Whether you’ve recently discovered the downsides of wearing headphones or just want to increase awareness during your runs, you might wonder how to run without music.
The good news is that running without music is a great way to build your mental and emotional muscles while becoming more in tune with your running.
Here’s our advice on getting it right without getting bored or losing your motivation without listening to your get-psyched playlist.
Embracing the Quiet: The Case for Running Without Music
To some—and you may be one of them—the idea of running without music might be unpleasant. But if you can get your head around the benefits, there’s a case to be made for music-free running.
One benefit is called associative thinking. Basically, when you have your earphones in, it’s common to enter what’s known as a “dissociative state.” With music constantly pumping in your head, you become somewhat dissociated from your run, your body, and your goals—leaving you to just push through with a bit of adrenaline the music brings out.
Dr. Tim Noakes, a well-respected professional in the running world, mentions in his book Lore of Running that most elite athletes practice “associative thinking.” That means when they’re training, their mind is entirely on their training—NO distractions.
This is what music takes away. When your favorite song comes on, you’re not focused on your run—you’re focused on the music. When a faster song comes on, and you increase your pace, you’re not focused on your goal but on the music.
The danger here is that when you’re focused on the music rather than your body, it’s easy to miss the cues your body is sending you. Pain, fatigue, and poor form can be missed, so there’s a high chance that you’re NOT running at your best when you’ve got a beat in your ears.
We can’t promise you’ll suddenly hit all your PRs without music, but we can assure you that if you reframe your mind to focus on more important things, you’ll see a positive difference.
Benefits of Running Without Music
So, let’s get into the more specific benefits of running without music. Remember, these benefits arise with focused effort and concentration, but here’s what you can look forward to if you try this.
Better Mind-Body Connection
This is a big and extremely important in that mind-body connection we keep discussing. Without music in your ears, your mind will be free to focus on other things—and placing that focus directly on your own body is the best way to change your running for the better.
A lack of music in your ears means your senses can focus more on your surroundings. You might suddenly realize that your route goes past some beautiful wildflowers, or you hear a bird you’ve never heard. Without music, you can truly immerse yourself in your run.
Music is a distraction. It might be the ONLY distraction you have when your earphones are in, but getting rid of it can open you up more awareness about your running form.
Paying attention to yourself and your running mechanics instead of your music can be hugely valuable, giving you the room to fix it and reduce your chance of injury.
Remove the music, and your brain has space to roam free. Now is the perfect time to clear your thoughts, reflect on problems, and come up with solutions, or use it as creative brainstorming time!
Variety in Experience
Without the same beats in your ears, every run has the potential to be unique, interesting, and an entirely different experience from the last one. It’s a great way to spice up your runs without making any changes!
Ditching the music is the perfect way to dig deep and find inner motivation. Do it often enough, and you’ll get used to being your motivation, a valuable and empowering skill for athletes.
Take the noise out of the equation, and you might just find that your stress also melts away. Removing the music can give you the space to be, reducing stress.
A physical benefit to not wearing earbuds is that your increased awareness can make you safer. You’ll be more aware of your surroundings, traffic, other runners, and pedestrians and can take evasive action if necessary.
Prepares You for Race Day
Some races don’t allow earbuds. So, training without your music can be a great way to prime your body for race day, giving you an edge you wouldn’t have otherwise.
Preparing for a Music-Free Run
Ready to hit the road or trail without your music? Here’s what we suggest to start you off on the right foot.
Choose Scenic Routes
A scenic route provides visual and mental stimulation for your run. It’ll keep your mind engaged, prevent boredom, and spike that gratitude! Choose your route in advance and ensure it’s pretty, if possible.
Set an Intention for Your Run
Setting intentions is underrated. Before you run, decide what your intention is for this particular run. Are you training for something? Aiming for a specific pace? Working on your form? Or looking to clear your mind, enjoy nature, or relieve stress after a long day?
Having a clear intention can help you focus harder and give you a purpose for your run. Even if it relieves stress, keeping it in mind as you run will help you reach those small goals and keep you on track.
Experiment with Different Mindsets
Set your mindset before you head out on your run. Make a conscious choice about what you want your mindset to be today. This can go hand-in-hand with your intention.
Today, you may focus on being grateful. Every step, every gust of wind, and every person you pass should inspire gratitude in you. On other days, you may focus on positive affirmations, keeping yourself going with optimism.
Play around with different mindsets and find what works for you. It might differ day to day, but it sets the tone for your run right from the start.
How to Run Without Music
Thinking about switching over to running without music? Here are our best tips and tricks to make the process easier. Stay consistent, and you’ll see the huge mental benefits!
Practice Mindful Running
The best thing about running without those earbuds in is that it’s an opportunity to be mindful. Although mindfulness focuses on one particular thing, this is different from a dissociative state.
The key is being mindful about your running. This is the starting point of better form, a better mind-muscle connection, and ultimately, better performance. Here are some ways to stay mindful as you’re running.
This is an excellent way to start, because it also helps you to regulate your breathing and use it as a tool rather than just letting it happen.
Pay attention to the rhythm of your natural breathing. Try to match it to your steps for example, inhale for three steps, exhale for four steps, or anything that works for you.
This simple act of focusing can anchor you in your own body and make you more aware of how it responds to exercise. Remember—breathe into the belly, not just into the chest!
A body scan is an excellent way to become more self-aware and develop a closer mind-body connection. As you run, mentally check in with your various body parts.
Start from your feet. How do they feel? Is there any pain, tension, or discomfort? Can you feel your shoes rubbing anywhere they shouldn’t be? Make a mental note of each feeling and move on to the next part.
Move up the legs, spending a few minutes on each side’s:
- IT band
- Hip flexors
You’ll connect with your body in a new, different way. You might also pick up on aches and pains you didn’t realize were there before, which can help you avoid injuries.
But ultimately, it can be an incredibly relaxing exercise. Not only does it cultivate that mind-body connection, but it can also help you to pick up on small issues with your form and fix them.
Engage Your Senses
Take the opportunity to enjoy the world around you with your senses. How’s the weather? Can you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin? Or is there a chilly wind instead? Feel the air against your skin, the wind ruffling your hair, and the impact of your feet on the ground.
Listen to the sounds around you. What can you hear? What’s your favorite color that you spot on your run? Let your senses guide you through your run, and enjoy the experience of it.
Cadence is a great indicator of performance, so focusing on the rhythm of your footsteps could be a great way to focus and improve your running simultaneously.
If you want to, you can count along with your footsteps or use a short phrase you can match up with your footsteps to keep you in that flow. It can be quite meditative.
Focus On Your Running Form
You can focus more closely on your running form without music to distract you. Consider where your feet are landing, how your foot is striking, and how your posture is.
This is the best time to pick up on small errors in form and change them up, while you’ve got the capacity to focus on them and turn them into habits.
Run with a Buddy
Worried about getting bored without your music? One of the best ways to get used to not having earbuds is to run with a friend. That way, you’ll still have some “distraction”, but you won’t quite get the same self-awareness benefits.
This is a good way to get used to not having earphones in, but if you really want to get the best benefits of not running with music, we recommend using this as a way to transition rather than the new norm.
Start by Running Shorter Distances
It might take some time to get used to running without music. It might be easier to transition slowly by leaving the music at home for shorter distance runs until you’re used to it.
Heading out for a long run without the music you’re used to might just be a mistake. If you get halfway and you’re struggling without your usual motivation, you might be tempted to pack it in and cut your run short!
Start with short runs. As you get used to it and start getting your head in the game, you can introduce music-less runs more and more often and for longer runs.
Vary Your Runs
Varying your run types is a classic technique built into most training programs, but if you aren’t already doing it, now’s the time to start!
Not only does it keep things interesting and reduce boredom, but it’s a bit of mental stimulation, doing something different from yesterday’s run.
Set Yourself Mini-Challenges
Challenge yourself! This is a great way for more competitive runners to compete against themselves and stay motivated.
Set small goals—something like maintaining a certain pace for a set period of time, or reaching the corner within 3 minutes this time. Whatever suits you—find fun ways to push yourself and improve.
Embrace Moments of Mental Solitude
If you’re running alone, use this time to enjoy some quiet, reflective, mental solitude. If you do it right, you can use your run as a form of moving meditation—observe your thoughts as they pass, explore new ideas, and find inspiration.
Also, this is the perfect time for gratitude. Concentrate on how your body feels as you’re running and be thankful that you have the ability to do this and that you’re in a position where you can enjoy a sport or improve your health.
Unleash Your Inner Cheerleader
You don’t need to wait for after the run to pat yourself on the back! Celebrate your milestones during the run, and be your own cheerleader as you go. Nobody else is going to be cheering you on, so be your own biggest fan.
Motivate yourself with positive self-talk. You know yourself best, so inspire yourself with words you know will spur you on!
Celebrate Your Achievements
When you’re more in tune with your body, you’re likely to start noticing improvements in your performance. Celebrate progress, and reward yourself appropriately when you reach your goals!