Music makes you run faster

Music Makes You Run Faster

If you heard this while running, would you go faster?

According to the latest research, music makes you run faster, at least for a short distance. And that’s not all. Music might help you recover from your workout as well.

It may seem obvious to everyone who clamps on headphones that music adds zip to exercise. But how? And why?

To answer some of these questions, researchers from Spain and Brazil asked 15 long-distance runners to select music that motivated them.

The researchers sorted the music music into fast and slow tracks. Then they measured the runners’ speeds as the runners listened to the different songs.

The runners ran for 12 and a half laps around a track, for a total of five kilometers.  For the first 800 meters, the runners listening to music went faster than runners with no music.

After that, their speed evened out. At the end of the run, the difference between the runners with music and those without was not statistically significant. So the music boost is apparently more useful in a sprint than a marathon.

Next question: If music makes you run faster, shouldn’t the fastest music make you run the fastest? Surprisingly, not in this study. Fast and slow music had more or less the same effects.

Runners’ Speeds With and Without Music

Seconds to complete first Lap (400 Meters) Seconds to Complete Second Lap (400 Meters) Seconds to Complete 5 Kilometers
No Music 115.26 125.46 1639
Slow Music 101.33 115.25 1560
Fast Music 102.53 118.60 1565

How Music Makes You Run Faster

I asked one of the researchers, Marcelo Bigliassi, why this might be. He said the tempo of the music is only one factor that gets people charged up. “For example, Eminem is a very famous singer, who has songs considered as motivational by many runners,” he told me in an email. “In general, Eminem’s songs are very slow in terms of beats per minute; however, it doesn’t mean it’s not motivational.”

Here is Eminem’s “Not Afraid”:

Of course Eminem has a lot to say. But lyrics aren’t necessarily the key either, said Bigliassi. “When you listen to the 300 Violin Orchestra (Jorge Quintero) with no lyrics, you can easily feel the unbelievable power of the motivational music.” That’s the song at the beginning of this article.

Runners might run in time to the music. But even if they don’t, as they apparently didn’t in this study, the music can distract them from the discomfort of running, Bigliassi said.

The researchers used electrodes to measure the effects of the music and found that it activated pleasure centers in the runners’ brains. After they’ve been running for a while, though, the runners probably began to notice their exertion again so the music no longer made them faster, Bigliassi said.

After the runners finished the five kilometers, the researchers sometimes played calm music for them. They measured the runners’ heart rate variability. As I wrote a few weeks ago, this is a measure of how well a person is recovering after exercise. When they listened to the calm music, the runners seemed to go into recovery mode faster.

With that thought in mind, here’s some relaxing music to help you recover from your next workout, “Weightless” by Marconi Union, which reportedly has been tested against many others and found more soothing:

The featured photo on this page shows Anastasios Karnezis of San Diego, California, wearing headphones as he runs in the Sprint Triathlon. Photo by Chris Hunkeler

If you liked this article, make sure you don’t miss the next one. Subscribe to our weekly newsletter. (We won’t share your information with anyone, and you can easily unsubscribe later.)