Most Comfortable Headphones for Running and Workouts – How to Choose

Most Comfortable Headphones for Running and Workouts – How to Choose

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Exercising isn’t always fun, and one of the best things you can do to keep yourself motivated is to put on some headphones, find some good music, and zone out as you work out. Choosing the most comfortable workout headphones can help you enjoy your time at the gym or entertain your mind when you’re on a run and maybe even make the time pass a little faster.

The right headphones can be paired with your phone, a running watch with music or some even allow you to store music right on the device itself. Watches like the Apple Watch 6 now allow you to play and download Apple Music or stream Spotify music even without your phone.

If you’re trying to figure out which are the most comfortable headphones for exercise, there are a lot of options out there. From an earbud to headphone, and with features like active noise cancellation, true wireless capabilities, and a charging case, there’s a lot to consider when getting a new pair of workout earbuds or sports headphones. Here are some tips to help you choose which are the right pair for you.

1. Types of Headphones

There are a few types of headphones to consider for exercising, each with its pros and cons. Let’s take a look at the different types:

1.1 Earbuds

Earbuds are also called in-ear headphones because, true to their name, you place them in your ear. Most smartphones come with a pair of earbuds and there are a lot of different varieties for sale, including high-performance models with impressive sound and sports buds with an ear hook to provide a secure fit.

One of the best things about earbuds is that they are so portable. It’s easy to place them in a gym bag or purse and pull them out when you get to the gym. Some have microphones so you can use them to talk on the phone. Because they sit inside the ear canal, they are usually pretty good at blocking out background noise, and they don’t get in the way of glasses, hats, or ponytails.

The downside to earbuds is that the sound quality is not too great. They’re small and they can’t provide the same audio quality as an over ear headphone. Workout earbuds can be a little uncomfortable if you wear them for an extended period, and wired versions can get tangled or get in the way, depending on the type of workout you’re doing. If you’re getting workout earphones, it’s usually best to go for true wireless buds to avoid this.

1.2 On-Ear Headphones

Full Size Headphones


This style rests on your ears and provides a better sound than earbuds. They’re not as compact as earbuds, but are more convenient than some other types of headphones as some models fold for easy transport.

The sound quality is a bit of an improvement from earbuds because they’re bigger, but sound leaks easily which may disturb your neighbors at the gym. While an over ear headphone can provide a secure fit, some models may be uncomfortable to wear during vigorous activity.

1.3 Full-Size Headphones

Although full-sized headphones have amazing sound, they’re not a very popular choice for running and workouts because of their size. Around or over the ear headphones are often called Circumaural headphones. They’re large enough to provide cover over the entire ear, though some brands have developed smaller, lighter models that are a bit friendlier for working out. If you’re set on full-size headphones because you can’t give up that high-quality sound, pay attention to the weight and the size of the headband. Anything too heavy or too wide will probably interfere with your workout.

For running, closed back headphones can get quite hot. I’m always surprised to see people running with Sony headphones (most often the Sony WH-1000XM4) as they must get really sweaty for longer work outs or aerobic exercise like running.

1.4 Sports Headphones

Not surprisingly, sports headphones are some of the best wireless workout headphones out there and are extremely popular for working out. Most are sweat-resistant, and some are even waterproof and can be used when running or biking in light rain. There are multiple styles available, including earbuds, wireless, and true wireless earbuds. One thing to keep in mind is that some have an open design to allow some sound through so that you can hear traffic and background noise if you’re running or cycling on the street.

2. Corded or Cordless

Corded headphones, or wired headphones, are more reliable and give you a better sound, but there’s a pretty good chance the cord will get in the way when you’re exercising, especially if you’re doing an upper body workout or using something like a rowing machine.

If you’ve ever walked away from a laptop with your headphones still plugged in you’ll know what I’m talking about here. So, while wired headphones might be more affordable, often still sound better and be your favorites, they don’t always make sense in a gym when working out. You don’t want to be rowing and have your cord get squashed under the seat.

With the number of wireless headphones and earphones in the majority these days, there aren’t a lot of reasons to go wired. If you do, run the cable down the inside of your shirt….if you’re wearing one.

A wireless headphone is convenient for working out, but inexpensive options can be unreliable when it comes to Bluetooth. Plus, you have to worry about making sure the battery is charged before you head out for a run or to the gym. Battery life can be unreliable on cheaper models, and there’s always the chance that your cordless earbuds will lose their power half-way through your workout.

If you decide to go with a wireless pair, make sure you pick a well-known brand that promises good battery life and always make sure you keep them charged.

Corded or Cordless


There are true wireless headphones, too, that consist of two independent buds instead of two tethered to each other with a cord. The upside is that there are no wires. The downside is that, since there are no wires, you have to be extra careful not to lose the buds. Battery life can be relatively short compared to other styles, and the models that deliver the best sound and longest battery life are usually pretty pricey.

Included in the True Wireless group of earphones are the Apple Airpods Pro, the Sony WF-1000xm3, the Jabra 75t and many others.

3. Taking Calls

There are some phone calls you can’t miss. Whether your job requires you to be available at all times or you’re a caregiver who needs to be reachable, there are a lot of options when it comes to headphones that can also take phone calls. Most work through Bluetooth or by plugging directly into your smartphone.

That said, if you’d rather not be disturbed while you exercise, just put your phone on “do not disturb” mode and enjoy your workout.

For me, the gym is like a travelling on an airplane – you shouldn’t be taking calls next to someone focused on their weights or workouts. It’s just a bit rude IMO.

4. Water-Resistance

If you sweat a lot or if you do most of your workouts outside, it’s worth considering getting a pair of sweat-resistant headphones. Some full-sized headphones have foam and padding that can quickly wear down and fall apart when exposed to rain or sweat, so look for something that you can remove and wash when needed.

Most earphones, including Blueooth wireless and True Wireless, that are designed for working out will have a water resistance rating. Usually starts with IP e.g. IP67. You can look up what each rating means on Wikipedia or similar.

Main Things to Keep in Mind When Choosing the Most Comfortable Headphones

So, in summary here are a few brief tips on choosing headphones or earphones for working out. You could use this as a checklist before you buy.

Choosing comfortable headphones for working out

  1. Ideally choose a Bluetooth wireless set of headphones, wireless earphones or true wireless earbuds to ensure you’re free of wires and being attached your phone or music player
  2. Choosing True Wireless is a great choice but make sure they are charged and make sure they fit well. In my opinion, good choices include the Jabra 75t and Apple Airpods Pro as they stay in really well during hard workouts or runs
  3. If you go for headphones, consider a semi-open back headphone to reduce the heat and sweat that will build-up. Closed-back headphones are OK for the gym but if you’re running they will become too hot to be comfortable because they hold the heat in.
  4. If you are going to get a sweat up or run in all weather conditions, look for some sort of sweat or IP water resistance rating so you don’t ruin them due to humidity fritzing your circuits
  5. If you can try them first, do it. Most places don’t allow returns of earphones and earbuds as they have been in your ears so no one wants your returns but you do want to try to ensure they fit. I purchased the Sony XF-1000xm3 and they wouldn’t stay in so I switched to the Apple Airpods Pro and they fit great. I sold my Sony privately online.
  6. If you don’t want to carry your phone around consider headphones or earphones that store music or get a smartwatch that offers offline or streaming music without your phone.
  7. It might seem strange to say but make sure you like how you look in the earphones you purchase. It’s important they are comfortable but you don’t want to look ridiculous.

There are so many options out there that it helps to think about what you want in a pair of headphones before you shop. If you’re going to use them strictly for running and workouts, focus on weight and comfort. If you sweat a lot or spend a lot of time exercising outdoors, as we’ve mentioned, consider looking for a pair that is waterproof or sweatproof.

I have spent many years exercising with in-ear monitors and love it. Nice sound isolation and great sound. The only negative is the lack of wireless cables but they do exist. You can also get a great sounding pair for cheap.

If you have any questions please let me know. I’m not a hard core gym junkie but I’ve been exercising with earbuds, headphones and IEM for years.

Source of featured image:

A passion for writing and ongoing research projects gives Catherine an incredibly broad knowledge of all things. She has authored an incredible number of articles and can be found in the wilderness when not attached to technology or listening to podcasts.

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