Sunday, January 3, 2016

Running with Music: the Good and the Bad

Running is a great cardio workout and a way for many to clear their minds. Whether you’re training for a race or just feel like going for a run, there are many benefits to this aerobic activity. I was speaking to some of the members at the Barnstable Fitness Center in Hyannis, MA who are avid runners about their training methods when the topic of music came up. It is very common for people to listen to music while running, but is it really that beneficial?

There are two categories for runners in regards to why they run. An associator is considered a person who prefers to focus inwardly during a run: thinking about their day, how they are breathing, listening to their foot strokes, etc. A dissociator is someone who will spend their runs looking forward to forget what they’re putting themselves through (Bean, 2010; Kurton & Blair, 2013). Dissociative runners are more likely to listen to music to help them “forget” they are running; this isn’t always a good thing. Here are the pros and cons for running with music:


There are 5 conditions that runners should consider with music: the tempo, the genre of music, the lyrics in the song, any memories and emotions the song could trigger, and the order of the music in your playlist (Kurton & Blair, 2013). A high tempo, fast pace song can help you keep pace. This type of music also can elevate positive aspects of your mood such as excitement and happiness, reducing negative aspects such as tension, fatigue, and even confusion (Bean, 2010).

Joe Carroll PT DPT SCS, owner of Cape Cod Rehab and an avid runner, says he trains with music but doesn’t race with it. “Sometimes when I have my headphones on I’m not actually even listening to my music. It’s just playing,” says Carroll. In this respect, Carroll is using music as a distraction, selecting playlists with different types of music for different types of running (i.e. hill workouts, long runs, treadmill runs, etc.). “External stimulus such as music can actually block some of the internal stimuli trying to reach the brain- such as fatigue related messages from muscles (Bean, 2010).”


While music is a necessity to get through the long, boring miles on the treadmill for RRCA Certified Run Coach Jen Skiba, she is a strong believer in leaving the headphones at home when running outside.  "I look at it from a safety standpoint.  It is so easy to get lost in your music and become totally oblivious at what's going on around you." While music can distract you, this can be very hazardous while running outside. Being aware of your surroundings is important. Look out for potential hazards such as cars, the weather, and even others around you.

While safety is extremely important, training with music can be detrimental from a training standpoint as well. Two key factors in determining effort exerted are breathing and foot strike- both you cannot hear while listening to music (Bean, 2010). Also, if you train only listening to music, what if your iPod dies? How do you keep pace without it? Many road races actually ban runners from having head phones in, even causing disqualifications and ineligibility for elite runners in championship races if they run with music.

As you can see, there are many pros and cons to listening to music while running. If you do, try listening with only one headphone in at a lower volume. Also, try not to run with music every time you run. You might find that you enjoy your run without it.
Blog post by Nikki Courtney.

Bean, A. (2010, December 1). Running With Music. Retrieved December 29, 2015, from

Kurton, M., & Blair, S. (2013, March 13). Running with music: The case for and against. Retrieved December 29, 2015, from

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