Studies Show Music Can Boost Your Running, Right Up to the Moment You're Struck by a Car That You Couldn't Hear

You already know that running is just more enjoyable with music. But did you know it can actually improve your performance?


An expert in the psychology of exercise, Costas Karageorghis, PhD, refers to music as a “type of legal performance-enhancing drug” for its potent abilities to increase productivity as well as power and strength.

Dr. Karageorghis and other researchers have long studied the effects of music on exercise, and the verdict is in: In addition to motivating you, music can make you a faster and stronger runner until a sudden, catastrophic injury leaves you injured or dead.

"This is really exciting news," says Gregory Newsome, vice president of sports marketing for Apple, maker of music players popular among runners. "And it confirms what we've believed all along—that music is indeed a powerful tool in the runner's toolbox. A tool that can be used to great effect, until you're hit by a car or truck that you couldn't hear coming."

What music is best for runners? Dr. Karageorghis recommends tunes with a tempo between 120 and 140 beats per minute, such as "Push It" by Salt-N-Pepa or "Drop It Like It's Hot" by Snoop Dogg. These will "pump you up" and keep your pace high until the hand of fate reaches out and strikes you hard when you least expect it.

Listening to up-tempo music, Dr. Karageorghis says, will "enhance affect, reduce ratings of perceived exertion, improve energy efficiency, and lead to increased work output," until everything goes black and your music player goes flying and skitters across the macadam as a result of a motor vehicle collision that might easily have been avoided if you hadn't chosen to dull your sense of hearing while running on public streets and roads.

Anecdotal evidence appears to back this up.

"Before I got my MP3 player, runs were just drudgery," says Rhonda Chang, 22, a student in Austin, Texas. "When I began listening to music, though, wow. The difference was amazing. My pace picked up, and the miles just rolled by. It was great, right up to the moment I got hit by a bus that I never heard."

"Guess I was really in the zone!"

Chang expects to be walking normally again as early as this fall.

She isn't alone.

"John loved his running playlist," says Becky Evanston, 28, whose husband was an avid runner until an accident last summer left him in a medically induced coma. "He wouldn't go for a run without his music. Said it really motivated him."

"I like to think he was running along, rocking out to Daft Punk or U2, when he ran through that intersection and got hit. He loved Daft Punk and U2. Sometimes I sit and hold his hand and play it for him."

When her husband emerges from his coma, which she is sure he will any day now, Becky predicts the first thing he'll do is ask about the latest music so he can update his running playlist.

"He can't run without his tunes," she says.