Sunday, October 12, 2008

Does Listening to Music Give a 15% Performance Gain?

UK-based sports pyschologist Costas Karageorghis says that listening to music while running may not only improve their outlook on exercise, but even improve endurance levels by more than 15 percent. He is about to publish his findings in the US Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, detailing how he found that when listening to tracks from Madonna to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, most runners found the exercise more pleasurable than usual, even those on the verge of collapsing on the treadmill. In general, they ran further and for longer.

"Think of music as a legal drug," Karageorghis explains, "It reduces the perception of effort by blocking fatigue-related messages to the brain. It elevates positive aspects of mood, like vigour and excitement, and reduces negative aspects, like depression, and this creates the right sporting mindset."

Writer/runner Claire Soares has a good article about meeting the author, and even running in one of his races. Check it out here.

I know I like to get my tunes on during those long runs. Right now "Thunderstruck" from AC/DC is my #1 tune for the week. Perhaps it's because the beats per minute is fairly close to my heart rate, as Karageorghis suggests.

- SD


  1. I am a 1000% about the music and I added Icky Thump to my repertoire after one of your blog entries. I am adamantly against against the rule of No Nanos/Ipods,etc. and the results of this study is not surprising at all. I don't know, you may be tongue in cheek about this but I am very serious about listening to my music while running. Granted I am not near the upper elevations altitude or mileage while of your runs.....Without any study I would give a whole hearted ....Of Course!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  2. I certainly get a benefit from listening to music. It helps me with my motivation and gives me that extra oomph, like caffeine in my energy gel. If I had to choose between a pacer or music I would choose the latter. However I can see it not working for everyone. There are just those folks who don't like music while they run and find it distracting.

  3. Ha! This is great. I did a rim to rim in the Grand Canyon yesterday from the south to north. I bonked with 1.5 miles to the top and had an additional 1.5 to the lodge. I didn't have an iPod or anything like that but when I started whistling the original theme song to the game Zelda, I suddenly felt great.

    Of course, this brings up the subject of having a song stuck in your head. Depending on the song, this can be good or bad. I ran a 50k in 2007 and had Irreplaceable by Beyonce in my head much of the way...while that didn't hurt me, I certainly don't think it helped!

  4. Hi Scott and all. Whilst I agree that the music is going to give you a crutch don't you think you miss a lot of info only your ears provide. I give you as examples the sound of your breathing, the sound of your feet as they cover the ground; these too alone give such feedback to negate having inteference hinder their reception? To go elsewhere, don't you think the lack of warning from your surroundings is willfully dangerous and disrespectful of others? I'm not offering another church here; I know how good music makes you feel, I do believe you miss out on 50% benefit to gain 15.
    Happy Trails.


  5. Johnny, I'm with you. I feel no greater boost than to hear nature around me. Plus I find for trail running the act of "running quiet" (make as little noise as possible) is an important way to train. When I train too much with the iPod, I find my steps getting heavy and I'm not moving across the landscape as efficiently as without the tunes.

    Most of the research above is done on treadmills, where I could see the music being helpful. That's where I do most of my listening too (plus the occasional Netflix movie). But on those 100k+ races, sometimes I reach for a little help on the long, lonely stretches too.


  6. i would lie to be one of those trail runners who prefers to run without music, and would have imagined myself to be that runner, prior to actually becoming a runner:-)as a hiker/camper, i always loved the quiet, and i am trying to run more often, even if only for brief periods of time, without music. however, i have found that when running anywhere, i am able to perform better, as in run harder and longer~ while feeling better~ if i have music with me. also, i find i am always changing the music based on the type of run, my mood, my training goals, etc. it'll be interesting to follow this research. thanks for sharing this!

  7. as long as i can't hear when i pass by

  8. My own experience are 100% in line with the study. Good music gives a noticeable power boost.

    For endurance running music has several benefits
    a) increase/maintain cadence (Red Chili Peppers, Bad Religion)
    b) pure enjoyment of listening to good music (Moby, Depeche M, Clapton)
    c) distraction on longer runs (especially audio books are nice)

    For some strange reason, I especially enjoy somewhat eerie music during the night section of ultra runs - such as soundtracks from X-files, Twin Peaks, American Beauty, or NIN.

    Rules against ipods on ultra runs are stupid and I stay away from such races.


  9. Interesting, Scott. To me it seems similar to the debate about listening to music while studying. Some people may get a concentration boost from it, to me it only brings distraction. I would think personal disposition about how music "plays" for someone should be a big parameter of the study.

    Similarly, my guts feelings tell me that some people get a boost from being alone and not benefit from pacers. Ah, the mystery of the mind... Big enough to fuel many more scientific studies!

    BTW, aren't music players forbidden in USAT&F competitions?

    Farther Faster

  10. I definetely can feel an rush depending on the songs that are playing. Sometimes I don't use it so I want feel like I have to have it to keeep going.

  11. Sounds like an interesting candidate for a research study at WS100 in 2009... (sponsored by Apple :-))

  12. I rarely wear my iPod during training, but at mile 33 of a 50 mile race putting those headphones on works like (I would imagine) a needleful of speed would feel. I feel kind of guilty like I'm using a performance enhancing drug.

  13. It doesn't take a rocket scientist (or an exercise physiologist) to realize that music can help improve performance. However, it is a bit silly to quantify the improvement as people react differently to different stimuli. What induces a 15% improvement in one person could actually detract from performance in another. At any rate, I never really got into the whole music thing, but maybe I should as my performances have been on a downhill slope for a long time!!!!
    Great blog by the way!

  14. one more thing. I'm having trouble subscribing to this blog. What is the best way to do so? Thanks.

  15. Heather -

    Thanks for stopping by! I've tried to set up a bunch of links to the right called "syndication links". Hopefully your preferred blog browser is in there.

    Thx, SD

  16. I don't think I would ever get a work out in if it weren't for music. I like running to the tempo of the music. Helps with intervals.

  17. For me it's just my breathing and footfalls. Occasionally I get a song stuck in my head though. At the Traveller this year, I endured 16 miles of the Chicken Dance. It did get me through the night though.

  18. I like Around the Bend by CCR because it givs me a good beat to which to pace my leg speed.

    Anyway, I am new to trail running and am wondering: when going up a hill, is it better to take short steps on your toes like going up stairs or try to adjust to the grade and get on the balls of your feet as best you can? Thanks.

  19. When I'm not running and hear some great tracks, I day dream about running through the woods or in a race and tearing it up in time. But when I get out of the house, I have a really hard time dressing up in my electronics for an outing. My runs ground me, connect me to the earth, nature. Music is part of life too, but the man made style doesn't do it for me when I'm in motion.

  20. I don't listen to my iPod when I go out for my training runs. BUT, I do believe that it helps! You got some great feedback/comments on this post, though. I really enjoyed reading them all! :-)

  21. Music and running is the PERFECT combination. I definitely think it is MORE fun to train and race WITH my favorite tunes than to go without. I broke twelve course records last year listening to my favorite race tunes. I stay away from ultras with rules of banning IPODS. I think that SUCKS!! Rip up the trails and RUN like a ROCKSTAR!!

  22. Very interesting! I normally don't listen to music while running but I may have to try it during my next race. Missed opportunity, just did a 12 hour 1 mile loop ultra this past Saturday where I managed 61 miles (new PR). Perhaps I could have done 62 or 63 listening to music! NEXT TIME !!!

  23. As the instigator of the whole USATF rule, or shall I call it the "Karl Rule", I thought I would let those know how the USATF came up with banning headphones from races they call their championships.

    In 2006 I was recognized as the Ultrarunner of the Year, USATF style. They wanted a photo of me to put in their "Fast Forward" magazine. I sent a photo to them. It was one where I was wearing headphones. They declined the photo because of it. At that time they had no rule stating headphones are not allowed in usatf events. I gave them lots of shit for it, because I feel it was the "old school" boys there that didn't want the photo. Two months later the silly rule came into effect, and was even mentioned on the NBC today show. We can all now refer to it as the "Speedgoat, no music rule". The USATF just doesn't get it. It's legit in road races where there is no traffic control, but nowhere else. ONly the RD should put a disclaimer. It's silly. I like the 15% improvemnt, does that mean Kyle Skaggs will run sub 20 at Hardrock if I make him wear headphones?

  24. If it works for you I am all for it. I train with an ipod but always keep it low while up in the mountains. Up here in Alaska there is a safety factor. For example 2 weeks ago I ran into a mom Grizz with cubs 20 feet up on the trail and if I would of been listening to music I could have died. Instead I only suffered a $700 vet bill from when she tore into my dog trying to protect me. I dont see what the problem is with wearing them otherwise. You lower 48 people have it good. Crank it up!!

  25. I tried running with music a while back and I did not enjoy it. I felt that with my water bottle, the watch, the hat, the ipod and the head phones, I was carrying too much stuff. Another reason why I don't want to try it is because when I run I like to silence my brain chatter. People get so bombarded by signs, advertisements, music, TV, noise that it is peaceful and rejuvenating to work out and achieve mental silence. But if your goal is to run fast, and get to the end sooner, well, more power to you!
    Marco Denson

  26. any how if you can make a habit of doing some work outs daily its great

  27. I think your blog is great, and I would like to feature you on the new
    Wellsphere. We feature only the best health bloggers on our WellPages,
    which are special pages that our Health Knowledge Engine crafts to give
    our users answers to their health questions. We would feature you on all
    the pages on topics that our knowledge engine finds are related to your
    blog postings. Because we have over 2 million visitors each month (and we
    are growing rapidly), you would benefit from an expanded audience for
    your writings. If you would like us to feature you, send me an email to

    Cheers, Geoff

  28. Singing, listening to music forms an integral part of many ancient mystical rituals and practices. In many cultures, singing is considered to be the path to spirituality and this can be seen in many practices where the performer enters a trance-like state. These can be seen in many tribal customs, voodoo practices and Sufism.

  29. I'm generally with you Scott -- the sounds of nature and my own body moving through it are key. And I have had some phenomenal wildlife sightings that would have been missed if the rustle of leaves was drowned out by tunes.

    That said, the music does help considerably on long training runs and ultras. I'm not sure if I'm 15% faster/better with tunes, but I do find times when the synergy of the music and the trail make for nearly spiritual, tears-of-euphoria type experiences -- especially in sleep-deprived and glycogen-depleted states!

  30. I also love running with music, but I didn't know, that I should choose the tracks based on my heart rate.
    Thanks for sharing!


I LIVE for comments! Please add your thoughts, let me know you stopped by, etc., and be thoughtful of others. Always best if you sign your name, of course.