Science has shown that listening to music reduces your perception of effort during a strenuous workout--which explains why you tend to pick up the pace when a good song comes on. It also can be utilized to improve your running cadence, and a well-chosen playlist can give you that extra boost you need to get up and out the door for your long run.
But despite all of the benefits music brings to the table, there are plenty of reasons to leave your tunes behind when you head out on your next run.
You can tune in to your pace and effort.2 of 10
Without music in your ears to muffle the sounds of your footfalls and labored breathing, you are likely to be much more aware of how your body feels and reacts at a certain pace. When you run hard intervals, you can easily register an increase in breathing rate and notice how your arm swing and leg stride might change as you surge and recover.
Being able to tune into your body with no distractions allows you to focus on maintaining a relaxed, smooth stride through the harder efforts, and to be able to calm and deepen your breathing to carry more oxygen to the legs. With that up-tempo playlist blasting in your ears, you might miss the cues from your body that you're pushing an interval too hard—or not hard enough.
You can more easily enter a flow state.3 of 10
If you've been a runner for long enough, you've most likely experienced the feeling of being in the zone during a run or race. Also known as being in "flow," some of sports' best performances happen in this state. In flow, your mind is locked on the task at hand—time seems to shift, the world falls away and you feel confident in your body and its abilities to meet any challenge you may encounter. The repetitive nature of running and its ability to both engage and challenge the athlete makes a great entry point into the flow state. But with earbuds in, your mind often focuses on what you are listening to, rather than dropping into that heightened awareness that flow requires.
You can train like you plan to race.4 of 10
Many races do not allow headphones on race day for several safety-related reasons. Participants wearing headphones may be unable to hear things like directions from race officials, approaching or passing runners or traffic noise. For some races, if you choose to wear headphones anyway you run the risk of being disqualified—turning that PR you worked so hard for into a result that's removed from race history.
If headphones aren't allowed for your race, consider ditching them for training, too. It makes good sense to practice how you plan to race, and if you wait until race day to experience running with just the sound of your breathing for company, you may be unprepared to power those quieter miles when the going gets tough.
You can make new friends.5 of 10
There's nothing that makes the miles fly by faster than a friend, and with headphones in you may miss the opportunity to make a new acquaintance during your next run or race. If you are lucky, you may even be able to form a pack of friendly runners. Working together for a few miles (or several!), you can help each other perform your best by offering support and taking turns pacing the group. If you're blasting tunes you'll also miss the encouragement from other runners—sometimes hearing a "well done!" or "great pace!" from a fellow runner on the course can help you dig a bit deeper to finish strong.
You can up your mental game.6 of 10
Many runners love listening to music because it serves as a welcome distraction from the hard effort they are putting forth. It keeps them out of their own head and helps quiet the negative thoughts swirling around in their brain. And it's backed by science—music has been proven to be a legal performance aid. But by training without using it, you force yourself to develop a higher level of mental toughness that will come in handy at your next race. Alone with your own thoughts and labored breathing, you'll confront and defeat those voices in your head that tell you to stop, slow down, give up. Use your music-less runs to practice reframing your thoughts in a positive way, and on race day you'll be ready with a well-trained brain that tells you to keep going, stay strong and embrace the effort.
You can avoid impaired traffic awareness.7 of 10
This one may be the most compelling reason to leave the earbuds at home. If you run on streets that are open to vehicular traffic, you risk not being able to hear approaching cars or bikes and could wind up with a serious or even fatal injury. Running without headphones allows you to be more aware of your surroundings and decreases your risk of being injured by an oncoming vehicle.
You'll have less to carry.8 of 10
Don't fool yourself into thinking that carrying that giant iPhone 7 Plus on your arm for thousands and thousands of steps won't impact your gait. The extra weight on one side creates a slight imbalance in your body that gets magnified over the miles and can lead to poor form, muscles strains or injuries. Having one less item to carry on your run means less weight to lug through each workout. Ditch the music gear and run untethered and free.
You can enjoy the world around you.9 of 10
One of the best things about running music-free is getting to experience the change in the seasons through the sounds of nature on a run. The crystalline stillness of a winter morning, the birdcalls of a dewy spring day, the damp air and cicadas of summer, the crunch of the leaves under your feet in fall—all sounds you would miss with headphones on. With so many sounds and screens demanding your attention each day, a device-free run is an amazing way to unplug. Enjoying nature's own soundtrack is refreshing on more than one level; you may find it's just plain easier to appreciate nature when you are fully present in the moment.
And hey, if all else fails we can guarantee you'll feel much happier when you don't have to spend half the run trying to keep sweaty headphones from falling out of your ears.