We all love working out to the sound of our favourite playlists, but are your tunes actually the right ones for your training purposes?
Listening to the right kind of music can make a huge difference to your training regime – pick the perfect soundtrack and your runs will seem easier, feel faster, and go on for longer. Join us on a deep dive into the science behind tempo, pace, and finding your flow…
Running is all about tempo and consistency, with top-level distance runners generally setting a stride rate of around 180 steps per minute. You may not be able to run at the same speed, but there's nothing stopping you from keeping that as a benchmark in your mind – and this is where your music can make a massive difference.
By picking tunes that match the tempo you're running at, you'll naturally slide into an easy rhythm without having to think about it. Most people will instinctively synchronise their movements with music, taking away some of the effort and enabling you to run faster and further. Running to a consistent beat also means there's less chance of your performance dipping without you noticing.
Granted, you're unlikely to find many tunes that match every step you take, but you'll have no trouble at all finding songs around the 90 beats per minute (BPM) range. At 90BPM, for instance, while running at 180 steps per minute, your right foot will be hitting the ground at the same time as each beat, making it the perfect tempo.
When it comes to actually finding music at specific tempos, there's plenty of software out there to analyse your music collection for tracks that play at specific BPMs – such as Cadence Desktop Pro – while streamers will be able to search for existing beat-matched playlists using the likes of Spotify Running.
Can't manage to stick to 180 steps per minute? No worries; picking the right song for your workout depends on your own pace, not someone else’s. In running, your pace is defined by how long it takes, in minutes, to cover a distance of one kilometre (or mile, if you use imperial). If you're naturally a slower runner, there's a chance you'll also take fewer steps per minute, so you may find that slightly slower songs work better for you than faster ones.
For example, if you run at a pace of 5:30 per kilometre, music site jog.fm recommends workout music that plays at a tempo of 164bpm, with an online calculator to help you discover tracks that match your ideal running pace.
In addition to finding the best songs, knowing your pace will also help you to find tracks that last the ideal length of time, so you can synchronise the end of your playlist to when you stagger back through your front door.
3. The personal touch
Scientifically speaking, another important thing to keep in mind when putting your running playlist together is to make sure you include the tracks that mean something to you personally. Forget about the songs you know will impress people; forget about picking tracks that will make you look cool, and concentrate on adding the tunes that make you feel good, even when you've only heard the first couple of bars.
Sure, music snobs may look down on your choices if/when you start cranking out pop-tastic hits from your childhood, but if a tune is fast, upbeat and hearing it makes you feel more positive, you'll be in a better frame of mind when it comes to your workout.
“Music also increases endurance by keeping people awash in strong emotions,” says Scientific American. “Listening to music is often an incredibly pleasurable experience and certain songs open the mental floodgates with which people control their emotions in everyday situations. If one strongly identifies with the singer's emotions or perspective, the song becomes all the more motivational.”
As Costas I. Karageorghis Ph.D, a sports psychologist at Brunel University London, tells Men's Fitness, “When I hear Bill Conti’s ‘Gonna Fly Now,’ the theme from the Rocky film series, I feel as though just about anything’s possible in the gym.”
Read to get going? Pick the right music for your run, and just about anything is possible.
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