Should You Listen to Music While Running?

Argument #1: No. The sound of your feet hitting the ground should be all the music you need.

By Scott Martin

My first year as a runner, I never left the house without my iPhone and my headphones. If you happened to be on the trail at the same time I was, you probably heard me rapping along with Eminem. Music, back then, was a huge part of running for me.

So what changed? Why am I here, debating about why you should not run with headphones? Because I tried running without them and I loved it.

Running without music blasting in my ears has given me a whole new appreciation for the sport. I’m much more in tune with my body now. I pay attention to my breathing and the way my feet hit the pavement. I can focus on my effort level and my surroundings, rather than the song that’s playing in my ears. And, if I’m running with a friend, we can chat without having to shout at each other.

Oh, and I have a much better chance of hearing that car barrelling down on me, or that dog chasing after me when I leave the headphones at home. I try to be safe when I run – I run against traffic and try to wear some bright colours – but my safety is not a driver’s first priority and there are some dogs that just want to bite me. If I can hear a car behind me, at least I’ll have a chance to get out of the way and if I hear that dog chasing me, I might be able to protect myself. On the other hand, if Eminem is cursing in my ears full blast, I don’t stand a chance.

So, while I once loved running with my music, I love running without it even more.


Argument #2: Yes. Pump up the jams (just do it safely).

By Caitlin Giddings

This one goes out to all the beginners – all the brand new, struggling runners who never would have made it to the second lap if not for the sweet sound of Jay-Z thumping through their headphones – the only distraction from the searing pain pinballing back and forth between legs and lungs.

There is no reason you should feel shame for wearing headphones.

Yes, many of us came to running in search of time alone with our bodies and minds, and the chance for a quiet hour or two in which to reflect. Certainly those types of runs should be honored and enjoyed – sans technology – on a regular basis, as needed.

But what about the filler runs? Those heavy-legged training runs when you have to force yourself out into the rain? Studies have shown that external stimuli, such as music, can block out some of your fatigue and spur you to longer distances and faster kilometres, reducing your perception of your body’s limits. Just try waiting until the last 10 kilometres of a marathon to kick on your playlist of pump-up jams, and tell me you didn’t get the mother of all second winds.

“But what about safety?” my opponent will likely counter, “What about all those hapless, headphoned runners who risk stumbling onto train tracks, wandering into traffic, or just missing the polite warnings of a fellow runner barrelling past?”

With great audio power comes great volume-control responsibility, which is why so many of us drop an earbud, limit our use to trails and treadmills, or use ear clips that don’t block ambient sound. An MP3 player is just another tool in your training kit, to be used with caution, accountability and moderation.

To be honest, I never would have started running at all without music, and though I only use it for around 30 per cent of my runs now, it hasn’t hampered my ability to connect with my body or achieve a “flow state.” It elevates my mood, helps me change up my paces, and gives me a needed burst of power late in a race. Sure, I enjoy plenty of my runs with the company of friends or my own thoughts. But if you see me tearing across the finish line like I’m the star of an action movie, imbued with the power of endorphins and 1000 guitar riffs, you better believe I’m doing it with a soundtrack.

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