The Perfect Playlist: How Your iPod Can Help You Run Faster and Harder

From Time Magazine:

Sometimes you need an extra push to hit the pavement or treadmill — or to make it through that last grueling mile of training — and the key may simply be loading right songs on your iPod, according to Dr. Costas Karageorghis, author of Inside Sport Psychology and a leading expert on the psychophysical and ergogenic effects of music at Brunel University, in London.

Music has specific motivational qualities that can make you work harder and faster, even when you feel spent. “Music has the propensity to elevate positive aspects of mood such as vigor and excitement, and reduces negative aspects such as tension and fatigue,” says Karageorghis, who has created custom workout soundtracks for several U.S. athletes competing in the London Olympics. ”It reduces perceived effort, and training to a musical beat can enhance endurance.”

Whether you’re a casual runner or training for a distance event (if the latter, first check out our tips on training from last week), the right playlist can optimize your performance. Here are Karageorghis’ guidelines for putting together a runner’s mix that will get you across the finish line:

Select tracks with energizing beats
Synchronizing your strides with an upbeat song can subconsciously increase your effort during a workout. In a 2009 study, Karageorghis and his colleagues found that matching training with music significantly boosted exercise efficiency and endurance. For the study, the researchers compared 30 participants working out on a treadmill — some listened to high-energy rock and pop tunes and some did not. Compared with those who worked out in silence, those who synchronized their pace to the songs’ tempo improved their endurance by 15%.

Jamming to rhythmic songs also lowers your perceived effort, making you think you’re not working as hard as you really are. Upbeat music increases activity in a part of the brain called the ascending reticular activating system, which “psyches” you up when you’re running.

“The optimal tempo range is 120 to 140 beats per minute,” says Karageorghis. “Our research shows this yields the best psychological outcomes.”

By looking up the beats per minute (bpm) of your go-to songs, you can also find the tempo that matches the heart rate you want to achieve during your workout. For example, if you want your heart rate to get to 130 bpm, choose a song whose tempo progressively increases to that beat, Karageorghis says.

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