Running With Music - The Pros And Cons

Not sure whether running with music is a good or bad thing? Check out the pros and cons of running with music and see whether training with some tunes is right for you.

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When it comes to running is music a must-have or are you a purist who prefers to let yourself drift off in your own thoughts? It would seem that running with music divides opinion; you either love it or you hate it. In fact sports psychologists differentiate between runners who are ‘associators’ – people who prefer to focus inwardly during a run, and ‘dissociators’ – people who prefer distractions in order to forget what they're putting themselves through. So, whether you’re a music lover or hater, what are the pros and cons of running with music?

Pros of running with music:

Research has shown that there is a very complex interaction between your mind and your body when it comes to music and sporting performance. Of course music cannot directly affect your performance, but it’s through influencing your mental state that music can enhance physical performance. There are several ways that music can do this:

  • Lift your mood: Physical effort can often have a negative effect on your mood, (if it hurts you get grumpy!) so listening to music can make you feel happier!

  • Dissociation: During low to moderate intensity exercise, music can distract you from the sensations of effort and fatigue.

  • Arousal: Music can alter your emotional and physiological arousal. This is why so many athletes use music as part of their pre-performance routine to ‘psych’ themselves up.

  • Rhythm response: There is strong evidence to suggest that the synchronisation of movement with music leads to greater endurance and movement efficiency.

So, which music is best and how do you pick a performance playlist? Professor Andy Lane, a Sports Psychologist at the University of Wolverhampton suggests there are five factors that you might want to consider: tempo, genre, lyrics, any memories that the music may trigger and the compilation of the tracks. Generally tunes that are up-tempo with motivating lyrics that trigger positive emotions are best. Sorry Damien Rice!

Cons of running with music:

  • Running with headphones on can be hazardous, particularly if you have the volume up too high as you become less aware of the environment around you. You may not hear other pedestrians, cyclists or traffic.

  • Listening to music can prevent you from tuning into the sounds that provide valuable feedback as you run such as breathing and footstrike. Whether you’re consciously aware of it or not, these sounds help you to gauge your effort levels.

  • It’s worth considering that headphones are usually banned in races with running routes that cross roads and are open to traffic. Such races deem the use of personal music devices a health and safety hazard and wearing one will result in disqualification. In some race, such as the London Marathon for example, headphones aren’t banned as the race route is closed to traffic and is therefore deemed safe. If you regularly run with music then it’s probably best to check the rules and regulations when you enter a race.

  • One beauty of running is that it can be a fantastically social sport. Running with music shuts you off from the social benefits that running with training partners can bring.