The Perfect Playlist - It's Not What You Think

If my Twitter feed is anything to go by, it seems like everyone is listening to music when they run.  And because of this, a myriad of daily blog posts are published regarding what should be on your playlist, what's on so-and-so's playlist, requests for new music for playlists, etc.  So as I scroll through Twitter, Bloglovin', or Facebook, I wonder why I'm the odd man out - ever since I started training for my first half marathon last January, I've given up listening to music when I run (for the most part).  Even during the Florida Keys Ragnar, I never listened to music on a single leg.

So if music helps you run - why doesn't it help me?  It would seem popular sources support the use of music during exercise.  Take two minutes and watch the video below:

So what should go on your running playlist for best performance?
The answer: maybe nothing.

Here's the low-down on the benefits of listing to music during exercise:

Music helps performance when: 
Two different studies have shown that listening to synchronous music can benefit you in several different ways.  In elite triathletes running 4-minute intervals, running with music resulted in less oxygen consumption and also in a lower RPE (rate of perceived exertion).  Both "motivational" and "neutral" music had this effect, so this study suggests it might not matter what type of music you're listening to but, rather, that the beats per minute (BPM) match your stride (Terry et al., 2012).  The second study showed that people (non-elite athletes) run faster in a 400-meter dash when listening to either motivational or neutral music versus a no-music condition (Simpson & Karageorghis, 2006).

Music isn't really all that beneficial when: 
In one study, listening to music early on in a run was reported to help runners sustain their efforts.  However, from the middle to the end of the run, most runners said they weren't really paying attention to the music.  The music, counter to what we might believe, did not extend the length of time people were able to run, lower their RPE, or lower their heart rate (Tenenbaum et al., 2004). Even in cycling, bikers don't go any farther when listening to preferred music versus no music - interestingly, listening to non-preferred music decreased the distance cycled (Nakamura et al., 2010).

So what's the deal? It turns out that after exercising for a while or at high intensities, we are so focused on dissociative thoughts (see my earlier blog post about this here), that music can't really distract us enough to be helpful.

So should you run with music or not?  Above, I mentioned that synchronous music can be great if you're doing intervals.  If you have a ton of music but you're not sure if it matches your cadence, you can download free programs that tell you the BPM of all your songs (for example, BPM Counter).  In addition, a study investigating how different types of music affect treadmill endurance showed that "soft, slow, easy-listening popular music" during moderate effort lowers RPE and extends time to exhaustion.  Meanwhile, "loud, fast, exciting popular music" did not show these benefits (Tenenbaum et al., 2004).

So if your playlist for your Saturday long run looks a little like this:
Consider something more along these lines:

Do you listen to music when you run? What's your favorite song right now?  

If you've blogged about your playlist(s), leave your blog URL in the comments!