Intuition vs. Science: Running Beats (#1)

There is an age-old debate about running with music vs. not.  Some runners love it – need it, in fact; while other runners prefer to run music free.  I am one of those who MOSTLY uses music on my runs, mainly as a means to energize me.  I feel that it gives me something to focus on, giving me structure and helping me make sense of a few minutes here and there.  Without music, I tend to search for sounding things to focus on anyway—things like the sound of my breathing or the regular rhythmic “swish” of my arms or snippets of conversations as I run by.


So why am I talking about music?  The hubby and I had to get new phones when we came to Canada.  Along with that, came the joy of transferring our music & running playlists from iPhone to Android.  I transferred ALL the music in the library to my phone – meaning both my running playlist and my hubby’s.  The first few runs I did, I noticed that I just couldn’t get into it…no rhythm, focus, or motivation.  That was when I realized – his running playlist does not fit me, even though it is often what pushes him to break an 8:30 minute pace or go that extra mile.  So I went back through my music library and “weeded out” my songs to their own playlist.  And my next run was comfortable again.


So that is when I started thinking about music – and beats – and motivation.  And I wondered if there was something else going on, scientifically speaking.  While searching around online, I came across THIS site (Jog FM), which categorizes songs by pace and beats per minute (bpm), and it got me thinking…does the body respond better to songs that one resonates with (psychological)…or does the body respond better to songs with a set rhythm (physical)?


I decided to check out a few of my favorites on my current playlist…and was quite surprised by the “slow” pace/bpm they ranked.  I used this playlist during my last half-marathon race (and during training runs!) and finished sub-2 hours!

  • Hold It Against Me – Britney Spears
    • 11:42/mile – 133 BPM
  • Coming Home -Diddy
    • 8:06/mile – 169 BPM ***This was exception #1!***
  • Club Can’t Handle Me – Flo Rida
    • 12:12/mile – 128 BPM
  • Dog Days Are Over -Forence + The Machine
    • 10:00/mile – 150 BPM
  • Teenage Dream – Glee
    • 13:00/mile – 120 BPM
  • I Love It -Icona Pop
    • 12:24/mile – 126 BPM
  • Hey Na Na – KatieHerzig
    • 12:00/mile – 130 BPM
  • Sexy and I Know It -LMFAO
    • 12:00/mile – 130 BPM
  • Danza Kuduro – Don Omar &Lucenzo
    • 7:24/mile – 88 BPM (x2 = run at double pace) ***This was exception #2!***
  • Dashboard – Modest Mouse
    • 11:24/mile – 136 BPM
  • 1901 – Phoenix
    • 10:36/mile – 144 BPM
  • Bon, Bon -Pitbull
    • 12:12/mile – 128 BPM
  • Check Yes, Juliet – We The Kings
    • 8:18/mile – 167 BPM ***This was exception #3!***

Now, let’s take a look at a random selection of songs geared towards my target running pace of 8:30-9:00/mile:

  • The Middle – Jimmy Eat World
    • 8:48/mile – 162 BPM
  • Cross My Heart – Marianas Trench
    • 9:00/mile 80 BPM (x2 = run at double pace)
  • Black & Yellow – Wiz Khalifa
    • 8:36/mile – 164 BPM
  • Sugar We’re Going Down – Fall Out Boy
    • 8:48/mile – 162 BPM
  • La Grange – ZZ Top
    • 8:48/mile – 162 BPM
  • She’s My Kinda Girl -Runner Runner
    • 8:48/mile – 162 BPM
  • Remember Everything – Five Finger Death Punch
    • 8:48/mile – 162 BPM
  • Runaway Baby – Bruno Mars
    • 8:36/mile – 164 BPM
  • Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go – Glee
    • 8:42/Mile – 163 BPM

Not a bad selection…and I can certainly feel the strong beat in many of those.  However, as with any science experiment…I need to test it out!  As I mentioned, I have been using songs from this playlist since my last half marathon (Gulf Coast Half in October 2013!), so I have plenty of runs to choose from; however, I wanted to be fair and use recent runs in my new environment.

Run #1: 2.5 mile outdoor solo run w/Jen’s playlist.  Average Pace: 9:09/mile

Run #2: 3 mile outdoor solo run w/Jen’s playlist.  Average Pace: 8:38/mile

Run #3: 2.5 mile outdoor solo run w/Target BPM playlist.  Average Pace: TBD

Run #4: 3 mile outdoor solo run w/Target BPM playlist.  Average Pace: TBD

Thoughts:  I can’t wait to get back outside again to experiment with my suggested tunes list, but no matter the results, I still feel that a good song can alleviate the boredom of a long training run, take the edge off one’s suffering during a brutal interval session, or add a layer of pure enjoyment to an easy recovery jog. 

Looking for other great songs to add to your playlist?  Check out Chelsea (Masher Runs) and Kris (Canadian Girl Runs).  Leana (Runner Leana) also has an awesome series called Tuesday Tunesday!

What are your GO TO workout songs?  And what do you think about songs vs. motivation??



6 thoughts on “Intuition vs. Science: Running Beats (#1)

  1. I almost always run with music, I can’t stand to hear myself breath when I run. The only time I run without is A) When I’m running with others, B) When I’m running at night (past sunset) or C) first couple of warmer weather runs, it feels refreshing to strip of the layers and music!

    • I also run without music at night. When I’m running with others though, it’s a toss-up. I mainly wait to see if they want to chat…or want to NOT chat during the runs 🙂 If they don’t want to chat, then I usually only put in one earbud.

    • You know….I never ran with music until my “adult” training in 2010. I always used music as a “pump up” motivator BEFORE my runs….but now I honestly do 90% of my runs with music. I wonder what changed? And I wonder if I could go a week straight without music….hmm….

  2. Whoa what a cool post! I don’t run with music but I’ve always wondered how that worked (like is it more important that I like the song or that the beats match my running pace) so I’m interested to see your results! This is like a cool science project!

    • Hello! Thanks for stopping by! I’m SO EXCITED to have an excuse to download some new tunes and try the “experiment.” I have a feeling that one runs just as good with songs that motivate….but maybe I’m biased. LOL.

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