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The Surprising Truth About Running Naked
There’s evidence that hitting the pavement or trails with zero gadgets can improve the mind-body connection. Here’s why you should give naked running a try.
If you’re like most fitness lovers, your headphones rank right up there with your running shoes, tights or sports bra as essential gear for your next workout. You’re in good company: From pro athletes with downloadable playlists to stadium surround sound, it’s clear sports stars use music to get in the right headspace to win the game or crush their race.
What’s more, research shows that slipping in your earbuds while you sweat gives you the support you need to get after it: In a 2020 study, researchers at the Department of Musicology in Oslo, Norway, found that people who wore headphones while working out were more active during their session thanks, in part, to a stronger response from the vestibular system (the part of your ears that coordinates movement and balance).
And then there’s the intuitive bit that you already know: It’s easier to hang tough during a lung-busting workout when you’ve got the company of your favorite musicians blasting through your head. Still, for all the perks of being plugged in, another movement is afoot, one that advocates running “naked”—as in, without musical stimulation of any kind—as a way to make you a more self-aware runner. The question is, which method is better?
The Benefits of Beats
Even if you’re not an elite competitor, there’s no shortage of research to suggest that music can help your aerobic efforts last longer, especially if you’re an endurance athlete. That same Norwegian study measured the performance of female runners during speed workouts and endurance training while listening to music. While the performance for both activities improved after incorporating music, endurance athletes benefitted the most: Researchers found that they moved more—and at a more intense pace. The reason: Music led these athletes into a more introspective headspace, researchers concluded, helping them find an inner focus to keep pushing.
Perks of Going Silent
But while music might get you in the mindset to move, relying on it too heavily could backfire if you miss your internal cues about when to push and when to ease up during a sweat session. And indeed, some experts believe that wearing headphones during workouts could make you less aware of your body, cadence and other warning signs you might be over your limits. Instead, by removing the distraction of your favorite tunes and listening to your body’s internal feedback on variables such as gait, breathing and stride—key components for racing—it could help you sync your efforts better.
The bottom line: While listening to music can help motivate you on days when you’re doing easy or aerobic runs, during hard workouts and races, you’re likely better off keeping your ears free of music so you tune in to what your body is telling you. (You might try to balance both approaches by psyching yourself up with tunes during your warm up, then dropping the headphones for full-on focus during the actual session.) Getting used to the “naked” approach takes a little time, but the long-term benefits of knowing how to listen to your body may be worth it.
Workouts for Naked Running
If you’re curious about giving naked running a try, check out the workouts below that use a track or measured distance to help you focus. Start with a 20-minute warm up of easy running to make sure your body is ready. “You want to be able to breathe and talk relatively comfortably during this time,” says Coach Matthew Imberman of Brooklyn Distance Running in New York. Then get ready to go hard.
Workout 1: Classic Quarters
What it is: A “bread and butter” beginner track workout, ideally you'll be running on a 400-meter track (the standard for most outdoor tracks), where one lap is equivalent to almost exactly 1/4 mile. “This is a good way to build speed, and easily track your progress from workout to workout,” Imberman says.
How to do it: After you warm up, alternate one lap around the track (400m) at a hard effort with a lap around the track at a very easy jog to recover for the next hard bout. Shoot for 10-12 repetitions (one hard lap, one easy per rep), and focus on running the hard laps in the same amount of time from the beginning of the workout to the end.
Make it easier: If you start to struggle, break the lap down into four pieces—two straights and two curves—and only focus on the piece you’re running.
Workout 2: The Pyramid
What it is: A more advanced workout that helps to build speed and stamina.
How to do it: You're going to climb up “the pyramid” in distance, starting with 200 meters (1/2 a lap), increasing the distance by 200 meters for every interval until you hit 1000 meters (2.5 times around the track). Then, work your way back down the pyramid in similar fashion by 200 meters. Sound confusing? Here's how it all shakes out: Hard efforts of 200m, 400m, 600m, 800m, 1000m, 800m, 600m, 400m, 200m. “In between each hard effort, jog at a very easy pace for the same distance as the previous hard bout,” Imberman says. (So 200m hard, 200m easy; 400m hard, 400m easy; and so on.) “Try to focus on shortening your stride and increasing your cadence (how quickly your feet turn over) from easy to hard runs.”
Make it easier: Slow down, so you maintain roughly the same effort across all of the intervals. “Don't go out too fast on the shorter intervals, or you'll pay for it at the end,” Imberman says.
For best results, do these workouts twice a week, leaving your headphones at home and focusing on your breath and stride. Hard running workouts build muscle but are taxing on your system. To prevent injury from the intense work, incorporate other activities, like yoga, into your weekly routine and make sure you take rest days when you need them to allow your body to recover for your next round of hard work.