Whether you’re a Pavarotti plodder, a Prodigy pacer or a runner soaking up the sounds around you, everyone has a view on whether to run with music. Here we have a look at the different ways it can help, or hinder, your running and offer you the best running tracks for free as voted by runners.

A Runner's World (Best magazine 2014 and 2015) survey of 3,523 runners revealed that 75% of runners were "for running with music". One of the reasons many of these ‘disassociators’ use music is that it can distract the brain from pain. This is as it stimulates areas of the brain that weren’t being stimulated before, taking some of the focus off the fatigue. They also find it an effective motivator for when this tiredness sets in, just ask Rocky.

Purists (also known as associators) instead choose to fully focus on their own body and movement, helping them to maintain their correct form, speed and race or training plan. They point out that most official records are broken without music which, although true, may be less to do with this focus than the fact many rules state competitors can’t listen to music. This is often due to safety, which we’ll go into later.

However, one interesting experiment demonstrated that the benefits of music can be physiological as well as mental. Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine found that blood vessel diameter increased on average 26% when listening to joyful music, but in fact narrowed by 6% when listening to music that makes the individual anxious. This improved dilation helps blood flow and therefor performance.

It’s not just blood flow that can be improved by music but also oxygen consumption, again this does depend on the type of music and this time it’s determined by the tempo. A 2012 study on cyclists found that those listening to music in sync with their pedal rotations in fact needed less oxygen (to varying degrees) at the same heart rate as those listening to faster music that was out of sync with their action. Those listening to music with a tempo slower than their own were slower still. This is in cycling but there will inevitably be a cross over, for the full results of the experiment click here. This could be as it helps the cyclist be more efficient as they are more consistent which in fact agrees with the associators’ argument of focus to achieve best results.

Those that run without music praise the benefits of the endorphin release on their performance (often referred to as the ‘runner’s high’), again reducing pain and fatigue whilst providing the much needed energy boost. Though there are many studies that show music can cause a similar release of endorphins, these studies all seem to differ as to what extent. It leaves questions such as does the release from music and exercise get combined or is there only a set level of endorphins released that can be reached?

I agree with many runners’ concerns for safety when listening to music and running outside. It of course makes sense on many busy races that take place on the road, or treacherous areas where they may not hear a warning to not impair one of your senses. However, with all the technology we now have, from bone conductive headphones and safety apps to high visibility designed running clothing, these dangers are being reduced. For lists of the top 12 products such as these headphones and clothing, click here, and browse by category.

This evidence would suggest that music can help some runners both physically and mentally, however joyful music with a rhythm similar to that of the runner’s will be best. This is not the case for all and also not always the safest option, many find focusing on the run improves their performance more than any music can, so it is really for every runner to find what suits their individual needs.

Perhaps having the best of both worlds, as Paula Radcliffe stated, is the best way forward, “[I listen to music] in the gym, but never outside. I prefer to be in tune with my surroundings and to be aware of things. I like listening to my footstrike and my breathing. It can be quite soothing.”

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