This post provides a summary of why people run with music, why some runners choose to run to 90/180 BPM music, and provides a link to a Spotify playlist with 1400+ running songs in the 90/180 BPM range.
Why Run with Music?
Some people run with music. Some people don’t. I’m in the first camp. I love music! It’s both motivational and can also distract you from that little voice that keeps asking you “Why are you doing this?”, and “Can you please stop now?” And it’s not just me. A simple Google search will bring up many articles and references to research on the benefits of music in exercise. For example:
Syncing beats per minute with an exercise pace increases your efficiency. In a recent study, subjects who cycled in time to music found that they required 7 percent less oxygen to do the same work when compared to music playing in the background. Music can also help block out the little voice in your brain telling you its time to quit. Research shows that this dissociation effect results in a 10 percent reduction in perceived effort during treadmill running at a moderate intensity. – livescience.com
This is something that I learned through experience when I started running about 4 years ago. Music was a necessary component of my beginning runner’s plan. I noticed that the tempo of the music was important to the speed and my enjoyment of the run, so I started researching good music lists, and trying to collect music for running to populate my iPod. This is how my “Giant 180 BPM Running Playlist” was born.
Before we move on to the specifics of this playlist, I’ll remind you that not everyone thinks that running with music is a good thing. I’m not going to go into that debate now, but here’s a Runner’s World article that touches on it: Running With Music. Personally, as long as a runner is taking safety seriously (aware of their surroundings, using only one earbud if necessary, etc.), I don’t think it’s a good idea to discourage anyone from getting out and running with any method that helps them out the door.
Why 180 BPM?
180 BPM is a number that many runners believe is the best cadence or stride-rate. What this means is that your foot strikes the ground 180 times a minute, or a single foot strikes 90 times per minute. I’ve seen the 180 and 90 numbers used nearly interchangeably.
The number originates from Jack Daniels, PhD, run coach and author of Daniel’s Running Formula, who observed that all elite runners run at 180bpm or faster. Now normally this would be advice that I would ignore, since I will never be an elite runner. However, the number 180 (or 90) comes up often in the barefoot/natural running methods meant to perfect your running form, avoid overstriding, and decrease injuries. For example, a fast turn-over or cadence of 90 is listed on the Chi running site as one of the 10 Components of Good Running Technique.
As a beginner, who am I to argue? Like many new runners, I read “Born to Run”, was inspired, and started incorporating some barefoot running techniques into my routine. As a matter of fact, the number 180 also shows up in the Born to Run text:
Then he clipped a small electric metronome to his T-shirt. “What’s this for?” “Set it for one hundred eighty beats a minute, then run to the beat.” “Why?”“Kenyans have superquick foot turnover,” Ken said. “Quick, light leg contractions are more economical than big, forceful ones.”
Mcdougall, Christopher (2009-05-04). Born to Run (Kindle Locations 3768-3774). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
A stride-rate of 90 also shows up in Scott Jurek’s (Ultra-Running Champion) recent book:
The most common mistake runners make is overstriding: taking slow, big steps, reaching far forward with the lead foot and landing on the heel. This means more time on the ground, which means the vulnerable heel hits the ground with more force on landing, creating more impact on the joints. Training at a stride rate of 85 to 90 is the quickest way to correct this problem. Short, light, quick steps will minimize impact force and keep you running longer, safer. It also will make you a more efficient runner. Studies have shown that nearly all elite runners competing at distances between 3,000 meters and marathon distances are running at 85 to 90-plus stride rates.)I used to train runners with a metronome. Nowadays there are plenty of websites that list music by BPM (beats per minute)— try http:// cycle.jog.fm/. Either 90 or 180 BPM songs will do the trick.
Jurek, Scott; Friedman, Steve (2012-06-05). Eat and Run: My Unlikely Journey to Ultramarathon Greatness (pp. 51-52). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.
Look at that! Even Scott Jurek uses music to train runners to run at a cadence of 180 BPM! He notes that you can use either 90 or 180 BPM songs to synchronize your running. If you run with a beat of 90, your other foot will naturally strike in between and you will get 180 strikes per minute.
Use a Beat to Increase Cadence
One way to train yourself to run at a faster stride-rate is to time your steps with a metronome. Another is to use the beat of music. Fortuitously, the New York Time’s Well Blog published an article yesterday that discusses the science behind using music in this way. Here are the applicable highlights:
So when we walk or run, our bodies tend to choose a particular cadence, a combination of step length and step frequency, that allows us to move at any given speed with as little physiological effort as possible….
But the scientists have found one signal that does seem effectively to override the body’s strong pull toward its preferred ways of moving: a strongly rhythmic beat. When Dr. Donelan and his colleagues fitted runners or walkers with headphones tuned to a metronome, they found that they could increase or decrease volunteers’ step frequency, even if that frequency was faster or slower than a person’s preferred step pattern….
In practical terms, this finding suggests that music may be one of the best ways to affect the pace of your running or walking, especially if you are trying to maintain a pace with which you are not familiar or which feels awkward.
– Gretchen Reynolds, Getting into Your Exercise Groove
The article continues by suggesting a gradual transition to a higher stride rate in order to avoid injury, and a phone app that can help in the transition.
The Giant 180 BPM Running Playlist
Because I love music, and get tired of my playlist pretty quickly, I started collecting music in the 180 BPM range early on. Before Spotify, this consisted of an E-music subscription, and constant monitoring of the Amazon free music lists. Post-Spotify, my life has gotten so much easier. If I hear a song that might have the right beat, I check the BPM with a phone app, and add it to the Spotify list on the spot. Sources include radio, jog.fm, top 100 lists, and other people’s playlists.
Songs included in this playlist have been manually checked for BPMs ranging from 175 to 185. I have occasionally thrown in a faster tempo song in the 185-190 range for a bit of variety, if it works as a high energy running song. (Remember, Jack Daniels said 180 or faster….)
The playlist contains all types of music, and not all of it is upbeat and high energy. In some cases there are songs that are more sedate but at the right beat, and seem appropriate for a relaxed long run. There is music here for nearly every mood and taste, but I have to admit it is slightly biased. I am not a huge country fan, so there is probably less country music than there could be. With some exceptions, I don’t include religious/holiday songs or music with extremely misogynistic or violent lyrics.
So, without further delay, here’s the link to a running playlist that currently has more than 1400 songs at the 90/180 BPM tempo:
Click on the play button to start listening to the playlist. You will need Spotify, and if you don’t yet have it, clicking on the playlist above will prompt you to go get Spotify (the basic service is free). If you already have spotify, the link will either prompt you to open the application, or open it for you.
Once you play the list, the entire list of tracks should come up in the Spotify desktop application. If it doesn’t, try the following trick. Close the Spotify application on your computer completely, then click on the link. Most of the time the entire playlist will appear.
How to Use the Playlist
Once you have the playlist, you can either subscribe to the list, or make a copy to store in your own playlist, and then you can edit it from there. Or you can do both. I often use this playlist as the basis for creating shorter playlists with a certain mood (ie. a long slow run, or a quicker tempo run).
For use on your runs, you will need to either purchase a basic Spotify subscription so that you have access to Spotify on your mobile phone, or you will need to decide which songs work for you, purchase them from your MP3 store of choice, and load them to your MP3 player of choice. If you consider the number of songs on this playlist that would be required for purchase, you see that the Spotify subscription is an amazing deal for runners who enjoy music.
On casual runs I often just shuffle the list and skip the ones that I don’t like that particular day. For events that allow music, I sometimes create an edited version with my recent favorites. I highly recommend that you make the list available “offline” on your phone. This downloads the music on the list to your phone and means that if you lose access to the internet, that you still have your music offline.
Any Comments or Suggestions?
I am always updating this playlist, and if you have a song that is missing from the list and you would like to see it added, please leave a comment! Now, go have a great run!