When I coach runners, I often suggest they do not listen to music. I think there are many benefits to running that can be lessened by listening to music, but I’ve often wondered if this belief is true.
Many successful competitive runners find music to be a mental distraction that helps them push through difficult runs. Likewise, beginning and intermediate runners often find music can provide a tempo when pacing proves tricky. A recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research addressed the issue of music.
In the Journal study, fifteen competitive male runners engaged in five different running conditions, which were used either during or after a 5K test.
- Medium-paced motivational songs that ranged from 110-150 beats per minute (bpm) during the 5K
- Slow motivational songs that ranged from 80-100bpm during the 5K
- Fast motivational songs ranging from 140-160bpm during the 5K
- Calm music played after the 5K
- No music at all
The songs were selected not just for speed, but also for the ability to influence the runners. Before the tests, each runner had his brain activity measured while listening to samples from each playlist to ensure that the songs had the desired effects while at rest.
In addition to measuring performance, the researchers studied heart rate variability, rate of perceived exertion, and mood. Some of these tests were performed just after the run to see if music would aid recovery.
On average, the first 800 meters of the run (the first half mile) was performed faster in the slow and fast motivational music conditions. It was almost ninety percent likely that these two types of music would boost performance. The medium-speed motivational songs had a forty percent likelihood of improving performance when compared to no music during the run. After the first 800 meters, the researchers noted running become more neurologically demanding, which prevented the music from continuing to enhance performance.
Music also provided neurological stimulation that indicated the runners were more motivated before running. They were also calmed by music after their run, which would increase their rate of recovery.
Music provided the biggest improvement in performance during the first half mile of the run. Overall, listening to music, particularly slow and fast motivational songs, improved the time over the initial test by about a little over a minute. Selecting songs you find to be motivational seems to be of critical importance, and both fast and slow music seems to do the trick.
1. Marcelo Bigliassi, et. al., “How Does Music Aid 5k of Running?,” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000000627
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