Wednesday, September 14

Music for running

During my lunch break yesterday, I turned on the radio. (The house gets quiet when you work from home, and the cat gets tired of me talking to her.) Apparently my timing was just right. I happened to catch a Talk of the Nation segment about music and running. Score!

While I ate my veggie burrito, Dr. Costas Karageorghis, head researcher at the School of Sport and Education at Brunel University, summarized his research on music and athletic performance. He had some fascinating statistics. But as I listened, I wondered how much of this we runners already knew (without a doctor telling us)? To quote from the transcript:
Background music typically will reduce an exerciser's perception of the effort they are expending by about 10 percent," Karageorghis says. When there is no background music playing at the gym, or if someone is working out without headphones... there's still a benefit to the music in your head. "Nowadays athletes are not allowed to use music" while competing, he says. Instead, he encourages athletes with whom he works to "imagine a particular piece music" while competing. "This has a pacing function, so they synchronize their music to the tempo of the music, ...This has a workout enhancing effect ... Imagining music is often just as effective as listening to it 'proper,' in terms of neurological responses."
Ok, so I've been playing Beautiful Day on the jukebox in my brain during long runs for the past couple of years. I always thought I was crazy, but clearly I was onto something! (And I discovered this trick before the illustrious Doctor, it seems?)

The doc also has some suggestions on beats per minute (bpm) to maximize workout potential. He recommends that bpm be similar to heart rate, with most folks preferring a tempo between 125 and 140. (Am I the only person with a heart rate of 180 running?)

For some excellent pointers on how to find the beats per minute on your favorite songs, or suggestions on where to go for running playlists, Lifehacker has some helpful hints.

Speaking of playlists... Here's my actual playlist (the one on my mp3 player, not the one in my brain).

Do you run with or without music? 

What's on your playlist?

Photo courtesy of Phil /


  1. Music makes everything better. In a non-running sense I find that sometimes my inner soundtrack can help me get worky things done faster (and enjoy it a bit, boppin around to the tunes in my head). The last few days one Sage Francis of Providence RI has been on a loop in my brain (and on shuffle on the mp3 player), which is no bad thing. :)

  2. At the risk of being contentious, I just want to point out that anecdotal or "common sense" knowledge does not make something true. This time your (and your running friends') experience happened to be at the mean. It could very well have been in the tails.

    I have read about publicly influential people (i.e. politicians and the like) disparaging scientific research because, "I don't need a scientist to tell me something I already know. Why do we fund these 'studies' with taxpayer money?" This totally irks me. Something may be common sense, but we cannot truly "know" it without rigorous, scientific research. I bet the "illustrious doctor" probably had a hunch about the phenomenon before he conducted the study.

    Anyhow, to the actual point of your post: I've got me some Lil John on repeat. :-)

  3. Monika: touche! (But this is my running blog, not my data-geek blog. You'll have to forgive me.)

    If we always went with common sense instead of science, we'd still think the world was flat and the sun revolves around the earth. But in my own personal scientific experiments, I have found that I run faster with music.


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