The best sports headphones for working out
The right headphones make the perfect training partners. Find yours with our expert guide to the best pairs for exercise
From seasoned workout veterans to lockdown-inspired couch-to-5Kers, we all have times when we need a little push to get up and go for that run, cycle or training session. Mindful exercise is no bad thing, but music can really help with motivation and staying power, boosting endurance and staving off fatigue so we can pedal harder and run for longer.
With running, gym and outdoor sports all back on the table, the world is your fitness playground. All you have to do is provide the soundtrack – which is where we come in. ‘The variety of different fitness headphones is enormous these days, ranging from old-school wired sets at one end of the scale to true wireless options at the other,’ says Wareable reporter and Get Sweat Go editor Tom Wheatley.
So what do the best headphones for running, sport and gym have in common? According to tech journalist Chris Haslam, co-founder of luxury lifestyle website Brogue, it boils down to four key factors: ‘They need to be light, be comfortable, absolutely never fall out and be moisture resistant, because sweat kills headphones faster than anything else.’
But the latest models can do even more to enhance your training sessions, from hear-through mode to real-time coaching. It’s time to be all ears as our experts walk you through the key features to look out for and share their top picks.
Run free with true wireless technology
Thinking about investing in a pair of wireless headphones for running or the gym? ‘The technology within sports true wireless headphones has come on in leaps and bounds,’ says Partner & Assistant Buyer Jade Baker. ‘We're seeing much-improved fit and comfort, improved noise-cancelling technology, the addition of transparent modes (important for running or cycling near roads) and better battery life.’
Jade loves the lack of restrictions that a wireless pair brings. ‘You can easily tuck your phone away to provide freedom while running or working out,’ she explains. ‘Each pair comes with a choice of buds, so you'll always be able to find the perfect fit to ensure they stay in place, no matter how intense the workout.’
‘If you're planning to invest in a pair of Bluetooth headphones for running or sports, a lightweight, secure fit should be top of your list,’ says Tom. ‘If your headphones are uncomfortable or fall out on a run, nothing else really matters.’
‘I’ve tested dozens of pairs of running headphones and, for me, fit is by far the most important feature,’ Chris agrees. ‘If you’re constantly having to adjust them, you’ll soon hate them, no matter how good they look or sound. Make sure your chosen pair comes with plenty of different earbuds and wingtip sizes to ensure the best fit possible. True wireless designs give you added freedom – look for designs with ear hooks to help them stay in place.’
‘Powerbeats Pro offer amazing comfort and fit – and the ear hooks ensure they don't fall out,’ says Jade. ‘They also give you the freedom to listen with just one bud in, which is great when you're running or cycling near roads. The Sony WF-SP800N also come with ear hooks for a secure, comfortable fit that will see you through all your workouts.’
In it for the long run
‘For long-distance runners, battery life comes a close second to fit,’ says Tom. True wireless headphones can often go for more than five hours on a single charge – pick a pair that comes with a quick-charge carry case for on-the-go top-ups.
You should also check for their water-resistance rating (you’ll want your chosen pair to withstand sweat and rain) and noise isolation. ‘If you rely on pounding music to get you through a long, boring run, choose a design with decent bass, but remember: ambient noise is important, especially if you’re running on roads and need to be aware of your surroundings,’ warns Chris. ‘I love my Jaybird Tarah Pro as the silicon wing tips stay in place and the sound quality is superb, but they do isolate the sound, so I wear them when I’m away from roads.’
‘Many headphones now have partner apps that allow you to personalise sound quality and manage the level of outside sounds that you can hear,’ Tom explains. ‘The Jaybird Vistas are my favourite all-rounders. Probably the smallest, lightest headphones you’ll find, they also have one of the most advanced audio personalisation apps around. And with six hours of battery life and a tiny, pocket-friendly case that gives you 10 more, they’re perfect for running.’
In the gym
While there is a degree of crossover between the best headphones for running and the best headphones for the gym, if you’re preparing to hit the weights room, your priorities might be slightly different. ‘For gym activities like weightlifting, sound quality and noise isolation are key,’ Tom says.
‘Fundamentally, gym headphones should be the same as running headphones – survive sweat, never fall out and feel great to wear,’ says Chris. ‘But you may want a pair with more noise isolation – I prefer true wireless in-ear designs that block out as much bad pumping gym music as possible. If you’re doing weights or hitting the rowing machine or cross trainer you can try over-ear heapdhones – but watch out if you perspire a lot!
‘I’ve always liked the Jabra Elite 65t for fit, flexibility and longevity,’ he adds. ‘You can rinse them under the tap, and thanks to their class-leading sound quality, they’ll happily drown out the gym’s piped music.’
Style-conscious? ‘The Jabra Active 75t comes in a beautiful range of colours to complement your workout gear,’ adds Jade. ‘And the fit is expertly tailored – it’s Jabra's smallest earbud yet!’
On the move
Heading off road? Squash players, free runners and snowboarders all use headphones to soundtrack their training sessions and the last thing you need when you’re speeding down a mountain is to lose your soundtrack (and an expensive earbud). So which of our experts’ favourite headphones for sport should be on your shortlist?
‘The Powerbeats Pro offer exceptional fit and a big sound, with enough battery life for even the longest training sessions,’ Chris recommends. ‘They’re great for running, climbing, cycling – basically anything you need a secure fit for.’
‘They’re really impressive headphones,’ Tom agrees. ‘Amazing sound quality, battery life and ergonomics that mean they stay in over long distances.’
Jaybird and Jabra are also highly rated by adventurous types. ‘Designed for all workouts from running to rock-climbing, the Jaybird Vista buds will stay in place and come with a nice small carry case, perfect for your pocket,’ says Jade.
Then there are Apple’s AirPods, which have become a hit with professional athletes ranging from free runner Michael Zernow to squash player Chris Callis thanks to their snug, secure fit, reliable connection and weightless feel. See you on the court? Siri can tag along, too.