You may not be training for the Olympics, but that doesn’t mean you don’t share the need for a pair of earbuds that stay put and sound great. The problem with workout headphones is that so many fall out during activity or else get wet and muddled. To find the best versions that athletes use, we spoke with a bunch who do workouts on the tennis court, in the dance studio, and even on the roofs of Santorini.
“I was a little bit skeptical at first because the earphones don’t go in your ear, and they use a new type of technology that actually transmits the sound through the bones in your ear. But after using them a few times, I was totally in love because I could hear the music just as well as with other headphones, but I can also hear all the noise around me. I feel a lot safer running with the AfterShokz headphones because I can hear traffic, and passing bikes and pedestrians.” —Katie Mackey, professional runner with the Brooks Beast track club
“I’m out playing and coaching tennis now like six times a week because of side hustles. I used the Anker SoundBuds Curve for a really long time and loved them. Best bang for your buck, in my opinion, for workout headphones. The sound quality wasn’t noticeably that different from the Beats I used last (the Beats 2, I believe), and they had all the same features. On the higher end, I know people like the Bose SoundSport and the newer SoundSport Free (which have no cord, like the AirPods).” —Mick Rouse, tennis player and coach
“I’m a skier and I usually don’t listen to music while skiing, but I do a lot when I’m in the gym. The best headphones for working out would be Sony wireless in-ear headphones. These have a great sound, noise cancellation, good fit, and are easy to control without having to open your music device. My pet peeve is when the headphones don’t fit properly, so they fall out of your ears while you’re doing different activities.” —Aleksander Aamodt Kilde, professional Alpine skier
“After testing out numerous pairs of headphones — and spending a lot of money. I am obsessed with my Bose in-ear wireless headphones called SoundSport. In my profession, I have to train on a daily basis, so I run and do other various exercises. I love that they stay in my ears when most others fall out due to sweat. They’re lightweight and the sound quality is phenomenal, getting me straight into the workout zone. The mic is great when I get incoming phone calls, allowing me to continue with exercising while taking care of business, same goes when I’m on a shoot. Waterproof headphones are sometimes good for a pool, but there’s nothing for the ocean. I tried Arenas once and they fell out pretty much immediately, and ended up dying really quickly.” —Jianca Lazarus, surfer and sports photojournalist
“I play squash professionally in my free time, so I need headphones that don’t connect to my phone with a wire — they’d get all tangled up and get in the way of my swing. AirPods are always reliable with their connection, unlike some of the old Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried. I also work in fashion, so it doesn’t hurt that they’re clean and nondescript. There’s a lot of headphone monstrosities out there! I really don’t like noise-canceling headphones for working out. I need to be able to hear my surroundings a bit to be totally comfortable out there. If I’m in a gym, I feel like I’m always in danger of running into someone if I wear noise-canceling headphones. Maybe I’m just paranoid.” —Chris Callis, squash doubles professional
“I’ve tried a bunch of different headphones, but I just happen to be lucky in that my ears fit the Apple AirPods really well, so I never end up losing them. My No. 1 concern is something impeding my movement. I basically don’t want to know that they’re there at all. But most headphones have some kind of cable. My standard training includes a lot of things like you’d see on American Ninja Warrior [note: Frosti set the fastest qualifying time in American Ninja Warrior history on his first attempt] — vaulting over walls, hopping fences, doing flips. At that point, I don’t care so much about losing a headphone as I do about falling.” —Michael “Frosti” Zernow, professional free runner
“For me, they have to be wireless. Ever since Bluetooth headphones became more affordable, I’ve been obsessed. I love being able to move freely while working out or dancing and still having my music. My current favorites are Jaybird Freedom. They’re inexpensive, and the wings help them stay in your ear while dancing or moving. Also, they’re black, so they are super sleek. As dancers, we do a lot of different kinds of fitness and cross-training, sometimes on machines, sometimes in studios, and sometimes upside down. It’s necessary to have both hands free most times, as well as not having to worry about your phone falling out of your pocket or waistband.” —Emily Kikta, New York City ballet dancer
“The best headphones in my opinion are the Beats headphones that wrap around your ears. They’re good because they block out external noise, and they also stay on when doing certain exercises that would cause other headphones to fall off. They also allow you to get around 30 feet without your phone, so it doesn’t have to be on your person at all times. I hate wires and getting them caught on anything while I’m working out.” —Vinnie Sunseri, former NFL player
“My favorite headphones to work out with are the fit or workout headphones from Beats by Dre. I love these headphones first for the quality of sound. There can be a lot of noise in a gym or out in the world, so a clear and strong audio sound is most important. Second, the materials and shape of the ear pieces make them very secure to my ears, so even the most dynamic type of exercises won’t jar them loose from my head. Obviously, different workout programs can consist of all types of movements, and not having to worry about constantly fixing my headphones is great. I’ve damaged several pairs with just the water damage from sweat getting into the earbuds. It’s important that a sporting set of headphones that have the proper technology to deal with sweat and electronics eventually crossing paths.” —Jason Hernandez, Major League Soccer player
“I compete in powerlifting and use wireless over-ear headphones in the gym. The downside of the over-ear headphones is that they sometimes slip out of place when I bench press. I used to use wireless earbuds, which were better for benching but not as visible. The large, over-ear, bright-blue headphones I now wear, though slightly cumbersome and nerdy-looking, are more effective at signaling to gym bros who have read two articles on T Nation that I’m not available to receive the unsolicited advice and comments they’re so eager to share with me. I don’t buy expensive headphones because I’m apt to lose them or drop something heavy on them.” —Martha Bull, powerlifter
“I currently have some wireless Bluetooth earbuds that have been great for lifting, biking, and running. They’re also great in the gym for getting amped up and feeling like I’m in my own world. But I’ll say that the endurance-sports communities that I’ve been aware of have very mixed feelings about headphones. Headphones are often seen as unsafe distractions, or even as performance enhancers that influence your speed, moderate your anxiety, and induce flow state. They really are good for all of those things, but they can make it harder to pay attention to relevant cues if you’re distracted. It’s a double-edged sword really.” —Erica Tibbetts, endurance athlete
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