Select the right workout headphones to get motivated for any training session
Listening to music while you train is an easy performance-boost win. One recent study from Brunel University found that pumping out your favourite tunes can increase the enjoyment of your session by 28%. And the more you enjoy your session, the easier it is to push yourself and the more likely you are to return for the next one. Conversely, our personal experience shows that cheap headphones that sound rubbish and refuse to stay in place can reduce workout enjoyment by about 90%. So if you want to smash your session rather than feel like you want to smash your headphones, read our expert guide to the best new gym-friendly options.
What should I be looking for in a pair of workout headphones?
There are three main things that you should focus on:
Fit: This basically comes down to whether or not they stay in place. If they don’t then they are worse than useless because they’ll distract you, waste time and wind you up. Bud-style headphones (the true wireless ones that sit neatly in your ear) that come with silicone tips and earfins tend of have a snug fit. Options that clip over your ear or have a headband are also likely to stay in place.
Comfort: As well as helping the headphone stay in place, silicone tips will also give you a softer, comfortable feel. For headphones with headbands, a lightweight construction with soft ear pad material is key.
Sound: You don’t want a pair that stays in place and feels great if it makes your music sounds like it’s coming out of a mid-80s Walkman. If you’re quite fussy about how your music sounds, get headphones that allow you to adjust the equaliser settings.
What’s the difference between buds and on-ear?
This is just personal preference, really. Some people don’t like the feeling of having something lodged in their ears, although the better quality bud options are designed so that you barely notice that you’re wearing them.
What kind of price am I looking at?
Workout headphones are a classic case of generally getting what you pay for. You can find plenty of £20 options but they’re unlikely to stay in place and the sound quality will be poor. Once you pass the £50 mark you start to get ones that fit well, sound good and are comfortable but you may need to go a bit higher than that before you find a pair you can fall in love with.
The best headphones for a great gym session
Here’s our pick of the best new active headphones for resistance training and high-intensity workouts
Best for style
Standout features: Because they’re made by Beats’ parent company, Apple, they pair easily with iOS devices, which means you can use the Siri voice command function to set rest period timers. They also have controls on both sides, which is useful for making adjustments while holding a weight in one hand.
What do they sound like: If you like a bass-heavy sound then you’ll be happy. And unless you’re really picky, everything else is going to sound pretty decent too.
What are they like to wear: They’re very comfortable, both over and in the ear. You don’t feel like you’ve got something wedged into your ear canal, basically. The sleek, ergonomic design looks and feels like a premium product.
Battery life: 9 hours.
Buy them if… You want to look stylish while listening to some deep, dark rolling bass lines.
Buy it from Amazon £219.99
JLab Epic Air Sport
Best for price
Standout features: The biggest thing is probably that they compare really favourably across the board to the Powerbeats Pro but at a fraction of the cost.
What do they sound like: The default is pretty bass-heavy, but you can select from three EQ presets (signature, balanced, and bass boost) on the headphones without the need for an app. Metallica’s Ride The Lightening sounded great on the signature setting while the bass boost option did justice to Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones (Part II).
What are they like to wear: The ear hooks are really comfortable and ensure that the buds stay in place during intense workouts.
Battery life: 10 hours plus 60 extra hours with the charging case.
Buy them if… You’re looking for a great all-rounder at an excellent price.
Buy it from Amazon £69.99
Adidas Sport RPT-01 bluetooth headphones
Standout features: The ear pad cushions and headband are both washable, which is great if you’re not a massive fan of the smell of stale sweat.
What do they sound like: Overall they’re pretty solid. It’s another bass-focused sound but unless you’re listening to a progressive orchestral piece, they should be up to the job. If we’re getting specific about what they lack, it’s maybe a bit of depth, but if you’re training hard enough you shouldn’t really notice.
What are they like to wear: Some people just don’t like the feel of bud-style headphones. If that’s you and you’re looking at this kind of design, you’d be hard pressed to find a lighter, more comfortable pair.
Battery life: An impressive 40 hours.
Buy them if… You like the idea of an on-ear option and you’re planning to do some high-intensity, sweat-inducing sessions.
Buy it on Amazon £119
JBL UA True Wireless Flash X
Best for outdoor training
Standout features: They’re the only headphones in the test with an IPX7 rating, which means they can be submerged in water for up to about 30 minutes. That makes them ideal if you’re planning to train in the rain or take them for a quick dip.
What do they sound like: The sound quality is impressive, as is the ability to adjust what you hear. The TalkThru setting amplifies speech so you can chat to a training partner during your session without shouting at each other. The Ambient Aware setting lets you hear background sounds, which is useful for outdoor sessions or runs when you want to be aware of traffic.
What are they like to wear: They’ve very comfortable and they come with a range of ear tips so you can find the right fit for you.
Battery life: 10 hours per full charge plus 40 extra hours with the charging case
Buy them if… You’re looking for great sound and the flexibility to take your training sessions anywhere.
Buy it from Amazon £115.99 – usual price £159
Bose Sport Earbuds
Best for comfort
Standout features: They are entirely touch-controlled, so there are no buttons at all, which gives them a sleek, minimalist look. You can adjust the touch control settings in an easy-to-use app.
What do they sound like: The StayHear Max tips (of which there are three size options) create a tight seal in your ear so you can hear bass notes really clearly. That may sound uncomfortable but it’s actually the opposite.
What are they like to wear: The surface that touches your ear is made from soft silicone, rather than plastic, to avoid putting too much pressure on sensitive parts of your ear. They also stay in place really well.
Battery life: 5 hours
Buy them if… You find most bud-style options uncomfortable and you want a stylish pair that will look good away from the gym too.
Buy it from Amazon £179
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay E8 Sport
Best for sound
Standout features: It’s got to be the sound quality. It really is impressive, with detail and nuance all over the place. Whatever you’re listening to, they’ll really bring it to life. But, hey, that’s what you’d expect for the price, right?
What do they sound like: If you want to get a bit geeky, you can play around with the sound settings in the Bang & Olufsen app, which means you can pretty much make it sound however you want it to sound.
What are they like to wear: They’re comfortable and come with a range of silicone tips and earfins, so you can select the right fit for you. They’re also likely to stay in place during dynamic sections of your workouts.
Battery life: 7 hours, or up to 30 hours with the charging case.
Buy them if… You’re fussy about sound and you’re feeling flush.
Buy it on Amazon £299.99
UA Sport Wireless Train Headphones — Project Rock
Best for serious lifters
Standout features: They’ve been created in collaboration with action hero and training legend, The Rock, which means they’ve been produced by someone who knows exactly what he wants from a pair of workout headphones. When you put them on, you feel like you want to go and lift.
What do they sound like: Powerful rather than subtle. But then you want something meaty to disguise the sound of your final-rep grunt. They also have the signature UA TalkThru function that lets you chat while listening to music.
What are they like to wear: The ear cushions, which are removable and washable, are made with a material that subtly ‘grips’ to your ear, meaning they stay in place when things get serious.
Battery life: 16 hours, with a 5 minute ‘Speed Charge’ giving you an hour of battery life.
Buy them if… You live and breathe lifting and want a great set of headphones that reflects who you are.
New Body Plan verdict
We’d be happy wearing any of the headphones in this test but there are two that stand out. The first is the JLab Epic Air Sport because it can go toe-to-toe with the others on test at a great value price. The second is the new Project Rock headphones because you can tell that they’ve been crafted by people who understand what it’s like to stand with a heavy bar on your back.