. Do runners of different feathers run together? You can be brisk-walking with your wife who sees your joint activity as a time to catch up. A close friend can surprise you when her chatterbox nature disappears as you run together. Before a run, Lizzie Post of womensrunning.competitor.com suggests that you and you your companion discuss your preferences. You can agree to run together with both of you hooked to your tunes or you can just see each other after a run if one prefers to exercise in silence and the other one to a beat.