Can Running Music Aid Performance?

Music is a form of entertainment many use to relax or keep their mind busy during difficult times in their life. However, the benefits of running music, and listening to music during workout routines, are also widely acknowledged.

You will have seen it before: large numbers of athletes competing in races like 10k’s, half marathons and full marathons, plugged into iPhones or with MP3 devices strapped to their arms. Running to music has become the norm among fitness fanatics worldwide.

While some people use music during their workout as a method of focusing, others use it to avoid being interrupted. In this article, we’re going to focus on the tangible effects running music has on your performance.

Does running music actually aid your workout routine or run?

In recent years, running music has altered the way we run and our ability to hit peak performance levels. Whether you’re going out for a Sunday morning jog, or you’re committed to setting a new personal best, there’s bound to be a song for that.

And it’s a similar story for other sports.  Studies have shown that weightlifters who listen to heavy metal, for example, tend to push themselves harder to achieve a larger number of reps.

What running music does to the body…

Running music changes both the body and mind during physical exertion: it allows the body to distract itself from the physical pain and fatigue it may be experiencing.

Music has also been shown to elevate an individual’s mood and endurance, while also reducing perceived effort. A knock-on effect of these physical and mental benefits is that listening to music during exercise may even promote metabolic efficiency.


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How does this actually work?

Studies have found that the perception of how hard you are running is reduced by 10 percent when listening to running music. The external stimulus (running music) blocks out some of the internal stimuli (fatigue related messages from muscles and organs) attempting to reach the brain.

Karageorghis , C, 2018. The Power of Sound. Inside Sport Psychology, 01, 202.

People tend to run further, swim faster and bike for longer when they listen to music, without even noticing they are doing so. This is a direct result of listening to such music.

In a 2012 review of the existing research in this field, Costas Karageorghis a sports psychologist of Brunel University in London who has studied music’s positive influence on athletes, wrote that one could think of music as “a type of legal performance-enhancing drug.”

Psychologists began to notice patterns between running music and its effect on runners’ exertion during workout sessions.

For example, if you have ever found yourself running to the beat of the music you are listening to, matching both its tempo and speed, you are experiencing what psychologists call rhythm response. Maybe your feet are tapping to the sound of the song playing in your ears, even now, whilst reading this article. That’s rhythm response, and the same reaction occurs in your body when you’re listening to running music while exercising.

Is rhythm response a thing?


Studies have also shown that when athletes work with music they often work harder for more sustained periods of time.

Two researchers, Judy Edworthy and Hannah Waring from the University of Plymouth, recently produced a study on the effects of music tempo and loudness on performance.

Thirty “physically active” participants were selected for testing using two variables: music tempo and music volume. The participants were tested in five conditions: loud/fast, loud/slow, quiet/fast, quiet/slow, as well as a control group with no music. Each participant ran on a treadmill at a selected pace for 10 minutes.

Following the study, it became clear that both the loudness and tempo boosted the participants’ speed and heart rates. Music that was faster or louder resulted in the subjects selecting a quicker pace on the treadmill. Whilst the participants listening to relaxing, slower and quieter music opted to run at a slower speed.

The popular running website Runners World acknowledges the importance of music while you run. They hold running music in such regard that they’ve dedicated a section of their website specifically to producing a monthly playlist tailored to the kind of running experience a runner might seek.

Whether you are looking for a playlist to beat your personal best, or something to fill the background noise, Runners World will have what you need.

What’s the Most Popular Workout Music?

According to a study of college students, the most popular types of music listened to during exercise are Hip Hop (27.7%), Rock (24%), Pop (20.3%), and Country (12.7%)

Here at OriGym, we enjoy a number of Rock bands when listening to music whilst working out. Apple produced an advertisement when releasing the iPhone 7 to promote its water resistance. They didn’t choose the conventional route of showing their phone in a bowl of water, no. They decided to demonstrate something we do, exercise! They chose an ACDC track very fitting to the weather. If this advert doesn’t make you want to go exercise in the rain, we don’t know what will!


Brain Activity When Running To Music

Below is an example of what is happening to the brain when listening to music, taken from a study by Daniel J Levitin, This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of Human Obsession. As you can see, there is a lot of activity occurring during times where music is playing.

Levitin found that, along with this brain activity, the person listening to music while exercising can run for longer because, as mentioned earlier, the external stimulus blocks out some of the internal stimuli (Fatigue related messages from muscles and organs).

Such studies actually prove that running music has a direct influence on one’s ability to run for longer without feeling the physical exhaustion.


What else fuels our motivation? Emotion

Emotion is an enormous motivator for every human being. One guaranteed way to fuel somebody’s performance and physical output is to target their emotional responses.

Think about it…

Think back to the last time you were struggling to finish that last mile/ kilometer. Now imagine one of your favourite songs, a blast from the past that really means something, hits your ears.

Suddenly, you’re going to feel the need to press on and finish the run off with a flourish. In such moments, music facilitates increased performance by competing for the brain’s conscious attention. The brain and the body then begin to forget about the miles you have already covered, and how long you have been running for, as the music allows your thoughts and concentration to drift elsewhere.


Music is rooted in the primitive brain structures that tie into motivation, reward, and emotion.

Whether it’s the familiar sounds of Rusted Root’s “Send Me on My Way”, or the first few notes of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, the brain naturally has a sense of how to react to the external stimuli.

Neuroscience tells us that the brain synchronises its neural oscillators with the pulse of the music (through cerebellum activation). What this means, in more basic terms, is that the brain begins to predict when the next powerful beat will occur. As a response, your foot begins to tap, your body moves and, you guessed it, you suddenly find you can run further with higher intensity.


Should I listen to music while preparing to compete?

Our honest answer?

Use it in context.

If you only ever listen to running music when you’re preparing for a competition, then it will come as a shock if you are not allowed to listen to one of your beloved playlists when you turn up at the starting line.

That’s right, in some official competitions you are not allowed to listen to music, as some of you may have experienced in the past. Therefore, be sure to check the race guidelines before turning up at the starting line.

We recommend using music occasionally when training as it will allow your brain to become accustomed to running in the absence of external stimuli. This will protect you against regulation changes and technology malfunctions on the day of your big race.

Also, don’t fret too much about having to deal with a lack of music. As any marathon runner will tell you, there are plenty of race day distractions to keep you suitably occupied during your run (think of all the high fives you’re going to give out to the admiring crowds!).



The aid of music decreases the strain that running has on our bodies.

After numerous studies, scientists have found that loud, high tempo music provokes a higher level of response during strenuous activity. Running music offers an escape from fatigue and exhaustion by tricking our mind and body into becoming stronger, faster and braver in pursuit of our fitness goals.

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Written by George Aird

Fitness Professional & Marketer

George Aird is a content writer and marketer with specialist knowledge of health and fitness, online marketing, and start-up businesses. In his spare time, he is a keen climber, and a (reluctant) runner.