Does running with music increase performance?
I love going for runs - its a chance to get outside and let my mind relax. I always listen to my favourite music to get me motivated and distract me from my laboured breathing when I’m struggling up a hill. I’m not alone - a large majority of runners enjoy plugging in their headphones when they train. As smart phones and wireless headphones become ubiquitous, more and more of us listen to our favourite tunes whilst exercising.
Running whilst listening to music may make training more enjoyable, but could it also have a positive effect on speed and stamina? We asked 2 experts in psychophysiology, neuroscience and musicology, ‘Does running with music improve performance?’, here is what we found…
Does running with music increase performance?
2 experts answered ‘likely’
What is the evidence that listening to music can improve running performance?
Dr Marcelo Bigliassi, an expert in psychophysiology and neuroscience from Florida International University in the USA, says “Although some people may experience performance detriments while exercising in the presence of music, the majority of individuals tend to benefit from the use of music during sport- and exercise-related tasks.”
Many studies have investigated how music affects running performance. These studies vary in the types of music and running distances they test, and the way ‘running performance’ is defined. Most studies found some psychological improvements in runners who listened to music. For example, a study performed by Dr Bigliassi and colleagues in 2015 found that runners who ran 5km whilst listening to upbeat music completed the first 800m of the course faster than those who did not listen to music.
Another study tested how male runners responded when they ran on a treadmill in hot and humid conditions. This investigation found that those who listened to music whilst running ran 67% longer than non-music runner before they felt exhausted. Interestingly, no differences were found in physiological measurements like blood lactate, percentage body weight loss or urine concentration – this indicates that the positive effects from music were psychological.
How does music improve running performance?
There are many ways in which music can influence our mental state. Dr Edith Van Dyck, an expert in musicology and psychology from Ghent University in Belgium says “Music listening during sports and exercise is believed to capture attention, distract from fatigue and discomfort, prompt and alter mood states, enhance work output, increase arousal, relieve stress, stimulate rhythmic movement, and evoke a sense of power and produce power-related cognition and behaviour.” Many of these psychological effects have been measured by asking participants to assess their mood and mental states after running with and without music.
Are there situations where music might not improve running performance?
As with many things in science, the relationship between music and running performance has many caveats. For some people, listening to music whilst running will not improve performance. For others, it may depend on the situation or the music they are listening to.
Dr Van Dyck says “Music preference has been shown to be very individual and it does not make sense to listen to music you do not like. Some don't even like to listen to music at all while exercising.” She adds that “the characteristics (e.g., tempo, metre, ...) of the music are important, since not all types of music will generate the same effects. And although, generally, music in binary time signatures, in rather fast tempi (or better: in the same tempo of the exercise, or slightly higher), with enough energy and clear beats, etc. often obtains the best results overall, again, this also interacts with music preference.”
Listening to music whilst running may improve your performance, but only if you enjoy it!
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