Music and running have been a dynamic duo for as long as we can remember. From the rhythmic pounding of ancient tribal drums simulating the heartbeat, to the pulsating beats emanating from the earbuds of a modern city runner, music is a companion that runners throughout the ages have leaned on.
How exactly does your favourite playlist enhance your running performance? Well, it’s not just a matter of personal enjoyment. There’s a science to it as well.
Music whilst running: Synchronisation of Steps and Beats
To begin with, there’s a fundamental aspect of our human physiology that plays into this: our inherent tendency to synchronise our movements with a rhythmic sound. When you lace up your running shoes, pop in your headphones, and hit play on your favourite tunes, your brain instinctively begins to match your running stride to the beat. This process, known as entrainment, can increase your efficiency and potentially boost your running performance.
Researchers have found that synchronising movement to music can reduce the energy cost of running. In simpler terms, running to a beat can make the act of running feel easier, allowing you to run faster, longer, or both. A study in the Journal of Sports Sciences noted that when runners matched their stride to a musical beat, they used about 7% less oxygen than when they ran without music.
This may be attributed to increased efficiency in motion as our body moves in a more coordinated and rhythmical manner. Running to a beat can help you maintain a consistent pace, making your movements more predictable and less chaotic. It’s a bit like dancing, where the music guides your movements, except in this case, the dance floor is the open road or the running track.
The Perfect Playlist
But, it’s not just about having any old song on your playlist. What’s crucial here is the beats per minute (BPM) of the tracks you select. A song’s BPM corresponds to the tempo of the music and can significantly affect your running speed and rhythm. Fast-paced music typically has a higher BPM, motivating you to increase your pace, whereas slower music has a lower BPM, which can help you maintain a steady, comfortable speed.
For most people, a song with a BPM of 120-140 is ideal for a moderate run, while a more intensive run might call for music with a BPM of 160-180. Apps like Spotify and Apple Music offer playlists based on BPM, or there are apps that can help you construct a playlist based on your desired BPM.
The advantage of having a playlist with a consistent BPM is that it helps you maintain a steady running rhythm. It sets a metronome to your movements and helps you avoid the unexpected changes in pace that can occur when a fast song suddenly switches to a slow one. It’s about setting a cadence for your run and sticking to it, aiding your body to get into a ‘flow state’, where your movements seem automatic, and you’re entirely engrossed in the run.
A Symphony of Motivation and Endurance
There’s more to the relationship between music and running than rhythm alone. Music can serve as a powerful motivational tool. Your favourite tunes can spur you on when you’re flagging, helping you push past fatigue and keep going. Lyrics that resonate with you or an upbeat melody can be the psychological boost you need to complete that extra mile. Music not only distracts from the physical strain of running but can also elevate mood, enhance endurance, and increase your overall sense of well-being.
Furthermore, music also plays a role in post-run recovery. The calming influence of slower, relaxing music can aid in reducing stress and speeding up recovery, helping you return to your resting heart rate faster.
So, the next time you’re gearing up for a run, give some thought to the music you choose to accompany you. Harness the power of music – its beat, its motivation, its calming influence – and experience the difference it can make. Use your favourite tunes as a strategic tool to boost your running performance. After all, running isn’t just about the journey or the destination; it’s also about the soundtrack that drives us along the way.