For wine connoisseurs, a great meal is only complete when it has been paired with the right beverage.
The same theory can be applied for running with the right tunes.
Your favourite song can get you pumped up and ready to take on anything. It can take you away from the searing pain in your legs, and into a zone of pure motivation, where the beats – or the lyrics- guide you to greater heights.
So instead of just popping on any old tunes when you head out the door, match your music to your run and hit the ground with gusto.
Pair high performance (or long distance) running with fast tempo music
Music doesn’t just make running more enjoyable, it can also help you pound the pavement faster.
That is, if you choose tunes according to their beats per minute (bpm), says strength and conditioning coach Mathieu Bertrand.
It’s all about matching your strides to the beat. Naturally, the higher the number of bpm in a track, the faster you’ll need to run to keep up.
High performance runners aim for a stride turnover of around 180 steps per minute. That equates to approximately 100 metres in 25 seconds, says Bertrand.
“At first, running that many steps per minute will feel funny if it’s not something you’re used to,” he warns.
However, he reassures your body will quickly adapt till it feels like second nature.
That said, you don’t have to aim so high. Especially if you’re a beginner.
Bertrand recommends starting at a pace you’re comfortable with. To figure that out, count your steps for one minute. Repeat that three times, then use the average.
Next, choose your playlist accordingly.
Sites such as Running Music Mix can help, as they sort playlists by bpm. Their lists range from 140bpm all the way through to 180.
Examples of songs at around 180bpm: Eminem, Won’t Back Down (180 bpm); The Monkees, I’m a Believer (181 bpm); The Vapors, Turning Japanese (179 bpm)
Pair interval running with bass
Interval running is all about running fast for short, repeated segments, and mixing that with slower speeds.
The best music to get you pumped for those fast parts are beats loaded with bass.
Such were the findings of research published in Social Psychological and Personality Science in 2014.
For the study, researchers manipulated bass levels in music.
In one experiment, participants reported feeling more powerful when listening to music with higher levels of bass. Those participants also generated more ‘power-related’ words on a word-completion task.
These findings may occur because when people hear songs that evoke have a sense of power, they internalise such feelings and mimic them.
Sports Psychologist Michael Noetel says that listening to songs that make us feel empowered help rev us up. It also helps us narrow our attention. (“Like a spotlight on a stage.”)
This is great for interval running as that narrowed attention can keep us focused on the task at hand (running extra fast when needed), while blocking out other distractions (like pain).
Examples (as listed in Top Ten reviews): Usher, Yeah; Black Eyed Peas, Boom Boom Pow; Linkin Park, Papercut
Pair recovery running with melodic, non-lyric based music
You’ve just done a huge run yesterday, so you want to take it easy today. Enter the recovery run.
A recovery run is shorter than normal, performed at a relatively easy pace and is often done after a more tiring run. It’s there to do as its name suggests – help you recover.
You may wish to pair this type of run with chilled beats because listening such music can lower your heart rate along with concentrations of the stress hormone, cortisol. These were the findings of research performed in June 2016 and published in Deutsches Ärzteblatt International.
The study split participants into groups. Those who listened to music showed greater signs of relaxation than those who sat in silence.
Yoga teacher Anne Noonan says any music with a “gentle rhythmic beat” can help bring your nervous system into a “calm, relaxed state”.
So pairing a gentle run with music that also lowers your heart rate and stress hormone levels can give your body that extra rejuvenating boost.
Examples: Instrumental music; soft ‘spa type’ music; classical music
Pair competitive running with familiar ‘victory’ music
You’re about to run a marathon and you need to get all fired up to smash your goals. The key now is ‘victory’ music.
This is because listening to songs associated with winning can inspire you to work even harder to achieve your goals.
Such is the theory behind the ‘conditioning hypothesis’ which shows that, because we’re conditioned to think of winning when we hear such tunes, we’re more likely to want to succeed in our own goals.
This hypothesis was put to the test as part of the aforementioned 2014 research, published in Social Psychological and Personality Science.
The researchers sorted music into ‘high power’ choices (such as, ‘We are the Champions’) and ‘low power’ ones (‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’).
The researchers then put participants through a series of experiments. They found that ‘high power’ songs evoked an increased desire to move first in competitive interactions, among other positive findings.
(‘Who Let the Dogs Out?’ didn’t have the same effect.)
Such results weren’t due to lyrics, either. The researchers noted that participants didn’t feel more motivated after reading the words to the song, only after hearing the actual tunes.
Noetel isn’t surprised by these findings. He says that music is a “trigger” which makes you think about other things associated with the cue.
So when we hear ‘winning’ music, we start thinking about the “spoils of victory” and how great it will feel to complete our goals. This means we’re then spurred on to work even harder to achieve our goals.
Examples (as identified in this research): Queen, We Will Rock You; 2 Unlimited, Get Ready for This; Queen, We are the Champions
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