ST: Music to the ears!

This article was first published in The Sunday Times on 15 July 2018.

#AskMok

  1. I am used to jogging while listening to music. Is this advisable? – Eunice Lai
  2. Is it safe to listen to music while running? – Ernest 
  3. What’s your favorite playlist when you’re running? – Sheryl

Hi Eunice, Ernest and Sheryl, thank you for your question. The short answer to Eunice’s question is: yes, music has a profound effect on many aspects of our lives – including running!

But, of course, your selection of the type of music matters, depending on what you wish to achieve for your workout.

Technique Correction

Music can be used to correct your running technique – when listening to music during activity, our bodies naturally undergo an “auditory-motor synchronization”. This means that the tempo of our movements (in running terms, our cadence) is adjusted to match the tempo of the music.

Cadence is a key technical component in running and refers to the number of steps one takes per minute. Runners who run with an extremely low cadence may be over-striding (taking too large steps), which puts them at an increased risk of injury. Most coaches recommend a running cadence of 170 – 180 steps per minute.

Without audio cues, it may be challenging to increase one’s cadence and maintain such a high step rate, especially if one is running alone. The acoustic stimuli act as an audio cue for our bodies to synchronize our movements with the music tempo. This enables one to consistently correct one’s running cadence in an almost natural manner. Try running off beat and see how frustrated you will get!

Once you have corrected your running cadence, you can then move on to using the music of different tempi to achieve low-, medium-, and high-intensity training.

Performance Enhancement

Music is often said to be a performance enhancer in endurance sports. It improves physical performance by either delaying fatigue or increasing work capacity.  

Numerous research has been done to study the effect of music on runners’ and triathletes’ performances. The result? Listening to motivational music during activity can delay the onset of exhaustion by almost 20%! The positive effect of music on running had already been recognized in the 1990s by the great Haile Gebreselassie. He credited the “Scatman” song for his world records in the 10,000m (track), and even revealed in an interview with The Guardian, “If you watch back some of my world records you can hear Scatman in the background. The rhythm was perfect for running.”

To enhance your physical performance, listen to music with strong, energizing rhythms and uplifting melodies and harmonies. Of course, the rhythm of the music should match your movement patterns, depending on the intensity of your desired activity.

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For Mok Ying Ren who run-commutes along noisy high-traffic routes, listening to music and audiobooks on his noise-canceling headphones helps him to focus and enjoy the run. (Image by ONEATHLETE)

Racing

For safety reasons, race organizers generally discourage participants from listening to music during a race. There is great concern that participants who are listening to music may not be able to hear instructions from the race officials and other runners on the race course.

The International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) considers the use of audio devices as external assistance. Elite runners who are competing for top prizes are therefore prohibited from using any form of the audio device during their race. However, it is common for race organizers to exercise their discretion to exempt non-elite runners from this rule.

Relaxation

If you are looking to relax during your run after a long day at work, listening to your favorite tunes while running will help you to achieve that.

Personally, in addition to my favorite songs playlist, I also listen to audiobooks of different genres while running. I was inspired to do this by my gastroenterologist colleague from the National University Hospital, Dr. Low How Cheng, who listens to book after book on his regular runs. After all, what better way than to kill two birds with one stone?

Moreover, my current wireless earbuds, (runONE editor’s note: the SONY WF-SP700N), carry secure fit and noise-canceling capabilities which I have found to enhance my listening experience while I listen to audiobooks during my commute (running along roads with heavy traffic) en route home. It can also boost ambient noise, helping with situational awareness when required, such as when crossing roads and manoeuvering through areas of high human traffic. In that sense, you can utilize the latest audio technologies, to focus, to relax and enhance your running experience.  

All in all, music is a great tool for training. Select your music (and your earpieces) wisely and it can help you to achieve your running objectives. Being on the right ‘track’ has a different meaning now!


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