Thursday, March 25, 2010

Intervals: The Musical

In the interest of getting more blog comments than I ever have keeping the whole iPod/ no iPod debate alive and kicking, I decided to conduct my own personal experiment with running music yesterday.

Everyone knows the benefits of running to regular music - it reduces the perception of effort, blocks negative messages, enhances mood- all good and important things.

But what I want to know is if it can make me run faster.

That's why I didn't just listen to any old music, but Hella Sound - running music specifically designed to match your stride rate. (Ooooh!!...Ahhhh! Tell me more!!).

According to Hella Sound, most mass-market music clocks in at between 86 and 120 beats per minute (BPM), while stride rates come in between about 135 and 175 strides per minute (SPM). So finding a song that matches your pace is difficult. But Hella Sound offers each song in preset rates (BPM) that will match your running stride per minute. All of their songs are 30 minutes long and contain rhythmic and harmonic structure to help you stay focused during your run.

My translation: Running to music that helps you stay focused on your ideal stride rate can (possibly) make you run faster.
One niggling question; will it work for me?

The Workout:

5 x 2 miles at MP (9:10) with a steady 1/2 mile (9:45) recovery in between. With warm up and cool down, that's 14 miles with 10 of it at MP (average pace of 9:27).

The Music:

I downloaded 2 different songs: What Are You Made Of...? (175 BPM) and As You Wish (180 BPM)


175 BPM seems to be my stride rate. Like a lot of runners, I've timed my stride by counting the times my right foot hits the ground in 1 minute. I often get 90 (180 SPM). I also think I get 90 because I'm aware I'm timing it. That was confirmed by trying to run to 180 BPM. It felt rushed- I was far more comfortable at 175.

I liked the music. Luckily, my favorite song was What Are You Made Of...? Here how this segment is billed: "Sometimes you gotta put it all on the line. What Are You Made Of?!? is 30 minutes of thrash, rock, military cadence, ska and a healthy dose of diabolus in musica. Make no mistake: this is face-punching music. Get out there and show 'em what you're made of."

Most inspirational? 15 minutes in there's a cadence section. It's like Johnny Cash meets Running To Cadence:

Did you think this was gonna be easy?
You are here because this is hard.
If it were easy, everyone could do it.
And you are not like everyone.
The day may come when you can no longer run.
Today is not that day.
You gotta earn your wings.
You gotta, gotta earn your wings.
You ask yourself, "Can I give more?"
Tell me if that answer isn't "Yes".
This right here is what puts the tiger in the cage.
And all it takes is all you've got.
Get hungry now.
What are you made of...?

Faster? Inconclusive. This was a hard workout. There were times I felt the music was forcing me faster, but it was a bad thing. I would suddenly feel too tired, which was discouraging. What I needed was to pay attention to my perceived effort to keep things under control. In the end, I thought I could use the music's motivation at certain times, but overall, paying attention to my body would probably yield a better result.

If I tie iPod debate to barefoot running, my comments will skyrocket!!! The debate over running with music is a lot like the debate over barefoot running. Each side offers convincing arguments, with no real science behind either, and no real way to actually conduct a scientific study. It basically comes down to personal preference.


  1. I listened to MotionTraxx last year, it did the same thing. Music made to maintain a certain SPM...I like the idea of it but I only listen to music on long runs and with that I would want a slower cadence.

  2. I say do what makes you happy. That said, you can probably find science to support either position. Just like with barefoot running.

  3. I agree with Jamoosh, do what makes you happy. It sounds like it was a fun experiment though.

  4. I used to love listening to music while I ran. In my mind I did it because it distracted me from hours of running, pains, breathing hard, boring sidewalk after boring sidewalk, and stresses of life.

    In November 2009 ( I decided to try running without music, and I have not been able to go back. I do not listen so I can be distracted from hours of running, pains, breathing hard, boring sidewalk after boring sidewalk, and stresses of life.

    See the similarity? In both situations I find that my mind is the best thing to do what I felt the music was doing. Also, I can sense that I have slowed much easier without music than with it. (foot steps and breathing alert me sooner that music drowning them out)

  5. Oh, and by the way...I no longer need to be distracted from the hours of running, since it is my distraction from the other things. I don't have pains, and if I do I should stop instead of not paying attention to it. My breathing has never been hard. Sidewalks are still boring, but by lifting my eyes I do not notice them anymore. (there is so much more to see)

  6. Yep, to each his own. I MUST have music. Am I tuned in to it the whole time, no - many times, I am lost in my thoughts and block out all of the tunes, but I love it when I need it, or when I don't have much to ponder.

  7. Research can usually be found to back up both sides of *almost* any I agree, let's go with personnal preference. I'm enjoying running outdoors without the ipod these days...but, if I'm at the gym, on the treadmill, I like to have my music. :)

  8. I do not run with music outside because I am too much of a flipping control freak:) I do listen to music when I am running on the treadmill:) I can totally see how music can help to keep pace or make you go faster. When I run on the mill I usually listen to ACDC and Poison:) I am a child of the eighties!!

  9. Just look at all those comments:)

    I would urge you to move toward the "uncomfortable" stride rate. Given the same stride length you have no choice but to be faster.

  10. Music is pretty essential to me during most runs. I don't use any during races 13.1 or less, but it's cranking away during every training run for sure!

  11. I have two of these tracks and I LOVE them. But, I do think that it gives me a bit of an unfair advantage - which I suppose is the point of having them in the first place!

    If anything, it makes you conscious of what your body is doing which can only be a good thing.

  12. Wow, thanks for the write-up! I'm really glad you dug the music.
    It's funny, but since the music helps you stay on a specific cadence, you *may* feel like you're pushing it too hard if your cadence drops off during your run. One of the main ideas behind the concept was having a musical "assistant" to keep you on cadence. I'd happily send you a gift cert to download a 170BPM version of the song (or even 165BPM for long slow or recovery runs) if ya like—just hit me up! My email is remarkably similar to my name up there—john at hellasound (dotcom).
    Thanks again!