Running with Music: How your Tunes can Help You Train

Think about the last movie or show you watched that had a training montage. What about that video game you played that included an action sequence? Chances are pretty good that the scene was accompanied by a song—and not just any song, but something upbeat, inspiring, with a quick tempo, or at least a moderate one. Did it pull you into the scene, maybe making your heart beat a little faster as it did so? This was no accident or coincidence. Those soundtracks were deliberately chosen to help convey a level of intensity to the audience, and they did so brilliantly. Could running with music boost your training just as well?

Written by Lucas Collins
Edited by Pavlína Marek

Why Does Music Have Such an Impact on Us?

Music works so well because we as humans, quite simply, love music. As far back as we can trace our history, people have made and used music for celebrations, ceremonies, and casual entertainment. A rhythmic beat or tune is something almost everyone enjoys and has the power to affect our moods, motivations, and energy levels. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the right music can really amp up your race training when used correctly. But how do you pick the right music for the job?

How to Find the Right Tunes

To understand what music might be helpful for your training, we need to look at how it affects us. It’s easily seen that music elicits a range of emotions depending on what one listens to; a somber tune can make us sad, aggressive and loud songs can channel anger, and plenty of upbeat or light pieces of music make people feel joy.

According to an article from Pfizer, research has shown that “listening to (or making) music increases blood flow to brain regions that generate and control emotions. The limbic system, which is involved in processing emotions and controlling memory, ‘lights’ up when our ears perceive music.” Therefore, while you might assume music would only set off the audio processing parts of our brains, it also activates those responsible for the release of dopamine.

This is especially true for songs you’re familiar with. The Pfizer article goes on to state that our brain may start releasing dopamine after hearing just the first few notes of a song we love. When running with music, this might help you bridge the gap between starting the exercise and getting the first hit of the feel-good hormones.

Now that we know some of the science, it’s easy to see why music can be such a good motivator. Among other things, dopamine is a reward neurotransmitter, so it makes sense that you are more likely to do well when you’re feeling a reward for doing so. I liken it to the runner’s high you feel during or after your workout, except that it hits you much faster, giving you that reward you need to push through the beginning of a run before the activity starts feeling good. 

What Kind of Music Will Help?

While all music will generate a response in our brains, what kind of response can change drastically depending on the song. So what should you look for in a song to help you run?

Scientifically speaking, what matters most is the BPM or beats per minute. The higher a song’s BPM, the faster and more upbeat the song is going to be. For running, you’re going to want a high BPM song to match your strides and workouts. An article from CNET describes good BPM ranges for certain activities as follows:

  • Yoga, pilates, and other low-intensity activities: 60 to 90 BPM
  • Power yoga: 100 to 140 BPM
  • CrossFit, indoor cycling, or other forms of HIIT: 140 to 180-plus BPM
  • Zumba and dance: 130 to 170 BPM
  • Steady-state cardio, such as jogging: 120 to 140 BPM
  • Weightlifting and powerlifting: 130 to 150 BPM
  • Warming up for exercise: 100 to 140 BPM
  • Cooling down after exercise: 60 to 90 BPM
According to the chart, you’d want to pick music between 120 and 140 BPM for your training runs.

There are other benefits to running with music besides motivation. The same article says that the right BPM can reduce how fatigued you feel, help keep your heart rate up, and make you move faster. All this is on top of being a good distraction that bumps up your mood and can make the exercise seem a lot easier.

Your Homework: Make a Running with Music Playlist!

Now that you know what to look for in a good running song, the last thing you need to do is to make a playlist that helps you move! Choose music you like, experiment, and curate the perfect soundtrack for your training. There are a ton of genres that have fast, upbeat sounds to them. Well-known categories like rock, pop, or hip hop all commonly have songs that will fall into the BPM range you’re looking for. If those are not for you, try genres like folktronica, Japanese trap, or even Irish drinking songs! Don’t force yourself to listen to something you don’t like just because the BPM matches, that will only distract you and detract from your overall workout. Stick to songs and genres you enjoy and use songs that have the melodies, lyrics, bass, and volume to help push you to reach your goals. 

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