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The best headphones for running or hitting the gym

Person running on road

For running fanatics, few things are more important than a good pair of running shoes. But ranking just below those running shoes is a quality set of headphones. Especially when combined with a killer playlist to help push you through those last miles.

Let’s face it: running without music is like some form of medieval torture: it sucks. Cheap, crappy headphones just aren’t going to cut it.

When shopping for a quality pair of headphones to wear while running, there are certain features to look out for — features that may actually assist your performance or keep you in the workout zone. If this is your first time buying running headphones, or you want to up your tech game, here’s some crucial details.

Are there different types of running headphones?

There are plenty of different types of headphones out there: on-ear headphones, over-ear headphones, and in-ear earbuds. While there are on-ear and over-ear headphones designed for fitness and running, serious runners should only consider in-ear earbuds. Not only are they best suited for running, but tech companies are gearing their fitness-specific tech towards earbuds. However, there are different kinds of earbuds:

Wireless earbuds — Maybe you don’t want to deal with a long wire when running or want features that can track your progress while you hit the pavement. Wireless earbuds may be the best choice for you. There are plenty of options available that use a link cable for the earphones only or are completely wireless and have features like fitness tracking or voice controls.

Wired earbuds — Wired headphones are the more classic choice, though wired earbuds don’t necessarily mean that they’re wired to your devices, but are wired to each other. The benefits of these are some extra support around your neck, meaning the buds are less likely to pop out, and guaranteed in-sync audio between left and right buds. Also, they’re much harder to lose.

What features do you need with running headphones?

In theory, you can go running with any pair of earbuds. But there are some specific features that will actively help your run and get you on track to smash your PB:

Water resistance — Water resistant/proof earbuds will ensure you can go running in any weather and that you can sweat as profusely as you like. Look out for dustproof buds too.

Workout tracking Some headphones will connect with popular fitness apps that help track performance and goals.

Volume controls If there’s one thing guaranteed to slow you down, it’s having to dig your phone out of your pocket to fiddle with the volume or other functions. Look out for headphones that have buttons/touch controls on the ear cups or buds. 

Do runners need noise cancellation?

This is another key feature of modern headphones, and worth knowing about — especially if you’ll be doubling up to use them as regular, everyday headphones too. Noise cancellation is a feature that works exactly as it sounds — it blocks and dampens external sounds, so you can shut yourself away from the outside world and fully immerse. It works by using tiny microphones within the ear cups/buds, which emit signals to block out incoming noise. This is called active noise cancellation (ANC).

This can be useful for runners who want to stay fully in the zone and burst through their workout distraction-free. However, it might not be advisable to shut yourself off fully if running through a location you don’t know well, or you’re running alongside traffic. Look out for ANC that has transparency or ambient modes, which allows some external noise in, keeping you partially in tune with the outside world.

What are the best headphones for running?

Whether you’re training for a marathon or just looking to take a jog around the block, there is a set of headphones for you. From those that are sweatproof and have fitness tracking capabilities, to headphones with wires, earbud-style pairs, and everything in between, there is something out there that will suit you perfectly.

These are the best headphones for running in 2022.

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