While music tends to be too personal to make generalisations, it’s long been known that there’s a scientific basis for songs that can help improve your performance when you’re running. If you’ve ever felt yourself lagging at a party, and then your favourite song comes on and you suddenly find yourself with bags of energy, then you’ll know that the same feeling can apply when running or exercising.
This relation between music and exercise has been studied extensively. According to the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES), positive responses to music can ‘improve exercise performance by either reducing perceptions of fatigue or increasing work capacity. Typically, this results in higher-than-expected levels of endurance, power, productivity or strength.’ In short, music is a motivator.
Perhaps surprisingly, music still has a noticeable effect even if we don’t consciously attempt to sync our movements with it. Fast-paced, energetic background music provides both ‘psychological (distraction and enhancement of positive feelings) and ergogenic (performance-enhancing) benefits’, BASES says.
Meanwhile, movements that are synchronised with the musical beat have been shown to improve the time to reach voluntary exhaustion by 15% in repetitive endurance activities such as running and walking. That’s a lot of extra exercise!
It may also be worth listening to music before you head out on a run, since ‘pre-task music has been shown to act as an effective stimulant that can optimise arousal level and psychological state.’ Basically, it pumps you up bigtime if you listen to the right tunes.
I spoke to 21-year-old Jennie Batten, former European Youth 100m and 200m sprint champion, who is now aspiring to be selected for future World Championships and Olympics.
‘Like lots of athletes, I use music as an important part of my race preparation,’ Jennie told me. ‘This helps to keep me relaxed – keeping those pre-race nerves in check – and stay focussed, as well as motivating me to run fast.’
I asked her whether, in her personal experience, she thinks there is a link between running further and listening to music.
‘Definitely, especially if you are training or running by yourself,’ she said. ‘I find that if you have the right music, you can really help keep your motivation levels up and these cause you to push yourself further. Anyone who runs knows you have those times where you think “why am I doing this” or “I’m too tired to run any further” so a song that lifts your mood will keep you running that little bit further or faster.’
Jennie also stressed the significance of creating tailored playlists depending on what you want to achieve. ‘I think it’s really important to spend a bit of time making your own playlist. The focus of my events, 100m and 200m, is to be as fast as possible – therefore I personally go for songs that have a good beat, lyrics I can sing along to (in my head!) and put a smile on my face.
At the moment, five must-have songs on my race preparation playlist are Let Go For Tonight by Foxes, Sky Full Of Stars by Coldplay, A-Punk by Vampire Weekend, You and I by Crystal Fighters, and Love Runs Out by OneRepublic.’
It’s no coincidence that Jennie’s chosen songs all have fast tempos: at least 125 beats per minute (BPM). While BASES recommends music with the tempo band of 125-140 BPM for most healthy exercisers, faster music is also a strong impetus for movement.
There are apps that put this science into practice: TempoRun (£1.99) claims to make your run easier by reeling off songs containing 180 beats per minute (BPM) – such as Livin’ La Vida Loca by Ricky Martin or Outkast’s Hey Ya!. The most efficient runners all have a high stride turnover of around 180 steps per minute, making music of this kind the perfect companion.
So whether you’re a serious runner or just looking to inject some oomph into your morning jog, check out our sample list of songs which really hit the bullseye.
If you’re looking for more inspiration, check out Running Music Mix, which helpfully compiles playlists based on their BPM.
THE ULTIMATE RUNNING PLAYLIST
1. Tom Petty – Running Down a Dream
2. Booty Luv – Shine
3. Elvis Costello – Pump it Up
4. Lady GaGa – Applause
5. Elvis Presley vs. JXL – A Little Less Conversation (Remix)
6. Culture Beat – Mr. Vain
7. Billy Idol – Dancing With Myself
8. Mary J. Blige – Just Fine (Moto Blanco Remix)
9. Daft Punk – Get Lucky
10. Pharrell Williams – Happy
Main image via Giuseppe Milo at Flickrcc.