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RUNNING AND MUSIC: FINDING YOUR BPM

If you find running difficult, or want to improve your pace but don't know how, we may just have the thing for you! By syncing your run to music you may find yourself running faster, farther, and with more of a spring in your step. Read on to find out more.


If you’re like us, a run becomes an intimate concert, in obscure surroundings, just for you! But did you know by listening to music you may be improving your performance without even knowing it?

 

How I hear you ask?  Well, like every DJ will tell you, it’s all about beats per minute (BPM), which is the bit of science that measures the song’s pace.

In its natural state, your brain is inclined to sync your footsteps to anything with a repetitive beat… train tracks, the person stomping loudly next to you, and of course music.  Try it!  While listening to a song, try and slow down or speed up the pace.  When you start, you’ll think “that’s easy,” but when you don’t realise it, you’ll notice that you’re back at the pace of the song. 

 

This subliminal synchronisation is the bit that can help you maintain a base pace and help you achieve a PB.  So playing the right songs, at the right pace, through your headphones during a run can help you run more efficiently.

“Humans have a natural predisposition to respond physically and emotionally to music — it is almost as though we are ‘hardwired’ to respond to it,” says sports psychologist Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., author of Applying Music in Exercise and Sport. “Music stimulates the part of the brain responsible for regulating wakefulness (the ascending reticular activating system) which energizes us and makes us want to move” he explains.

Its not just running that Karageorghis’ findings aren’t limited to either.  He found that cyclists who match their cadence to music tempo can reduce oxygen consumption by 7%, as opposed to those who listened to unsynchronized music. “When movement is synchronized to music, the body becomes more energy efficient,” he explains. “And that, in turn, can have a profound effect on endurance.”

Can you hack your brain to improve your speed?

Yes, you can. “Running with music is one of the ways I gradually adapt a runner to a slightly faster cadence,” says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S., founder of Running Strong Professional Coaching in Atlanta.  “However, studies show that if you make changes to your natural cadence greater than 5 percent, you’re likely to feel an increase in perceived exertion and a decrease in running economy.”  This means it will feel harder and take more effort!  Because of this, Hamilton recommends introducing gradual changes — to the order of two to six steps per minute — giving your body time to adapt.

Though there is no single cadence that fits all runners, Karageorghis’ research shows it predominantly benefits those who are doing a low- or moderately-intense run. “At running intensities above 75 percent of aerobic capacity, music is ineffectual at reducing perceived exertion,” he says. “That’s because your brain is flooded with fatigue-related cues and it becomes much harder for it to process the music.”

“Even so, it can still elevate aspects of your mood, such as happiness, and excitement, and that can make the experience much more enjoyable overall“ Karageorghis says.

So what’s the ideal Running BPM?

“For music to have a rousing effect, it needs to be both loud and fast,” Karageorghis says.  Songs that are 120BPM or higher would be a good base, but depending on your running ability/goals, a specific BPM range may suit better.

If you have music to soundtrack your run in the background Karageorghis says “the ideal tempo range is 120 to 125 BPM for a jog and 140 to 145 BPM for an all-out effort. If you’re aiming for synchronicity (to keep your running at a consistent pace, or if you’re trying to increase your cadence as Hamilton mentioned above), then the ideal tempo range is 150 to 180 BPM.”

HOW TO FIND YOUR RUNNING BPM

Firstly you need a treadmill and a buddy. Hamilton suggests:

  1. Run on a treadmill at your normal, easy pace.
  2. Set a stopwatch for 60 seconds, and have a friend count the number of times your right foot strikes the ground.
  3. Take that number and double it (you only counted for one of your two feet, after all). That’s your natural cadence in beats per minute for a normal, easy run. 

Once you’ve got it, it’s time to choose your BPM playlist. Don’t forget this should be to help you out, so guilty pleasures are safe zone here!   We’ve helped you out and on Spotify you can see some Runners Need playlists that will help you on your run.  They’re based at both 120bpm and 140bpm if you want to take it up a notch. Happy running!


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