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Running Playlists: Why is BPM of a song or playlist important?

Running Playlist

Wow, here’s where running with music at the right cadence (or beats per minute / BPM) comes in.

If you ever watched tribal runners (Kenyan Kalenjin, Tarahumara, and many others) as well as many western elite runners, you’ll notice that their cadence (sometimes also called stride rate) is very fast. What this means is that their feet touch the ground very quickly and very often.

Studies have measured that the best cadence is around 180 steps per minute. It has also been proven that speed isn’t a factor here.

Marathon runners use the same 180 steps per minute that 5k champions do and they each go at very different speeds. The only real difference is their stride length and forward lean which determine their speed.

This makes a lot of sense actually. The faster your foot turnover is while hitting the ground, the less time you spend in contact with the ground. This means less friction with the ground, less pressure on your feet, more “air time” and overall more forward movement with less energy spent on overcoming the time you spend “standing” with your feet on the ground.

As a runner you want to get as close as possible to this cadence so that your running is as efficient as possible. You can always measure your cadence with a metronome (see accessories section), but that can be very annoying after an hour or so of running and hearing the constant beeps.

You can also use music to help you keep your cadence and that’s why the music BPM is important. By running to the beat of the music, you’ll immediately notice how your cadence changes. If the song has a fast beat (e.g. Bonnie Tyler – “Holding Out for a Hero”) you’ll find that your cadance will go up. If you listen to a slow opera, you’ll find that your feet touch the ground more often, and you’ll immediately notice yourself slowing down.

Once you get the hang of it, you can actually build playlists for yourself with songs that have the right BPM for the right running situation.

Next I will share information that will help you learn how to build a BPM optimized running playlist

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4 Responses to “Running Playlists: Why is BPM of a song or playlist important?”

  1. stagen August 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM #

    you should check out cadence app and their desktop tools too.

    great app that finds the bpm of each song in your itunes library and helps you find the pace you want to run at.

    • Sam August 19, 2010 at 12:48 PM #

      I’ll give it a try.

  2. Jim January 18, 2011 at 2:24 PM #

    What I don’t understand is why, if 180bpm is the ideal cadence, do you have an average bpm on your song lists at around 125 bpm? Wouldn’t it be best to populate your lists (in your other posts) with songs that have either roughly 180bpm or 90bpm (i.e., down beat always occurs on the same foot land)?

    • Sam January 18, 2011 at 10:18 PM #

      Thanks for your comment.
      You make a good point, but song bpm is not only used to control cadence. Additionally, if look at a 180 bpm song you will find they are usually very fast and 90 bpm songs are very slow.
      The reason most of my lists have a lower average bpm (which is actually more around 140 since I don’t think songs under 120 are good for a running playlist) is that a running playlist should also be fun. See for more info.

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