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Lift your spirits and run more efficiently with the right soundtrack – even just a beep, says Elizabeth Hufton

Lift your spirits and run more efficiently with the right soundtrackWhether you like to enjoy the sounds of nature when you’re running, or need a bit of Haddaway to get you through an intervals set, there’s no denying that rhythmic music can be motivating and help with your technique. The link between improved athletic performance and music has been well researched. Now scientists believe that just hearing a rhythmic beep could be enough to help you run more economically.

Numerous studies, most notably by Dr Costas Karageorghis and colleagues at Brunel University, London, have shown that running with music helps improve endurance – by 15%, according to research they published in 2008. A new half-marathon, Run to the Beat, was founded off the back of their findings, with scientifically selected music played along the course to boost runners’ performances.

As dedicated iPod runners will know, much of the benefit derives from the motivational and uplifting qualities of the right music – which, the studies have shown, reduces perceived exertion in runners, helping them feel positive even when exercising at high intensities. But new research underlines the other part of the equation, also explored by the Brunel scientists: the role music plays in helping you keep a good rhythm, and therefore run more economically (using less oxygen for a given pace).

A peer-reviewed study published by the scientific journal Plos One tested three groups of runners on treadmills. One group ran with no sound at all; one with a metronome matching their cadence; and one with motivational music, also matched to their cadence. The runners with no sound performed least well, but interestingly, there was no difference in time to exhaustion when the runners were using the metronome and when they were using the music. However, the motivational effect was greatest with music, so the researchers concluded that motivational music with a “prominent and consistent beat” is the best sound to run with.

In triathlon, of course, racing with earphones is against the rules, but training with music will still make you a better runner. You’ll learn to pace yourself and to run with a faster cadence, and it’ll help you to get through tough sessions that physically prepare you for race conditions. Just don’t forget to try a few sessions without music, too – otherwise race day could feel very, very quiet.


1. Train with music 

Better training equals better racing, so find tunes to listen to that’ll help you keep a fast cadence as well as lifting your spirits.

2. Store ‘power songs’ 

Jog or drive the race route with your ‘power songs’ playing on your iPod. You’ll associate certain points with certain tunes, so they’ll auto-play in your head during the race.

3. Use a metronome  

Potentially irritating for your competitors, but who cares – you’re trying to beat them! Clip-on digital metronomes cost around £30. If you train with a smartphone, you can download a metronome app.