The Sound of Music, or the Sound of Silence: When and Where Runners Should Use Headphones

by Chico M. Koch

Friends, runners, fitness enthusiasts… Lend me your ears. That is, of course, if they aren’t already too busy listening to Fergie belt out your favorite tune while you take out some aggression on the track.
Listening to music while running has become so commonplace, that many people have signature play lists and go-to motivational songs to help get (and stay) pumped. In fact, many music services even have music play lists designed for running or cardio.

But, has all of this tuning in caused people to start tuning out?

While music players have become as necessary as running shoes for some, there are reasons against having Eminem laying down his latest hit in your ears as you run.

Perhaps the most obvious point against running with headphones or ear buds is the ability to hear traffic. This, of course, applies to runners who utilize sidewalks and roadways for their workouts. Being able to hear a car’s horn, or the warning yell of a fellow pedestrian can help save you from injury and, potentially, death. But even runners who frequent less busy areas should consider freeing their ears.

Trail runners, for example, will want to be able to hear any potentially threatening wildlife, as well as an incoming storm. Runners in parks and residential areas will need to hear if a less-than-friendly dog has decided to tag along, or if someone needs to get their attention (be it another pedestrian, a child, a police officer, etc.).

Another less common argument against the use of headphones is the ability to listen to one’s body. Many injuries and discomforts encountered in running can be avoided when adjustments are made to foot turnover rates, stride, and other aspects of your running form. However, one of the key ways to check and adjust these areas is to feel, as well as listen to your footfalls. Pounding the ground too hard can lead to excessive soreness, and even injury. But, if you are too busy rocking out, you may have a hard time telling the difference between your heavy footfalls and the sweet bass line.

Monitoring your breathing can also be easier when your iPod is left at home.

Finally, there is also the fact that many races do not allow the use of headphones or ear buds. Which means that, if all of your training was conducted with the aid of your own personal athletic soundtrack, you might be unpleasantly surprised to learn just how much of your motivation comes from your music when you finish significantly worse on race day than you had intended.

Of course, there are also reasons in favor of musical runs. Many people (myself included) enjoy pairing their runs with a nice play list. Music can help to motivate you, it can distract you from the time, and it can even provide that extra push you need during your last mile.

If you really want to plan your play list extensively, you can even look up the BPM (beats per minute) of your favorite songs and compile them in an order that corresponds with your workout (start off with a slow, steady tune, build up to a solid rock song, then really fire up the pace with an uptempo dance mix).

Previously, I couldn’t imagine running without music; just the thought of it made me feel bored and sluggish. Since then, however, I have become more aware of my body and how I feel when I run. I’ve learned that I appreciate my effort more after I finish a “silent” run, because I was fully aware of every part of me during my workout; I was also the only source of my motivation.

If you are one of those runners who can’t imagine putting on your running shoes without popping in your ear buds as well, then I challenge to break the habit, just for one run.

Whether it is outside, on the track, or on the treadmill (yes, I’ve even done music-less runs on the dreaded ‘mill), try it. Leave your music at home and see how it feels to just listen to your feet, your breath, and your thoughts.

It may not be as entertaining as Lady GaGa, but I promise there is something to it all the same. Who knows, you might just like it!

You may also like