Music is a relaxing running companion

It improves performance by either delaying tiredness or increasing work capacity

For Mok Ying Ren, who run-commutes along noisy high-traffic routes, listening to music and audiobooks on his noise-cancelling headphones helps him to focus and enjoy the run.
For Mok Ying Ren, who run-commutes along noisy high-traffic routes, listening to music and audiobooks on his noise-cancelling headphones helps him to focus and enjoy the run. PHOTO: ONEATHLETE

Hi Eunice, Ernest and Sheryl, thank you for your questions. The short answer to Eunice's question is: Yes, music has a profound effect in many aspects of our lives - including running. But, of course, your selection of music matters, depending on what you want to achieve for your workout.


Music can be used to correct your running technique. When listening to music during activity, our bodies naturally undergo an "auditory-motor synchronisation". This means that the tempo of our movements (in running terms, our cadence) is adjusted to match the music's tempo.

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 steps that are too large), which puts them at 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 audio cues for our bodies to synchronise our movements with the music's 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 get.

  • #AskMok


    I am used to jogging while listening to music. Is this advisable?


    Is it safe to listen to music while running?


    What's your favourite playlist when you're running?

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


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

A lot of 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 per cent.

The positive effect of music on running had already been recognised in the 1990s by Ethiopian great Haile Gebrselassie.

He credited the Scatman song for his world records in the 10,000m (track), and even told 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, energising 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.


For safety reasons, race organisers 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 race officials and other runners on the race course.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (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 audio device during their race. However, it is common for race organisers to exercise their discretion to exempt non-elite runners from this rule.


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

In addition to my playlist of favourite songs, 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?

My wireless earbuds carry secure fit and noise-cancelling capabilities which enhance my listening experience while I listen to audiobooks during my "commute" (running along roads with heavy traffic) home.

It can also boost ambient noise, helping with situational awareness when required, such as when crossing roads and manoeuvring through areas of high human traffic. In that sense, you can utilise the latest audio technologies to focus, relax and enhance your running experience.

Music is a great tool for training. Select your music (and your earpieces) wisely and it can help you to achieve your running objectives.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 15, 2018, with the headline Music is a relaxing running companion. Subscribe