Jun 01, 2017

The Science of Performance-Enhancing Running Music

“The tempo of the music you choose while running should match the intensity of the workout you’re about to embrace.”

There’s nothing quite like walking out your front door, popping in your favorite running headphones, and turning on your trusty running music to get you fired up.
Without even taking that first step, your blood is already pumping faster, your energy levels are rising, and you can literally feel the stress of your day melting away.
With more than 50,000 people around the world now training better with SoundWhiz, we explain the science behind how music can boost your training, and even help you on race day.  You’ll never need to fear heartbreak hill!

We’ve all experienced this at one point or another: that feeling we get when the perfect running music comes on, making us run a little faster, push a little harder, or simply eek out a smile when our muscles are burning. However, most of us put very little thought, if any, into why this happens.

Fortunately, behavioural scientists have studied this phenomenon exhaustively, and they know what most of us only suspect: music is scientifically proven to enhance our athletic performance.

Music and movement are inextricably linked. Some theorize that it dates back to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, who first created music through physical movement such as clapping, singing, and drumming.

Despite how far we’ve evolved, our minds still react in the same physical and often uncontrollable ways to music and rhythm. This explains why music can be so effective at enhancing and improving our workouts.

Having attended CES 2017 there is no question that there is strong focus on the music and performance, the mind boggles on what’s next as brands introduce exciting tech to further enhance and optimise our own reality and super human performance.

But what type of music has the greatest impact on our physical performance? And why?

What does science tell us about the makings of the perfect workout playlist?

running music


The tempo of the music you choose for your workout has a crucial effect on your body. In fact, researchers at the University of Virginia found that music can actually increase or decrease your heart beat, depending on its speed.

That’s because, as the researchers discovered, your body almost involuntarily adjusts to the beats per minute (BPM) of the music you listen to. The tempo of the music you choose while working out, in other words, should match the intensity of the workout you’re about to embrace.

Faster tempo, for example, is generally associated with feelings of vigor. As a result, workouts focused on cardio are most effective when paired with music that centers around 160 BPM. On the other hand, slower, more endurance-based activities pair best with a natural rhythm between 120 and 140 BPM.

Of course, estimating the exact tempo of your favorite songs can be difficult. That’s why a number of music workout apps have recently gained popularity, automatically matching the music playing in your Bluetooth running headphones to the pace of your workout.

If you want to go faster, the songs in your playlist will automatically match your tempo.


Your body’s response to music isn’t just limited to changes in heart rate. We’ve all been in situations when our favorite song comes on, and we almost involuntarily begin tapping our toes, drumming on our legs, or singing along.

This type of bodily response, as we mentioned before, harkens back to our ancestors. As Scientific American points out:

“The human brain may have evolved with the expectation that, wherever there is music, there is movement. In its conception, music was likely an extension of the human body. Maybe the brain remembers it that way.”

A 2010 study found that even if you’re sitting perfectly still, “listening to enjoyable music increases electrical activity in various regions of the brain important for coordinating movements.”

Synchronizing the songs you listen to with the speed of your workout, in other words, means you no longer have to self-monitor the tempo.

Instead, your body automatically picks up on it, helping you preserve energy that can then be redirected into higher performance.



Of course, the impact of music on your workout performance goes beyond direct body responses.

Listening to familiar songs can also distract you from the exertion of cardio and other exercises, helping extend your workouts as a result.

Research strongly links music with memory. The result, as neuroscientist Jessica Gahn pointed out to PBS Newshour, is that “recalling those memories can help people work out more effectively by distracting the listener from the pain of the activity.”

In addition, positive, happy, and upbeat music naturally makes us feel more positive, happy, and upbeat.

Meanwhile, motivational and empowering songs help create positive self talk. Both improve our performance by distracting from the negative feelings typically associated with strenuous workouts.

Our brains function quite linearly. Mixed feelings are difficult to achieve in reality, as we tend to feel either positively or negatively at any one point in time.

By pushing toward a positive mindset, and using nostalgia to amplify those feelings, music competes with (and tends to win out against) the more negative physiological feedback that the fatigue of exercise provides our brains.

The result, typically, is increased athletic performance. Put simply, you can more easily run that final mile or complete those last 10 sit-ups if your mind is focused on something other than burning muscles or physical exhaustion.


Music has a scientifically proven impact on your workout. Simply plugging in headphones and choosing the right type of music can significantly enhance your performance.

At SoundWhiz, we got our start in the wireless running headphones space because of our passion for sharing the power of music through high-quality, personal audio technology.

Finding the right music is crucial. Matching the tempo, rhythmic response, and general emotional theme with your intended workout routine can make a powerful difference.

If you’re training for the City To Surf this winter, the Gold Coast Marathon, or any other personal fitness challenge, use SoundWhiz headphones to help reach your goals!

We’re proudly supporting all runners in this year’s City To Surf with a 15% off discount.  Click the link below to find out more.






Tags in

One Comment

  1. Pingback: Does music make you run faster? > Run Theory

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *