You may not be training for the Olympics or a marathon, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need a pair of headphones that stay put and sound great. Many athletes use headphones for an extra push of motivation in the gym, and just as many need theirs to block out distracting ambient noise. If you run outside, around cars, you’ll want a pair that won’t block out environmental sounds to ensure your safety. It all depends on you and your workout. To find the best workout headphones for every kind of athlete, we spoke with nearly two dozen professional athletes and trainers who workout on basketball courts, in gyms and dance studios, and even one who gets his steps in on the roofs of the island of Santorini.
Best overall workout headphones
Of the 21 athletes we spoke to, 8 said that they use Apple AirPods when working out. The reason for their popularity is simple: AirPods are small and wireless and don’t get in the way of an athlete’s movements. “My standard training includes a lot of things, like vaulting over walls, hopping fences, doing flips,” says professional free runner Michael “Frosti” Zernow, who set the fastest qualifying time in American Ninja Warrior history. “My number one concern is something impeding my movement.” Lots of Bluetooth headphones check that box, but according to Chris Callis, “AirPods are always reliable with their connection, unlike some of the other Bluetooth headphones I’ve tried. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re clean and nondescript. There are a lot of headphone monstrosities out there,” he says.
German Srulovich, assistant men’s basketball coach at College of Central Florida, likes AirPods’ double-tap option. “If a player has a song pop up from their kid’s playlist during their workout, they can just double-tap their headphones to get it to a song they want. That eliminates any delays in our workouts, and I’d expect more brands to incorporate it.”
According to Connor Kelly, Tyson Bomberry, and Jake Fox, players on the National Lacrosse League’s New York Riptide, they wear AirPods while working out because the headphones don’t fall out. Kelly also wears his during warm-ups to help him focus and get motivated before games. AirPods are also popular among Steph Curry and almost every teen we’ve talked to over the last two years. If you happen to have extra-large ear holes, like Strategist contributor Sarah Z. Wexler, AirPods Pro provide a better fit, which will be helpful.
Best noise-canceling workout headphones
Although AirPods are popular, almost to the point of ubiquity, that doesn’t make them perfect for every athlete; especially since no two people have the same sized ear holes. John Ranagan, another New York Riptide player, prefers Bose SoundSport wireless headphones because they stay in his ears better than any other headphones and they have great audio. Russell Byrd, a former Michigan State University basketball player, who now plays for SCM CSU Craiova in Romania, is also a fan. “No matter what I’m doing on the court, those things are staying in,” says Byrd. They’re also noise canceling, unlike AirPods (but AirPod Pros are), so “they block out a lot of the noise of the pre-game crowd so I can focus on getting up shots and enjoy the music.”
After testing out a bunch of different pairs, Jianca Lazarus, a surfer and sports photojournalist, also loves the Bose SoundSport wireless headphones. But, she’s partial to an earlier version that connects the two sides with a wire that sits behind your head. “I love that they stay in my ears when most others fall out due to sweat,” says Lazarus, who also uses them to make work calls. “The sound quality is phenomenal, and the mic is great when I get incoming phone calls so I can continue exercising while taking care of business,” she says.
Best less expensive workout headphones
Sometimes, however, the best headphones are the ones that work well but won’t ruin your day if you forget them at the gym or on the court. Tennis player and coach Mick Rouse, who also works as research manager for GQ, calls this pair from Anker “the best bang for your buck.” He says the sound quality isn’t that different from higher-end headphones.
Best headphones for vigorous workouts
If your workouts have you flinging yourself across a field or unable to stay close to your phone, former NFL player Vinnie Sunseri recommends Powerbeats 3. “They’re good because they block out external noise, and they stay on when doing exercises that would cause other headphones to fall off,” he says. “You can use them up to around 30 feet away from your phone, so it doesn’t have to be on your person at all times.” Major League Soccer player Jason Hernandez also recommend Powerbeats headphones. “I love these headphones first for the quality of sound,” says Hernandez. He also appreciates their security and durability: “Even the most dynamic type of exercises won’t jar them loose from my head. Plus, I’ve damaged several headphones with sweat, so it’s important to me that a headphones that have the proper technology to deal with sweat and electronics eventually crossing paths.” Srulovich likes them too, thanks to their loud volume and bass. “A majority of the music played in our sport is rap, and players get energy from turning the volume up and feeling the bass kicking,” he says.
“As dancers, we do a lot of different kinds of fitness and cross-training, sometimes on machines, sometimes in studios, and sometimes upside down,” says Emily Kikta, a New York City Ballet dancer. She likes the Jaybird Freedom wireless headphones because they’re inexpensive, and the wings alongside the earbuds help them stay in while you’re dancing or moving. Michael Wardian, a marathon runner who holds the world record for the fastest time for seven marathons on seven continents in seven days, is also a fan. He says “Jaybirds have great battery life, sound quality, and are pretty indestructible.”
Glenn McCallum, a professional country western dancer, uses DISO buds when practicing with his dance partner. Each person wears one earbud, and “the range is long enough between the individual headphones that we can both hear the music while dancing together without having to be close.” He also likes that they stay put in his ears while dancing: “With the different sized earpieces to choose from you can be sure they won’t fly out of your ears while whipping your head through a fast series of turns.”
Best headphones for staying aware of your surroundings
“I was a little bit skeptical at first because the earphones don’t go in your ear,” says Katie Mackey, a professional runner with the Brooks Beast Track Club. Mackey’s pick from AfterShokz uses technology that transmits sound through the bones in your ear. “I can hear my music really well, and I can also hear all the noise around me,” she says. “I feel a lot safer because I can hear traffic, passing bikes, and pedestrians.” Marathon runner Wardian likes them, too, because they’re great for safety, have nice sound quality, and are very well built. “I like them so that I can hear my podcasts but still be aware if I come around a corner and see a mountain lion or bear,” he says.
Best over-ear workout headphones
Jamie Hickey, a personal trainer at Truism Fitness, is one of the few athletes we talked to who prefers over-ear headphones. “I spend a lot of time at the gym, and there are times when I want to workout in peace. These headphones provide that,” he says. He appreciates their noise-canceling capability as well as the “comfortable yet tight fit” they provide, which keeps them from moving during workouts. “I like to get into a groove and forget my surroundings while working out,” he says. “Not hearing the environment around you makes that a whole lot easier.”
Best less expensive over-ear headphones
Like Hickey, Martha Bull, a competitive power lifter, goes for bigger, over-ear headphones when she’s in the gym. Bull likes that these Mpow headphones are affordable, in case she drops a weight on them. Plus, they’re visible enough to discourage unwelcome comments. “I used to use wireless earbuds, which were better for benching but not as visible. These bright-blue headphones 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.”
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