Synchronous Running with Music:

match Running Tempo & Music Tempo, to
make your running more fun-and-efficient.
writen by Craig Rusbult, PhD
(during life on a road less traveled)
with links to web-pages by other authors.

Late in the summer of 2008, after many years of running “lazy and sloppy” I finally turned my attention to running efficiently so I could run faster and further with more enjoyment and less risk of injury.  And I wondered “why did it take so long for me to finally learn about this and begin doing it?”   {two final results of my inefficient timing were missed opportunities earlier in the summer when, at age 60, I ran a 7-minute mile & 10-minute half marathon, both without the benefits of synchronous tempo-running with music.}   One key to running efficiently is running at a faster tempo (higher rpm) than most people typically run, because this helps us run more smoothly.  By experimenting, I've discovered tempos that are useful for running different distances (200 m, 400 m, mile, ...) at different paces (slow & easy, moderately fast, even faster, personal record) and I've put them on my iPod to use while running.  I've found — after I finally began running with music, and wondered “why didn't I do this earlier?” — that tempo-music makes it easy to run in a disciplined way, simply by running with “one step for every beat of music” which makes me run at the tempo I want.  Running with music is fun and (as discovered in scientific studies) is efficient, helping us run faster & farther.


You can read, in any order you want, these page-sections:  Optimal Tempo & Increasing TempoMatching Music-Tempo & Running-TempoUnwise Rules to Forbid Racing With MusicMeasuring Tempo & Adjusting Tempo (using free Audacity).


Optimal Tempo

Usually, if you want to run faster you should run at a higher tempo.  But there is a limit to this principle;  if you move past your optimal tempo for a particular running speed, a faster tempo will cause you to run slower, and it might even cause injury if your body-and-technique cannot cope with the higher tempo.   Of course, moderation in running speed (and its associated tempo) is necessary if you also want to run further.  Like most things in life, you want to aim for a “just right” balance, not too slow or too fast.*  And I think most people will find, at each of their running speeds, that a range of tempos — on a plateau where increasing or decreasing the tempo a little bit won't matter much — will allow efficient running.

* The human body can produce energy aerobically (by using oxygen) and anaerobically (without using oxygen).  In many racing situations (whether it's by running, biking, skating,...) a performer tries to operate at their aerobic maximum — when they are using all of the energy their body can produce with aerobic physiology, by using oxygen — instead of below this maximum, or above it.  Why?  If they're under their maximum, they will move slower than they could move.  But if they push past their maximum and thus get into anaerobic physiology, their performance level will decrease because aerobic metabolism is more energy-efficient than anaerobic metabolism.  And in addition to this inefficiency, anaerobic metabolism also produces chemicals that temporarily “poison” the body and hinder its performance.  But in many situations you'll want to run below your aerobic maximum.  And sometimes — like at the end of a close race, or during interval training — you'll want to move past this maximum into anaerobics, because you'll do this only for a short time and then, after the race (or interval) is over, you can rest and your body will recover.


Increasing Tempo

I've discovered that by running at a cadence-tempo a little higher than initially feels comfortable, after awhile it becomes more comfortable.  This happens because I adjust my running style — typically it becomes smoother and more efficient, with less “braking” due to overstriding — and as the muscles required for the higher tempo become stronger and more accustomed to working more quickly.   {i.o.u. – Later, I'll check my personal experience with those who are more experienced and more expert, to see what they say about it.}


Matching Tempos  —  Do you adjust Music Tempo or Running Tempo?

The answer is “both” but you change one at a time, at different times, in cycles of adjusting.   { These adjustments assume your goal is the strategy of “one step for every beat of music” that I think is the best way to run with music, so it's what I'm describing in this page.}   Here are two ways to do the adjusting:  in cycles (1 2 1 2 etc), or by making-and-choosing (A-and-B).

In two steps, using cycles of adjusting:   1) choose a “just right” music tempo that you think will be optimal, will be not too fast or too slow, so you choose a music-tempo that is the running-tempo you'll want;   2) while you're hearing-and-running, you adjust your running tempo so it matches the music tempo you have chosen;   1) if this running-tempo feels too fast or too slow, choose a new “just right” music-tempo that is a better match for the running-tempo you want;   2) run with this music-tempo, and observe whether it's the running-tempo you want;   1) if you want, adjust your music-tempo again.

Or,  A) make many songs with a range of music-tempos;   B) try running with each music-tempo, as in "2" above, observe what works best for you, and choose these music-tempos for your running.

With the second method, why do I say "choose these music-tempos" (plural) instead of "choose this music-tempo" (singular)?  Because you will want to use different tempos at different times, to match your running-speed and your level of fatigue.  You may want to change tempos in the middle of a run, typically by changing to a slower tempo.  For example, I did this while running 400 meters relatively fast (for me) with personal-record pace at age 61 (much slower than at 21!) by starting with a fast running-speed and fast running-tempo (matched to a fast music-tempo)*, then as I became tired my speed would decrease, and so did my tempos for running-and-music.  To make this change easier, I arranged music on my mp3 player so a faster-tempo song was followed by a slower-tempo song, so I could just press the button for skip-to-next-song and get the song with slower tempo.


* Your running-speed depends on your running-tempo (steps/minute) and your stride-length (meters/step):

(steps/minute) x (meters/step)  =  meters/minute


Using Tempos

This section is a continuation of A-and-B in "Matching Tempos" above.

A) By choosing some songs,* and making new files with adjusted tempos, I have music with a range of tempos (... 167, 170,... 214, 220,...).     {these are songs I like, and they have a fairly consistent tempo throughout the song, unlike songs that have tempo changes within the song, which can mess up your running tempo}

B) I have arranged these songs onto my mp3 player in two different ways, with increasing tempo, and with decreasing tempo.  Why?  Originally I sequenced them with steadily increasing tempo – and this automatically occurs with iPod, because “173-...” comes before “176-...” with its default alphabetical ordering – but later I discovered the benefits of changing this to steadily decreasing tempo.  Why?  During semi-sprints like 200 m or 400 m, but also in longer runs, my ideal running tempo steadily decreases as I get tired toward the end of a run, am running at a slower speed.  To make the adjusting (in Step B) easier, I reversed the order of tempos.  Then, for example, if I began with 195 beats/minute (and 195 steps/minute) at the beginning of a 400 m, and shifter to slightly lower tempos (lower bpm & spm) later in the run by pushing the “next song” button.  {instead of the combo of “previous song”, “previous song” that I had been doing}   A similar strategy might be useful for longer runs, from 5 k to marathon and beyond, so you can adjust the music tempo in response to the running tempo you want, based on physiological changes (in your fuel supply, how fresh legs your legs feel, and so on) and your pacing strategy for running at a certain speed during each part of the run.     {There is more about tempo-and-speed in the links-appendix.}


Exercise-Biking  —  Recently, every morning I ride an exercise bike.  It has a flywheel to "smooth out" its speed, so it's easy to match the pedaling-tempo with music-tempo.  Typically my music-tempo is 140 bpm to 170 bpm.  My pedaling-tempo is half of this, 70 to 85, because "push-with-left and push-with-right" makes one complete pedaling cycle.     {the machine's "resistance" is set to maximum, but it's not very high, so it's easy to maintain a smooth pedaling motion}

Road-Biking  &  Machine-Rowing  &  Elliptical-Running  —  I've also tried using music tempos while:  bicycling (on a regular bike-that-moves, but it's much more difficult to keep a steady pace than while exercise-biking or running);   rowing on a machine from Concept 2, the tempo is fairly easy to maintain,* and your rowing speed (as displayed on the machine's dial) depends on your tempo and also on the resistance (chosen by you and set on the machine) that determines how hard you must "push with your legs and pull with your upper body" during the power part of a stroke;   "elliptical running" (on a machine) is similar to running, re: matching tempo, with increased "resistance" (dialed on the machine) analogous to running on different angles of uphill inclines.

* compared with running tempos, a rowing tempo is much lower, typically around 25 strokes-per-minute (for moderate rowing) instead of 170 steps-per-minute (for moderate running);  I've tried rowing with songs at around 200 bpm, but it's easier with songs at around 100 bpm (like a range of 90-110) so I can use 4 music-beats for each rowing-stroke, with one stroke per measure of common 4-count music.



Old-Fashioned Rules trying to Eliminate Running With Music

Is music allowed in a race?  Sometimes.  If you are running an official race, check its rules to see if they allow listening to music.  Some races do, but some don't.  And some allow music for some runners, but not for those who want to remain eligible for awards.

Why is music banned?


An often-stated reason (but I think not the main actual reason) is safety.  As explained in the UKA Rules of Competition for 2016-2018 in Britain, "Race Directors may apply the condition [no headphones allowed] to any race where they consider the wearing of headphones to be a hazard."


A reason that's much more important, although it's not stated in the UKA Rules, is to prevent an “unfair” competitive advantage – i.e. it's unfair to runners who choose to not use benefits gained by running with music – even though (I think) this is old-fashioned and foolish.  Let's compare four kinds of unfair advantage:

using Performance-Enhancing Drugs, as in the domination of Tour de France by EPO-using riders beginning in the early-90's and continuing for (at least) the next 20 years;  or the steroids used in baseball, leading to a breaking of records (for home runs) by Mark McGwire & Sammy Sosa, then Barry Bonds;  and many other examples.  PED's give a physiological advantage that is NON-NATURAL (i.e. it isn't based on the natural benefits of effective nutrition, training, sleep,..., instead it's due to the effects of artificial chemicals);   but it's INTERNAL, i.e. after the PED's have affected a person's body, their athletic performance is done by their own body.

running that's assisted by a tail-wind.  The benefit of wind-aided running – having “wind at your back” – is EXTERNAL, it's a performance-enhancer that is (mainly) not done by your own body;   but the benefit is NATURAL.

using a “rabbit” runner, to serve as a pace-setter during a race;   there is a small EXTERNAL physiological benefit (similar to wind-aided running) due to a “drafting” that reduces the speed-hindering effects of air resistance (but only for a 2nd-placer who is close behind, and drafting also occurs during normal running-in-a-pack);   this effect is NATURAL;   and there are some INTERNAL psychological benefits, due to the NATURAL motivation of “chasing” a runner who is ahead of you.    {a fascinating page in describes the history of rabbit-ing that is officially sanctioned in some races, while in others it's officialy banned but usually is unofficially allowed, and its role in the first 4-minute mile.}

running with music provides benefits that are NATURAL and INTERNAL.  So... why is music banned from high-level races, even though it isn't non-natural (like using PED-chemicals) and isn't an external aid (like a tailwind or drafting)?  Why do some runners – unfortunately it's those who usually control the rule-making institutions – want to forbid the use of music while running in races?  I think it's mainly an archaic refusal to use the many benefits of music, even though music is a natural (and wonderful) part of life.  First they personally decide* (for themselves) “I won't use tempo-music” and then they politically decide (for others) that “none of my competitors can use tempo-music” because they don't want to be passed by runners who do choose to use the natural benefits of music.    {or they are politically forced to compete without music, so they personally choose to train without music.}


A forum thread explains (page 2) that although most initial comments were about safety, also...

    jsoderman:  "I was always under the impression that the no headphones thing was an extension of the 'no outside help' principal in tri[athlon]."
    Devlin:  "Sort of.  The idea is to avoid people using music to keep a certain beat/pace."
    Travis R:  "Aside from safety, I feel this is an often-overlooked aspect of why it should not be allowed.  It seems like having a playlist of favorite tunes at a good tempo would be an unfair advantage.  A measurable advantage?  It's hard to say.  It could be interesting to find/do a study of the effects of running with/without music on physiological indicators."
    Staz:  describes an article that says, "As dedicated iPod runners will know, much of the benefit derives from the motivational and uplifting qualities of the right music which, the studies have shown, reduces perceived exertion in runners, helping them feel positive even when exercising at high intensities.  But new research underlines the other part of the equation, also explored by the Brunel scientists:  the role music plays in helping you keep a good rhythm, and therefore run more economically (using less oxygen for a given pace)."

Because running with music does provide benefits — like being more motivated and/or "running more economically" by matching running-tempo to music-tempo — and the racing community wants to "prevent an unfair competitive advantage," they can either let all competitors listen to music during races, or let nobody do it.*  For various reasons — like appeals to safety, and other reasons that are not expressed — they have decided to ban music from their competitive races.

a question:  Currently, some race times that would be "record times" are not officially recognized as records, because they are wind-aided times (with a tailwind helping the runner) or course-aided times (that occur, for example, when the finish line of a marathon course is at a lower altitude than its starting line).  In the future, will we also have music-aided times?


In my opinion, banning music is unwise, but I don't make the rules.  Here are some articles —  A   B   C   D*  — plus forum discussions in the past decade: 2018 - 2018? - 2016 - 2016 - 2016 - 2015 - 2014? - 2010 - 2009.*   All articles consider safety issues, but some ignore any possible performance-enhancing benefits, as in over-simplistically saying (*) that runners just "use music to beat boredom and stay motivated."     {* Although forum discussions can give you a feeling for the main ideas, forum-users are a self-selected group with more enthusiasts who consider themselves to be “real runners” who don't “need” music, so as a group this makes them more anti-music than the majority of runners, who don't post on forums.}



Measuring Tempo

While you're resting at home, use a stopwatch – on your digital watch, smartphone, or tablet – and while listening to a song, press “on” at the first beat of a measure, then press “off” at the first beat of another measure.  For example, to get the time for 8 full measures, click the watch on at the start of a 1st measure, and off at the start of the 9th measure.  Usually I do 8 measures or (for more accuracy) 16 measures or more.  To measure the time for 8 measures with 4-count music, you click the watch on at "1" and count every beat – "123422343234423452346234723482349" – and click the watch off at "9".  But you can “feel” the 4 beats without counting “1234” so just say the first beat of each measure, "1---2---3---4---5---6---7---8---9", and you will find (as I do) that this is much easier, is less confusing with less tongue-twisting.  Imagine that this time (between "1" and "9") is 10.73 seconds, or (to generalize it) is Z seconds.  You now have the number of seconds for 32 beats of music (8x4) so to calculate the music's tempo in beats/minute (= beats per minute = bpm), use this conversion formula:

(32 beats / 10.73 seconds) (60 seconds / minute)  =  {1920 / 10.73} beats/minute  =  179 beats/minute  =  179 bpm.

Just divide 1920 by 10.73 (the time on your stopwatch, the time for 8 measures, or 32 beats), and that's the music tempo in beats per minute.

Or generally, 1920 / Z = ___ beats/minute.

Of course, you can adjust this math by “scaling the numbers” down or up.  If instead of 8 measures, you want to count for only 4 measures, you are “cutting everything in half” so you'll divide 960 by the stopwatch-time;   or for 16 measures, you're “doubling everything” and therefore you'll divide 3840 by the stopwatch-time;   or for 32 measures you divide 7680 by the time;   and so on.

You also can run at twice the music tempo.  So if you like a slow song that is 86 bpm, it's easy to run at 172 steps-per-minute, 172 spm.

And you may enjoy running with a waltz, for its “artistic feeling” and so the 1-count changes (you step on it with your left-foot, then right-foot, left-foot, right foot,...) which may help improve the symmetry of your running.  With 3-count music the bpm formula for 8 measures (click the stopwatch on at "1" and off when you say "9") must be adjusted by a factor of 3/4, to get "1440 / #-of-seconds" = bpm.


Adjusting Tempo

Changing the tempo of digital music is easy by using Audacity – an excellent program that you can download (and use) for free.

How?   First, do Measuring Tempo to find the current tempo.  Then choose a desired new tempo;  and find the percent-change needed to produce it.  You can calculate this yourself, or let Audacity do it for you, as explained below.

How?   Download the program for Audacity.  Open Audacity, and open a music file (mp3 or aiff/wav, or...).  In the Edit menu, move your mouse over Select and click All.  In the Effect menu, choose Change Tempo (or Change Speed)* and enter the percent change you want, or let Audacity calculate it for you (*) and click OK.  Then in the File menu, click Export as AIFF or (if you download & install LAME's mp3-encoder) Export as MP3.

* If the song currently is 173 bpm (you must find this yourself because Audacity won't find the tempo for you) and you want it to be 179 bpm, enter these numbers into the BPM boxes, and the "Percent Change" box above will be 3.468 percent which is the tempo increase, and the boxes below tell you how this will change the song length.  Or you could type 173 and 170 into the boxes, to find that -1.734 % is what you need for this slowdown.  If you want, check these numbers by doing the math yourself.

* Audacity has several ways to change tempo and/or pitch, and these are descriptively named:  Change Tempo (a video explains why I recommend this) changes only the tempo;  Change Pitch changes only the pitch;  Change Speed changes tempo & pitch, and if both increase it sounds like an old "Chipmunks" record.  Usually I choose Change Tempo.


Or you can have real-time adjustments done for you, by using a tempo-finding program such as Cadence (iPhone or iPod on Mac, and soon for Windows) or Tangerine (Mac).    {note:  I found these programs in 2008, 10 years ago, and haven't re-searched again recently, so probably newer-and-better programs are now available.}



APPENDIX  (for links to other authors)

I.O.U. — There will be more here later, maybe in August 2018.  Here are some interesting pages I've found, with information that I think is fascinating and useful.  These pages will give you an introductory overview.  Then you can web-search to explore more deeply, if you want to learn more.


The Science of Running with Music is a brief summary of ideas from Costas Kargeorghis, and also Music in Sport and Excercise - Theory and Practice.  The website of "run2rhythm" has much more information, if you want to explore it.  For example, Benefits of run2rhythm Running Music & How to Train with run2rhythm Running Music and more.     {more pages about the science of music-and-running are at the bottom of this page}

Running to the Right Beat by Dan Peterson, says: "... According to Kargeorghis, there are four factors that contribute to a song's motivational qualities:  rhythm response, musicality, cultural impact and association.   The first two are known as 'internal' factors as they relate to the music's structure while the second two are 'external' factors that reflect how we interpret the music.  Rhythm response is tied to the beats per minute (bpm) of the song and how well it matches either the cadence [this is what I do] or [in a factor I had not considered, but don't think is useful] the heartbeat of the runner.  A song's structure such as its melody and harmony contribute to its musicality.  The external factors consider our musical background and the preferences we have for a certain genre of music and what we have learned to associate with certain songs and artists. ..."

• Tempo-and-Speed:  As I explain above, "you can adjust the music tempo in response to the running tempo you want, based on physiological changes... and your running-pace strategy."  The tempos listed by run2rhythm are slower than I typically use.  I find it difficult running smoothly to any tempo under 170 bpm;  for typical running I use 167, 170, or 173 bpm, and for faster running (as in 400m, 200m, or 100m) the optimal tempo increases;  for a fast 400 m, around 190 bpm (sometimes higher, sometimes lower);  and for fast 200 m, anywhere from 210-240 bpm, depending on running speed & style, and (as explained above) this will change during a run, when I become fatigued near the end of an interval.  But this is data from a small sample (n = 1, just me) so try it yourself to see what works best for you.  But having a wide range of tempos will let you experiment more thoroughly, to see how your body responds to different tempos.


• And here are some ideas about running speed (but not associated running tempo) and interactions between running fast and running far:

Optimum Running Speed is Stride Toward Understanding Human Body Form: "...The energetic demands of running change at different speeds.  What that means is that there is an optimal speed that will get you there the cheapest, metabolically speaking. ... While holding great interest for athletes and trainers, the mechanics of running may also hold clues to the evolution of the modern human body form: tall and long-limbed with broad chests and defined waists. ... Human walking is also known to have an optimally efficient speed, so the new findings may help researchers determine the relative importance of the different gaits in driving human evolution. ..." (summarizing the scientific work of Karen Steudel and Cara Wall-Scheffler)

Are You the Perfect Runner? by Karen Little, has information about running pace in Part 6.


Above, you'll find pages asking "is music allowed in races?"


Scientific Research about Running

I.O.U. - Soon, maybe in August 2018, I will do more web-searching to find other pages, and will study these pages (plus those already here) trying to find “the best”.  Then I will sort them into categories, like those focusing on how music affects running efficiency (partly due to a matching of music tempo with running tempo, which is the focus of this page) or motivation (and of course this can affect performance), or both.  In these pages I've found, the titles (in each link) will help you guess what's in the page: (better performance for elite-level triathletes) (running-tempo increase for recreational runners)



Here are links for web-pages by Craig Rusbult ,

bio-page about life on a road less traveled

I.O.U. — These links will be edited later in 2022.

and links for many topics in art-science and sport-science including

* Musical Improvisation & Theory & Tools for Physics & 
how I didn't learn to ski (and then did, by using an insight)
Ballroom Dancing (with transfers-of-learning) &
Do-It-Yourself Juggling plus my Juggling Video-and-Photos
a younger Satchel Paige Age (by slowing the rate of slowdown)

my Personal Fitness Goals — Continual and Occasional including recent PRs for mile, 400m, and 200m.

plus my sports (tennis, football,...) and Anteater Olympiad ,

and teaching ESL (Strategies & Resources) & MUCH MORE.


( Arts & Sports )*  *fix this in bio-page