Running to music

Music can help you run more efficiently and for longer, according to research. Sport and exercise expert Professor Andrew Lane talks about music’s performance-enhancing qualities.

What effect does music have on us?

Music can influence our state of mind. Not only can it enhance our mood, it can also change our mood. It can relax and it can energise. Music can act as a companion to whatever activity you’re engaging in, from reading to exercising. If you can match the tempo of the music with the activity, it can improve your enjoyment of that activity.

How can music help running?

Music can trick your mind into feeling less tired during a workout, especially repetitive movement exercises such as running. Research suggests that listening to music while exercising can reduce perceptions of effort and fatigue by up to 12%. If you’re listening to music while running, it can distract you from the actual effort of running – you are listening to the beat of a song rather than thump coming from your heartbeat.

Does that mean I’m likely to run for longer?

By reducing your feeling of tiredness, you are more likely to go on for longer. What’s more, research suggests that if you keep in step with the music, your stride will be more rhythmical and therefore more efficient. Tests on walkers found that walking in time to a musical beat improved endurance by 15%.

Andrew Lane's running songs

  • Heaven and Hell by Black Sabbath
  • Stay Clean by Motörhead
  • Overkill by Motörhead
  • Iron Horse/Born To Lose by Motörhead
  • Decontrol by Discharge
  • Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing by Discharge
  • A Hell on Earth by Discharge

What is running to the beat?

Running to the beat involves matching the beat of the music to your running speed to support your effort and, by speeding the music up, drive your running stride. Ideally, the beat should be even throughout the song, i.e. there should not be any changes of rhythm during the song. Also, try to pick songs with a similar beat when developing a playlist. Products such as AudioFuel specialise in beats per minute music.

What is 'beats per minute' music?

Beats per minute (bpm) music is specially composed to get you running in step with the number of beats on a track. All music has a bpm. Mercy by Duffy has 127bpm. Don't Stop the Music by Rhianna has 123bpm. Most people find 150bpm a gentle pace and by 190bpm they are running as hard as they can.

Can running to the beat help me run faster?

The body has natural rhythm and is at its most efficient when it is moving in rhythm. Running to the beat is a bit like dancing to music. We tend to dance to the tempo of the music. In the same way, with running, we will naturally have a tendency to keep in step with the speed of the music.

How should I create my playlist?

You should select music appropriate to the task. If you want to go for an easy run, select music with a lower bpm such as Search for the Hero by M People (100bpm). If you’re feeling more energetic, choose songs with a higher bpm, such as I See You Baby by Groove Armada (128bpm). Whatever you choose, make sure it’s music you enjoy listening to!

What if I’m not in the mood to go running?

Getting out of the door can be the hardest step when you are saying to yourself that all you want is another cup of tea. Music can help you get into exercise mode. Have a few motivational songs at the start of your playlist that you can play as you're getting ready. The simple act of pressing ‘play’ flicks a switch in your mind to signal that your session has begun and in a short time you will be out of the door.

Any safety advice when running to music outdoors?

Keep the volume down. If you’re running outside listening to music, you need to hear what is going on around you. You should be aware of your surroundings at all times, including road traffic, cyclists, dogs and other potential hazards.


Do you run to music? Share your favourite running playlist in our comments section below.

Page last reviewed: 31/05/2014

Next review due: 31/05/2016


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