Pros and Cons of Listening to Music While Running

a woman running while listening to music via headphones on a snowy, tree-lined road
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Listening to your favorite running songs can give you a boost of energy or motivation to power through to the end. But is it always a good idea to listen to music on the run? Consider the benefits and drawbacks of running with music, plus get some inspiration for your running song playlists.

Pros of Running to Music

Many runners find that listening to music is an excellent strategy for battling boredom during their runs. And if you think you get a little extra pep in your step when you're listening to high-energy music, you're not imagining things. Research has shown that listening to music can boost athlete performance.

However, it's important to note that the research looks at the effect of music on performance in amateur athletes or athletes in mock race situations, and not under real racing conditions. Runners in an actual race event are likely under competitive pressure with their adrenaline pumping from the excitement, so they may not necessarily need the extra stimulation of music.

A 2012 study did note that listening to music during warmup improved performance in young athletes.

Cons of Running to Music

Running with music can have its drawbacks. One downside is that your cadence may be thrown off, as you'll likely speed up and slow down based on the tempo of the music—that is, unless an alternating pace is part of your training program. It's also probably fine if you're not too concerned about your pace to begin with. Still, it can be a disadvantage when you're trying to develop a steady pace for a specific workout or race.

Some races may not allow headphones for safety reasons. Even if the race does permit them, it may still be a good idea not to wear them because you may not be able to hear instructions from race officials and volunteers as well as other other runners on the course.

Another warning about wearing headphones during a race is that you'll miss out on a lot of the race fun and excitement. You won't be able to hear the bands or people cheering, nor will you be able to talk to other race participants, which can be helpful and encouraging during long events.

There's also a chance that your music listening device (say, your smartphone) could stop working during your race, so it's important that you don't become completely dependent on it. If you rely on your tunes to keep you moving, but your phone gets wet and dies during a race, will you still be able to hit your goal time?

Most importantly, when running outside, your music may block noise from incoming cars, cyclists, other runners—even unfriendly dogs. One of the basic etiquette rules of running is that you should still be able to hear others so you can move out of the way or stop, when necessary. You might just decide to save your running songs for the treadmill, where you may need the extra distraction to avoid getting bored.

For safety and courtesy when listening to music while running outdoors, keep the volume low enough so you can still hear your surroundings or keep one earbud out.

Benefits of Warm-Up Music

Fortunately, some research shows that you can still get some of the benefits of listening to high-energy music even after you’ve listened to it. Another study found that listening to high-tempo music during a 10-minute warm-up led to better performance in high-intensity exercise, even when there’s no music playing during the exercise itself.

So, if you're worried about safety or you don't want to wear (or aren't permitted to use) headphones during a race, you can always imitate those Olympic athletes who listen to some high-energy, motivating songs during their pre-event warm-ups. You'll likely get most of the same benefits as you would if you listened to music during the race—except without the potential for distraction from reaching your goal.

Running Music Playlists and Songs

If your running music catalog could use a refresh, browse through the following recommended genres for some inspiration to create your ultimate running playlist.

Top 40 hits and pop music and are popular categories for running songs.

The hip-hop/rap genre is another very popular category of running music. Hip-hop and rap songs usually have a great beat and are very versatile, so they can be used for hard workouts as well as long, slow, or easier runs.

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