The only thing more horrifying than having to train indoors during the winter season—or when time/space/safety dictates—is having to train inside with nothing to listen to but a super loud fan or the sound of your tidal-wave pool of sweat gaining momentum on the floor. Music helps. Bingeing on guilty-pleasure TV helps. But unless you live on a farm, chances are your music or Game of Thrones wailing, turned up to where you can hear it, will make your loved ones/neighbors want to put you outside in the cold like a bad dog. Avoiding banishment is exactly why you need to find the best headphones for working out when inside.
To be clear, I definitely don’t condone wearing headphones while running or riding on the open roads, but most of the recommendations below apply to both indoor and outdoor training. The best headphones for working out outdoors are ones that don’t work at all: There is a lot to be said for hearing and being aware of the dangers around you, particularly as drivers become less and less attentive and pedestrian/cyclist encounters with cars become more commonplace. With that said, I will go over a few types of headphones that are better than most for training outside—we are of our own free will, last time I checked, but please do the right thing and try to save the music for the safety of the indoors.
Before we get into a few picks, let’s learn a little bit more about what features make the best headphones for working out:
The (Water)proof is in the pudding
Unless you are some kind of superhero with the special power to not sweat or sweat only out of your feet or something, chances are you’ll be dumped in sweat after 15 minutes of training inside—hence the best headphones for working out are going to have some level of wetness protection. Leave those old-school DJ earmuffs in the drawer and get something with an IP rating of at least IP62 for running or riding. (IPX2 means basically the same thing as IP62 for our purposes if you ever see it written that way.) For swimming, you’ll need IP68 (or IPX8) with a submergence time (from the manufacturer) that lasts at least as long as you swim. Wondering exactly what those completely nondescript numbers mean? (Briefly) nerd out on this:
“IP” stands for Ingress Protocol, which is a fancy way of saying “How much stuff gets in.” The first digit after the “IP” is the level of solids protection. Six is basically the max for solid protection and means that the device is “dust tight”—anything less than that would be basically useless for sports. The second digit uses the following scale to measure how much liquid the device can be protected from:
- Dripping water when tilted at 15°
- Spraying water
- Water splashing
- Light water jets
- Powerful water jets
- Powerful water jets with increased pressure
- Immersion, up to 1m depth (30min. or less)
- Immersion, 1m or more depth (length of time specified by manufacturer)
- Powerful, high-temperature water jets
Cut The Cord?
This is a big one. While most computers, tablets, and smartphones have built-in Bluetooth, lots of TVs don’t. If you happen to be riding or running outside with music, obviously wireless is the way to go; if you’re watching TV, you might need a Bluetooth transmitter to plug into your TV, which requires a little bit of work, an extra device, and a power source.
If you want to listen to music sans-smartphone or tablet, your best headphones for working out will have built-in music storage that requires files to be transferred and then played. This is also pretty much essential for swimming as Bluetooth doesn’t transmit super well over pool distances or through water.
Some of the best headphones for working out also have microphones for making and taking calls or for voice commands with Siri or other voice-activated software—ideal for the quintessential multisport multitasker. Just know that the only thing more dangerous than riding or running outside with music is being distracted by taking a call. Hands-free in a car is one thing, but riding and talking is another. Mixing business with “pleasure” while working out indoors should really be the only time you use that mic.
Got it all? Let’s look at a few of the best headphones for working out based on features:
Best Headphones for Working Out Outside (if you must…)
$150, 8hrs. runtime, Amazon.com
Using bone conduction, this is one of the few options of headphones that transmits music without blocking your ears. The upside to this is that you can still hear the outside environment, the (slight) downside is that you can still hear the outside environment. If you know for sure you’ll be using these only while riding a loud trainer or with a loud fan, this might not be the best pair. Also, this version of Aftershokz’ similar line stores 4Gb of music locally, so you can swim or train without any other devices. Just keep it mind that the Xtrainerz don’t support Bluetooth (or a microphone). For that, check out Aftershokz’ Aeropex ($160, Amazon.com).
Best Headphones for Working Out with An iPhone
Apple AirPods Pro
$250, 4.5hrs. runtime, Amazon.com
You’ve seen these on young people everywhere, and while they’re super “cool” (and super pricey), reviewers say the AirPods Pro actually put out very good sound quality. They’re also super well-made and have fantastic noise canceling—great for indoors (gym, trainer, etc.), but SUPER not ideal for training outside as you’ll lose almost all environmental awareness—set to “transparency mode” to let the outside in. Also be sure you’re getting the “Pro” version of these, because while the regular AirPods might be ok for working out, the Pros are the only ones rated IPX4 for sweat resistance.
Best (Little) Headphones for Working Out
$180, 6hrs. runtime, Amazon.com
If you want independent Bluetooth wireless earbuds than don’t make a fashion statement (see above), the Vistas are some of the smallest sports headphones available that still have excellent sound quality. The case doubles as a charger, making the battery life on these seem almost endless, as they recharge while you store them. IPX7 waterproofing is (sadly) just below swimmable, but it also ensures that these can drop in the drink without fizzling (Airpods, maybe not).
Best Headphones for Working Out While Swimming
$140, 7hrs. runtime, Swimoutlet.com
By far one of the longest players in the swim audio game, Finis’ Duo also uses bone conduction to transmit music via a 4Gb built-in flash drive. Waterproof (IPX8) to three meters, the Duo clips to goggle straps to rest on the cheekbones just in front of your ears. The good news is you can still hear outside sounds when you’re at the break between sets.
Best Headphones for Working Out with Versatility
Plantronics Backbeat Fit 500
$75, 18hrs. runtime (Bluetooth), Amazon.com
Through Plantronics may not be as a familiar name, this pair of headphones is one of the rare over-the-ear models that is also sweat resistant. The versatility of this headphone setup (indoor ONLY!) means that you can use Bluetooth or the wired 3.5mm audio jack to listen to TV or music—buy an extra-long 3.5mm headphone cable with any necessary adapters to make it happen. The Backbeat Fit also features control buttons on the headset as well as a mic to make calls.