Run­ning Tracks

How pick­ing the right playlist can make speed­work feel more plea­sur­able

Runner's World (UK) - - IN THIS ISSUE -

The best sounds for ev­ery ses­sion (Born to Run is not al­ways the best choice)

ANY­ONE SEEK­ING to run faster needs to do high-in­ten­sity interval ses­sions as part of their rou­tine. Th­ese work­outs re­quire you to get out of your com­fort zone and work closer to your lim­its, which leads some run­ners to avoid the un­pleas­ant­ness al­to­gether. But new re­search sug­gests that us­ing a be­spoke playlist dur­ing high-in­ten­sity interval ses­sions can help create a more pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence over­all. ‘High-in­ten­sity interval ses­sions [HIIT] usu­ally don’t feel good, but you can counter this by se­lect­ing ap­pro­pri­ate mu­sic dur­ing re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods,’ says lead study au­thor Dr Leighton Jones, lec­turer in Ex­er­cise Psy­chol­ogy at Sh­effield Hal­lam Univer­sity. ‘If you can make HIIT ses­sions more en­joy­able, you’re more likely to keep them go­ing in the fu­ture.’ Here’s how to pick your playlist to do it.


In the study, re­searchers in­ves­ti­gated the psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal ef­fects of mu­sic on 13 well-trained, male, mid­dle-dis­tance run­ners do­ing in­tense interval work­outs.

The ath­letes did three ex­er­cise ses­sions on tread­mills, each con­sist­ing of five five-minute bouts of high-in­ten­sity run­ning, with three-minute re­cov­er­ies in be­tween. Dur­ing the re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods they lis­tened on head­phones to ei­ther plea­sure-en­hanc­ing mu­sic with a slow tempo (55-65 beats per minute), fast tempo (125-135bpm) or no mu­sic, and were mea­sured for a range of psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal mark­ers dur­ing the ex­er­cise and re­cov­ery. The re­searchers found that fast-tempo mu­sic en­hanced the plea­sure ex­pe­ri­enced in all of the re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods, com­pared with slowtempo mu­sic and no mu­sic, thereby mak­ing the train­ing ses­sions feel more tol­er­a­ble.

Jones has this ad­vice: ‘Use fast-tempo tracks (125-135bpm) dur­ing HIIT respite [re­cov­ery] pe­ri­ods as this main­tains arousal lev­els, helps you feel good, and en­sures that you’re ready to go again.’ The fast-tempo songs used in the study are shown in the panel, be­low left.


Jones says mu­sic can also play an im­por­tant role in bridg­ing the tran­si­tion pe­riod from ex­er­cise to non-ex­er­cise. ‘We can use mu­sic to bring us down grad­u­ally,’ he ex­plains. ‘There are psy­cho­log­i­cal and phys­i­o­log­i­cal ben­e­fits, with ev­i­dence sug­gest­ing we can al­ter our breath­ing rate, and sub­se­quently our heart rate, in line with a piece of mu­sic. To help this we need tracks with an ob­vi­ous beat.’

Af­ter an in­tense ses­sion, he rec­om­mends a se­ries of tracks de­scend­ing in tempo – eg from 110bpm to 60bpm. Those tracks should have an ob­vi­ous beat your breath­ing can match. An ex­am­ple of how this might work is shown in the ta­ble be­low.

The mu­sic used dur­ing the re­cov­ery pe­ri­ods of an interval ses­sion (respite mu­sic) should have a dif­fer­ent tempo from that used af­ter the ses­sion.

‘Once your breath­ing rate has dropped (in line with the tempo of the tracks) you can in­tro­duce re­cu­per­a­tive mu­sic, aim­ing to leave you re­freshed. An ob­vi­ous beat is less im­por­tant at this stage, as your breath­ing rate has set­tled down.’

Fi­nally, con­sider how the track makes you feel and se­lect songs that make you feel good.

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