It has long been known that an increase in step rate while running, decreases joint strain, which leads to fewer injuries.
In layman’s terms, sports people who run at a faster step rate spend less time and power impacting the ground and more time and power ‘in the air’.
Less impact hitting the ground means less impact richocheting up the knee and into the hip joint.
As professional sports people know, running injuries are commonly related to the knee and hip joint. In fact, around 70 NFL players are diagnosed each year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Scientists and athletes have been searching for an easy solution to increasing step rate and therefore reducing the most common injuries faced by sports people who run.
Studies from the past few years might have found a way: music.
Sports people of all abilities enjoy exercising to music, and it turns out there are many mental benefits from this.
Studies show that if you listen to music while exercising, it more often than not; improves attention, distracts from fatigue, alters mood, reduces stress, improves exercise motivation, and stimulates power output.
What is Entrainment?
Two studies found that people usually run faster, and for longer amounts of time, to music.
It has also been found that runners, and in particular women, can easily synchronize their bodies to the beat of a song.
Synchronizing human activity to music is called entrainment.
It’s a big part of biomusicology, which is the study of music from a biological point of view – including music psychology.
Biomusicology studies show that many runners will run at faster pace when listening to songs with a faster beat. Without realizing it, we run at the pace a song tells us to.
That poses the obvious question - we should be able to increase our step rate in time to the beat of a song - but what is too fast a step rate and what is too slow? And how do I find the right music?
Latest Biomusicology Research
The study Spontaneous Entrainment of Running Cadence to Music Tempo provided some answers. Researchers studied 16 runners, who ran training laps several times, with and without music.
The runners gave researchers a list of songs they liked running to, rating the songs from most motivational to least motivational.
Out of the songs provided, researchers selected songs with a beat between 130–200 beats per minute (BPM).
This is because research shows that a natural step rate for runners is between 130 and 200 steps per minute (SPM).
In total there were 117 songs in that beat range. (see below for the list of songs)
On the day of the test the researchers began by measuring each runner’s average step rate (see below for how to do this yourself).
For some of the runners’ laps the researchers then increased or decreased the tempo of the music above or below their average step rate between 1 to 3 percent to see if the runner’s step rate also increased by the same percent.
Why only 1 to 3 percent? An average person can notice tempo differences if the change is 4 percent or more. The researchers didn’t want to let the runners know that the music’s tempo had changed in case they were influenced by the point of the study.
In addition, entrainment is more difficult the faster the tempo - it is likely entrainment stops when the step rate is increased or decreased by too much since it is then uncomfortable for the runner to run at that step rate. The study bore this out by entrainment becoming less likely after a change in tempo of more than 2.5%.
What the Study found...
Interestingly, it was easier for women to get in sync with the music, compared to men. (Of the 16 runners, there were 9 females and 7 males, with an average age of 22.)
The study found that both the male and female runners increased or decreased their step rate with increases or decreases in music tempo and that these adjustments were more pronounced for women than for men.
In other words, faster music resulted in an increase, while slower music led to a decrease in step rate.
The researchers believed their study would be useful for sportspeople who run, sportspeople who run during training, and recreational runners. But not useful for professional runners.
This is because professional runners are more likely to be focusing on running technique and strategy rather than zoning out and listening to the music.
A similar study of cyclists showed that faster music improved their covered distance, power, and pedal rhythm. Slower music decreased these instead.
Another study watching people on treadmills found similar benefits.
So the jury is in: Modifying step rate by listening to the right tempo music could be the easiest way to prevent many running-related injuries.
How to find your own Natural Running Step Rate
1. To find your step rate, run for 30 seconds and count the times your left foot hits the ground
2. Double that number to find the number of foot strikes for a minute's worth of running.
3. Double it again to find the total for both feet, or your average stride rate.
How to Create your own Music Test
The researchers used a combination of three things: Audacity, ReplayGain, and Beatroot. (See links below.)
Audacity is a music-editing program. The researchers used it to remove the beginning parts of some songs, when a beat wasn’t present.
ReplayGain is a technique used to make sure a song has a consistent volume. It works for individual tracks, full albums, and playlists.
Beatroot is a platform which does a lot of different things. For this study, Beatroot was used to analyze songs and figure out what the beats per minute (BPM) were.
The runners participating in the study all used iPods with an app called Sensor Monitor Pro.
1. Find your favourite songs in the range of 130–200 beats per minute (BPM) using Beatroot or another resource ( or see our Resources section below for a free PDF of the 117 songs used in the study )
2. If a song has a small part which isn’t 130-200 BPM, edit it out with Audacity.
3. Use ReplayGain to make sure the songs are the same volume.
4. Run without music to figure out your default pace.
5. Run to the music and see which BPM increases your step rate without becoming too uncomfortable.
Doing it the Hard Way...
You can also find the beat manually but that can take a lot of time.
Sites like Wikihow (http://www.wikihow.com/Calculate-the-Beats-Per-Minute-(BPM)-of-a-Song) can show runners how to figure out the BPM manually.
Audacity – http://audacity.sourceforge.net – Free audio editing software.
Beatroot – http://beatroot.com/ – Paid platform for organizing music, tracking audio beats, and more.
iTunes – http://www.apple.com/itunes/ - One of the most popular ways to buy and organize your music.
Play Music – https://play.google.com/store/music – One of the more popular ways to buy and organize your music.
ReplayGain – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ReplayGain or http://wiki.hydrogenaud.io/index.php?title=ReplayGain are websites with more information.
Download the Free PDF of the 117 Songs with a BPM between 130 - 200 used in this Study