More and more amateur runners find it unthinkable to go about their training without earphones, and for many, the very act of listening to their favourite songs serves as motivation.
However, beginners can make the mistake of overestimating their fitness and straining themselves too much, and music could be to blame.
“The music should not be setting the running pace. The perception of one’s own body should do that,” warns sports health professor Ingo Froboese.
Music should only provide motivation, and you need to recognise warning signs from your body, like exhaustion or over-exertion from fast running.
Further, your favourite song at any given time may not necessarily be the perfect running companion.
In order to improve your performance with the help of music, the tempo of the music needs to match the pace of your running.
So, how do you choose optimal training music? The decisive factor is the number of a song’s beats per minute (bpm), which establish the piece’s tempo and should match your stride rate.
That would provide a background for the natural pace of your movement and can therefore improve the quality of your running.
For an average runner, optimal pace values would be between 140 and 160 bpm approximately. This is the rhythm of songs like A-ha’s Take On Me, Gossip’s Move in the Right Direction and Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger, for example.
People who want to stick to their favourite music while training can use the specialised running playlists offered by streaming services, which will select music from that person’s favourite artists that has an appropriate bpm figure.
Scientific studies show you can improve your running performance by as much as 15% if you use suitable tunes. But you should not always listen to music while training.
Complete silence allows you to be more conscious of your own body; you can focus better on your breathing and estimate more accurately the extent to which you are tired.
Further, your muscles will do more intensive work without a musical backdrop.
However, given that music boosts the fun aspects of exercise, the right approach is simply to mix things up.
“Amateur runners can listen to music on days when they feel only moderately motivated, but on good days they should go for a run in silence,” says Prof Froboese at his college of sport office in Cologne, Germany.