To boost your running, you’ve probably tried wearing new kicks, adjusting your stride, eating energy bars, and more. Recent studies offer one easy, proven tip: distraction.
Rather than thinking about what’s going on in your body, focusing on external sights and sounds can up your game. That’s what researchers concluded in a 2021 study published in Human Kinetics’ Journal of Motor Learning and Development.
The research team studied 25 novice female runners and found that the more they tuned in to their bodies’ pain and fatigue, the more draining their workout became, both physically and psychologically. The converse was also true: The more they distracted themselves, the easier their run felt — and the better their performance.
“Our findings revealed [that] when participants adopted a dissociative-external focus of attention, they consumed less oxygen, [and] had lower blood lactate and a lower rating of perceived exertion compared with trials completed using an associative attention strategy,” the researchers write. “The findings of this study demonstrate that running economy is improved and feelings of fatigue are lowest when using a combination of a dissociative-external focus of attention.”
Listening to music may be key to running when you are mentally tired, according to a 2021 report in the Journal of Human Sport and Exercise. Researchers studied 18 runners who performed 30-minute-long cognitive tests before sprint intervals and, separately, 5K races. Those who ran to music charted moderately better times.
“Mental fatigue is a common occurrence for many of us and can negatively impact many of our day-to-day activities, including exercise,” says lead author Shaun Phillips, PhD, of the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education and Sport. “Listening to self-selected motivational music may be a useful strategy to help active people improve their endurance-running capacity and performance when mentally fatigued.”