If you’re only looking for some new tunes try here or here, but I find this stuff extremely interesting and you can use it if anyone makes you feel bad about listening to music while running.

Costas Karageorghis, PhD, from Brunel University has become the most recognized researcher for ergogenic uses of music and its effects on sports psychology. In his book, Inside Sports Psychology, he writes:

“Scientific studies that have examined the effects of synchronizing training activities with music tempo consistently report that synchronous music significantly enhances work rate. In other words, when athletes work in time to music they often work harder for longer”

“A follow-up study examined the effects of upbeat music on treadmill endurance. The subjects started at 75% of their maximal aerobic capacity (VO2 max) and were requested to synchronize their stride rate to a music tempo and then continue exercising until exhaustion. When a motivational music condition was compared to a no-music control, there was a 15% improvement in endurance.” (Karageorghis, p.200)

The magic number of 180 bpm comes from Jack Daniels, PhD, a highly regarded physiologist and elite running coach. In his, Daniels’ Running Formula, he writes:

“One of the first things I teach new runners is some basics about running cadence, or stride rate. Almost all elite distance runners (both men and women) tend to stride at about the same rate: 180 or more steps per minute. This means they’re taking 90 or more steps with each foot each minute, a rate that doesn’t vary much even when they’re not running fast. The main change that occurs as runners go faster is in stride length; the faster they go, the longer the stride becomes, with little change in the rate of leg turnover”

“The stride rate many beginning runners take is quite different from that of elite runners … The main disadvantage of this slower turnover is that the slower you take steps, the longer you spend in the air, and the longer you’re in the air, the higher you displace your body mass and the harder you hit the ground on landing.”

“However, when working with less-experienced runners, running economy can often be improved by converting slow-turnover runners into runners who use a faster rate.” (Daniels, p.93)

“We often talk about getting onto a good running rhythm, and the one you want to get into is one that involves 180 or more steps per minute.” (Daniels, 94)

Daniel Levitan is a neuroscientist and Professor of Psychology who runs the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition, and Expertise at McGill University. He studies and writes about the effects of music on the brain. In his book The World in Six Songs, he writes:

“How does music fit into the pleasure and fitness story? There is no debating that music can induce pleasure, and that those same chemicals help to boost the immune system. But the neurophysiological machinery involve in pleasure is highly complex.” (Levitan, p.91)

“In just the past three or four years, however, an emerging body of evidence is pointing scientists in new directions. There have been only a dozen or so careful, rigorous studies and so I don’t want to overstate the case, but they seem to point to what ancient shamans already knew: music—and particularly joyful music—affects our health in fundamental ways. Listening to, and even more so singing or playing, music can alter brain chemistry associated with well-being, stress reduction, and immune system fortitude. In one study people were simply given singing lessons … Serum concentrations of oxytocin increased significantly. Oxytocin is the hormone released during orgasm that causes us to feel good.” (Levitan, p.98)

“In ancestral time periods, if a lion approached us, we became stressed. Cortisol levels shot up. Our amygdala and basal ganglia set us running … Running uses up glucose and helps us to ‘burn off’ the cortisol our adrenal cortex produces.“ (Levitan, p.100)

“So cortisol suppresses our immune system temporarily, marshaling all the resources it can for the task at hand (or at foot as the case may be). This may well be one of the reasons why we move our feet or snap our fingers when we hear music. To the extent that music activates our action system—motor sequences and our sympathetic nervous system—our hands and feet become the instruments of that activation. Through these movements we burn off excess energy that could otherwise be toxic. In a sort of neurochemical dance, music increases our alertness through modulation of norepinephrine and epinephrine and taps into our motor response system through cortisol production, all the while bolstering our immune system through musical modulation of IgA, serotonin, melatonin, dopamine, adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and endorphin.” (Levitan p.101)

Basically, what Levitan is saying, is that nowadays we experience increases of cortisol from stress that is harder for us to release because it is not caused by lions that we need to run from. The music inspires movement in the form of finger tapping or whatever in order to deal with the cortisol. So, I figure if the music inspires running itself  that’s an even more direct way to burn off the excess toxic energy and reap the benefits of all those pleasurable endorphins!

Read more about the 180 bpm cadence.

Running to Music Disclaimers:

  1. Please do not use noise-cancelling headphones when running outdoors.

  2. Please keep the volume at safe levels for hearing

  3. Please avoid headphone/personal music use during races

  4. There are benefits to running without music as well, so don’t use music as a crutch and do run without it frequently

  5. The treadmill is the ideal environment for running music. Always avoid it in high traffic situations where you need to hear your surroundings.