This running music can help you score a PR—make sure it’s on your playlist

By Rachael Schultz
February 11, 2015
Corbis Images

Most of us can't head to the gym without headphones-and that's a good thing, because countless studies have shown that listening to music helps you run both faster and longer. While you probably choose fast, catchy songs to pound the pavement to, focusing on songs that motivate you will actually help your feet move faster, says a new research in the Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research. (Try these four other tricks to Shave a Minute Off Your Mile.)

In the study, researchers from Spain and Brazil chose songs for their pleasure and ability to motivate athletes (we assume Eye of the Tiger made the cut). Runners who listened to jams they enjoyed-regardless of whether the tempo was fast or slow-during and after a 5K ran faster those who raced sans symphony.

Plugging in for a run affects your body in a number of ways. For starters, the study found that music helped activate the prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain responsible for decision-making and emotions. This not only helped boost the runners' moods beforehand, thereby psyching them up for the race, but it may have also contributed to the faster times. An activated prefrontal cortex keeps your brain alert so it's ready to signal your legs to take off at the first possible moment. (Want to know more about the science behind this? Read The Mental Hack for How to Run Faster.)

And it's not just your in-race melodies that matter: Calm music post-run helped the athletes recover. Researchers found that listening to mellow music right after the 5K helped activate the runners' vagus nerve, a cranial nerve at the bottom of the brainstem that helps bring your organs, like the heart, lungs, and digestive tract, back to homeostasis. This means, physiologically, relaxing refrains can help you recover from exercise faster.

So what's the key to the perfect playlist? Past studies have shown that everybody has an ideal rhythm when it comes to the songs that send them soaring. Combine your perfect tempo with your personal anthems, and you're ready to set a PR. (If you need a few suggestions, though, try The Catchiest Song to Add to Your Workout Playlist or 10 New Running Songs You Can Sprint To.)