I never, repeat, never, listen to music when running outside. Do not do it, please, ever. Headphones make you oblivious to cars, bicycles, and other potential dangers.
But on a treadmill, I say go for it! The jury is out on whether listening to music actually improves athletic performance, although in this recent study in men, it did. In any event, listening to songs that have a good strong beat (like Rock and Roll) has been shown in several studies, including this one, to improve motivation. Which is always tremendous.
I’ve mentioned in my Scientific/Personal Advice for Treadmill Training that I keep about 50 songs that I especially like in an iTunes library called “Running” and play them in sequence, picking up from where the sequence left off the workout before. I’m always editing the list but I thought it would be nice to go with an entirely different playlist for awhile…a playlist that I originally made as a cassette tape back in the ’80’s; not for running but for an assignment when I was a medical student doing my surgical rotation at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
As a lowly medical student, there’s not much you can do to help in the operating room. You mostly just hold things and try to stay out of the way. So when the physicians asked me if I would make a tape for the operating room that was more lively than their sleepy elevator music tape, I was delighted to help.
This is what I came up with from our record collection (those black disc things now up in our attic).
The tape was a huge hit and looking back, I can see why. I had in there a full four songs by Michael Jackson who I had seen in concert, not once but twice — enough to learn how to moonwalk. The only song that’s missing is my favorite… “Over and Over” by Madonna. I’m thinking that when I made the tape, we hadn’t yet bought “Like A Virgin,” although it was clearly on my mind (hence the title of the tape) and that getting to a music store to buy the album was on my things-to-do-whenever-I-get-a-day-off list.
It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to the tape-turned-playlist and I’m looking forward to playing it tomorrow. Just like I do with my running playlist, I’ll start with “Billie Jean” and see how far I get before finishing my workout. I’ll pick up where I leave off the next day and so on, until, well, we’ll see.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with different types of music. It’s a good bet that the type of music that you normally like listening to will be the music that especially motivates you during a workout. But it’s fun to experiment, because you just never know. There’s something about ’80’s music that especially revs me up when running. That’s just me.