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The Best Headphones for Athletes & Triathletes

triathlete with headphones

Many years ago, I worked as a product manager for headphones for a Bluetooth chip company called CSR so when I was asked to review the best headphones for triathletes I jumped at the chance!

Have Bluetooth headphones moved on from the design I worked on since 2009? What designs are available for swimming, cycling, and running? Do athletes still use wired headphones?

In this article we will look at the best headphones for triathletes who want to listen to music or podcasts when they train.

It’s worth noting that you can’t wear headphones in a race so it’s worth training sometimes without audio support to get used to race day conditions.

To clarify, I do not support the use of headphones while running or cycling on open roads. However, the recommendations below are suitable for both indoor and outdoor workouts. The ideal headphones for outdoor workouts are those that are not worn and for me listening to the sounds around me, especially those of nature, add to the training experience.

It is crucial to remain aware of potential hazards around you, especially as drivers become increasingly inattentive and accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists are becoming more frequent. Nonetheless, I will discuss some types of headphones that are better suited for outdoor training. Ultimately, the choice to use headphones is at our discretion. However, for safety reasons, it is advisable to reserve music and podcasts for indoor use.

Considerations when Choosing Headphones for Training

As triathletes we need headphones that can withstand the various training locations and durations we train.

We need headphones that can:

  1. Be used inside and outside in all weather conditions.
  2. Withstand sweat and vibration.
  3. Have a long battery life for those long endurance sessions.
  4. Be waterproof when using them for swimming.
  5. Have noise cancellation when being used for strength sessions in buys gyms.
  6. Be comfortable and able to stay on when swimming, cycling, and running.
  7. Be durable and last many seasons of triathlon training.
  8. Do you need a built in MIC to receive and make phone calls?

There are many different designs, and we will look at in-ear, on-ear, wired and wireless – we will look at the pros and cons of all of them. We will also look at headphones for all budgets.

Types of Headphones

There are many types of headphones and here are some of the most common types:

  1. In-ear headphones: These headphones are also called earbuds and are designed to fit snugly inside the ear canal. They are very portable and lightweight, making them a popular choice for athletes and people on the go.
  2. On-ear headphones: These headphones sit on top of the ears and are held in place by a headband. They offer good sound quality and are more comfortable than in-ear headphones for some people.
  3. Over-ear headphones: These headphones completely cover the ears and are held in place by a headband. They are generally the largest and heaviest type of headphones, but they also offer the best sound quality and noise isolation.
  4. Wireless headphones: These headphones connect to devices via Bluetooth and do not have any cables or wires. They are very convenient and are popular for workouts and other activities.
  5. Noise-canceling headphones: These headphones use active noise-cancellation technology to block out external noise. They are great for travel and noisy environments like gyms.
  6. Sports headphones: These headphones are specifically designed for use during exercise and physical activity. They are usually sweat-resistant and have a secure fit to stay in place during movement.
  7. Headphones that allow ambient noise to pass through or using just one earbud.

Bone Conduction Headphones

Bone conduction type earphones need a special mention as they are highly relevant for triathletes. I can remember working with a company in California who designed the first Bluetooth bone conduction headphones, and I was amazed at how effectively they worked.

Bone conduction headphones are a type of headphone that work by transmitting sound waves through the bones in your skull rather than through your eardrums. This allows you to listen to music or take phone calls while still being able to hear ambient sounds like traffic or people talking to you.

Bone conduction technology has been around for a while and is commonly used in hearing aids and medical implants. However, in recent years, it has become popular for sports headphones as it allows athletes to stay aware of their surroundings while still being able to enjoy their music.

Bone conduction headphones typically have a small transducer that sits on your cheekbone or behind your ear and sends vibrations through the bone to the inner ear. This bypasses the eardrum and allows you to hear the sound without blocking your ear canal. Some bone conduction headphones also have an earbud or in-ear option for when you want to block out more external noise.

Bone conduction headphones are a good option for triathletes and other athletes who need to be aware of their surroundings while training. They are also useful for people with hearing loss or other ear-related issues. However, they may not be the best option for people who want to completely block out external noise (e.g., in a noisy gym) or who prioritize sound quality.

Understanding Waterproof Rating

As triathletes we know a thing or two about sweat! There’s no escaping it so it’s best to choose headphones that can withstand it.

So, it’s best to leave the free ones you get with your phone in the box 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.

“IP” stands for Ingress Protocol, which is another way of saying “How much dust, water, dirt etc 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 triathlon. The second digit uses the following scale to measure how much liquid the device can be protected from:

IP NumberWaterproofing
2Dripping water when tilted at 15°
3Spraying water
4Water splashing
5Light water jets
6Powerful water jets
6KPowerful water jets with increased pressure
7Immersion, up to 1m depth (30min. or less)
8Immersion, 1m or more depth (length of time specified by manufacturer)
9KPowerful, high-temperature water jets

Should you go Wireless?

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 without connecting to a 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. A company called Zygo has solved this problem however – read about them further down.

Do you need a Microphone?

Many headphones designed for working out also include microphones that allow you to make and receive phone calls or for utilizing voice-activated assistants like Cortana or Siri. These features are particularly useful for individuals who engage in multi-sports and also like to multitask. However, it is important to note that listening to music while cycling or running can be hazardous, and taking a call while working out outdoors can be even more distracting. It is best to keep hands-free communication to a minimum when engaging in outdoor exercise. When working out indoors, utilizing the microphone for business or pleasure purposes is more appropriate.

Now, let’s take a closer look at some of the top headphones for swimming, “gyming”, cycling and running based on their features.

Best Headphones for Training

1. Shokz OpenrunBest Headphones for Working Out Outside

SHOKZ OpenRun - Open-Ear Bluetooth Bone Conduction Sport Headphones - Sweat Resistant Wireless Earphones for Workouts and Running - Built-in Mic, with Hair Band (Black)

$129.95 at Amazon.com
$129.95 at Shokz.com

8hrs runtime

The best feature on the Shokz Openrun design is the bone-conduction audio that allows you to hear the music without covering your ears— so you are still aware of your surroundings when running outside. These may not give you the best audio quality you probably won’t notice as you concentrate on your running cadence and form. These also have a built-in mic so you can also take phone calls should one come in when you are running.

They have an P67 Waterproof rating which is adequate for sweaty workouts and running in the rain but not for swimming in. They also have moisture detection alert included for safe charging.

2. Apple AirPods Pro Gen2 – Best Headphones for Working Out with an iPhone Indoors

$222.74 at Amazon.com
$249 at Apple.com

6hrs. Runtime

These headphones have serious noise cancelling capability so should only be reserved for working out indoors. These will be great for noisy gyms or on aeroplanes.

You can put them in to transparency mode to hear some outside sound to enter but I would still not advise these for training outside.

The sound quality is excellent but if you have small ears (despite the four pairs of silicon tips), you may find keeping them in place when running will not work for you.

These headphones are “sweat resistant” but not “sweat proof” so if you sweat a lot then these may not be for you!

3. Jaybird Vista 2 – Best Small Headphones for Working Out

$148.99 at Amazon.com
$149.99 at jaybirdsport.com

8 hours of audio on a full charge, plus 16 more in the charging case (wireless or USB), with a 5-minute quick charge offering an hour of play time.

These little headphones have it all with Bluetooth, great sounds quality and impressive waterproofing. The come from a company Logitech who were one of my customers back in the day so it’s great to see they are still producing great Bluetooth headsets. They are IP68 waterproof, sweatproof, and dustproof, with MIL-STD 810G freeze, shock, and impact resistance. Double tap Vista 2 to easily switch between Active Noise Cancellation and SurroundSense or customize controls via the app. These features seem similar to the Apple headphones. They also have a built-in mic on each headphone so you can use just one to make and take phone calls. SurroundSense keeps you connected and aware of your surroundings. Wind-guarded mics monitor ambient noise so you can stay spatially aware without missing a beat.

You can use them for running and I have heard of people using them on their bikes, but I have no experience of this.

These are highly customisable via the App so you can set them up with your profile for music sound, phone call noise cancelling and more.

These headphones are also Carbon Neutral so you can do your bit for the environment.

4. Naenka Bone Conduction Headphones – Best Headphones for Working Out While Swimming

No products found.

No products found. at Amazon.com
$149.49 at Naenka.com

10hrs runtime.

These IPx8 rated bone conduction headphones with built in memory are ideal for listening to audio whilst swimming. As mentioned before Bluetooth does not pass through water so even though these headphones have Bluetooth it’s not for in the water. In the water you will need to go a bit old skool and load your music onto the 16GB of built in memory. Whilst not ideal you can listen to music and still listen to what’s going on around you thanks to the bone conduction.

You can use the Bluetooth with your phone and table when running and working out in the gym.

5. PHILIPS A4216 Wireless Sports Headphones – Best Over Ear Headphones for Working Out

PHILIPS A4216 Wireless Sports Headphones, up to 35 Hours Play time, Washable Cooling Ear-Cup Cushions, IP55 Water/dust Protection, Bluetooth + 3.5 mm Audio Port, Built-in Microphone TAA4216BK

$53.18 at Amazon.com
$69.99 at Kohls.com

Up to 35 hours runtime.

If you prefer over ear headphones, then these are worth a look. These have a bigger speaker so should give you a better sound and are IP55 rated which means they are as happy on dusty trails as they are in heavy rain.

You can plug them in to have wired sound if Bluetooth isn’t a good option or they have run out of juice. Like the others, they have a built-in mic for calls, and noise cancelation. If you don’t like putting in ear buds or want better audio quality this is could be a good solution.

For me these are probably good for the gym but maybe not running but I have seen photos of people running in them. Philips products, in my experience, are excellent quality and value. I did work for Philips briefly and the products I got then are still working now after many, many years!

6. Zygo – Best Waterproof Wireless Headphone for Triathletes and Coaches

$299 at ShopZygo.com

These headphones were recommended to me by Alistair Brownlee (he helped raise the funding for the company to develop the product) for both music, podcast etc when swimming as well as for communicating with athletes when I’m coaching them.

Stream your music, podcasts, audiobooks, and more from any device to the Zygo headset. Download the Zygo App for guided audio workouts. The Zygo transmitter also enables live coaching so as a coach I can speak to my swimmer without having to stop them swimming and give real time feedback on their stroke.

Pushing off the wall? Diving in? Zygo stays firmly on your head, thanks to a design that loops over the ears and provides just the right amount of grip to stay in place without causing you to notice the headset.

They convert Bluetooth – which doesn’t penetrate the water – into a different radio frequency that does. Their patented solution is one of a kind, so you can (finally!) so goodbye to those MP3 players.

They use bone conduction to transmit audio, leaving your ears open for safety and comfort. Wear your Zygo with goggles, a swim cap, and even a snorkel – it’s designed it to fit alongside all your gear.

The Zygo Solo Includes:

  • 1 headset
  • 1 transmitter & stand
  • 1 charging case
  • 1 pair of earplugs
  • 1 microfiber cloth

Everything stores neatly in a carrying case and charges right in place. The battery life is decent—three hours for the headset and eight hours for the transmitter— and will provide multiple swims before recharging.

It can transmit up to a range of 50 metres and two feet below the surface of the water, while its app contains a library of cardio workouts set to music, as well as drills, instructions, and meditations. 

For an additional monthly fee ($15) you can select a Zygo pre-recorded swim session based on difficulty level, duration, pool length, instructor, workout type, or the equipment needed.

So overall a very versatile pair of headphones for triathletes.

Conclusion: Best Headphones for Triathletes

Choosing the right headphones for triathlon training is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable training experience. Waterproof and sweat-resistant headphones are a must-have for athletes who want to listen to music or podcasts while swimming, running, or cycling.

Wireless Bluetooth headphones offer freedom of movement and eliminate the hassle of tangled wires, while bone conduction headphones allow athletes to hear their surroundings for safety reasons.

It’s important to consider factors such as comfort, durability, and sound quality when selecting headphones for triathlon training. By taking these factors into account, I’m sure you will find the perfect pair of headphones that suit your needs and help you stay motivated throughout your long training sessions.

For me I’m pleased to say that Bluetooth headphones have moved on and we now have True Wireless ear buds which back in the day was a technical challenge to sync the music for both wireless ear bud. Bluetooth still does not like water but you can’t win them all!

Best Headphones for Triathletes FAQ

Why do triathletes need sports headphones?

Triathletes often train in various weather conditions and environments, and sports headphones can help them stay motivated and focused while also providing protection against sweat and water damage.

What are some features to look for in sports headphones for triathletes?

Sports headphones for triathletes should be lightweight, durable, and waterproof or sweatproof. They should also have a secure fit that stays in place during intense physical activity, and they should allow for easy control of music playback and phone calls.

Can I use regular headphones while training for a triathlon?

Regular headphones may not be suitable for triathlon training as they are not designed to withstand sweat and water damage. Additionally, they may not stay in place during intense physical activity, which can be distracting and potentially dangerous.

Are wireless sports headphones better than wired ones for triathletes?

Wireless sports headphones are generally more convenient as they eliminate the need for cords that can get tangled or snagged during training. However, they may have a shorter battery life than wired headphones, and some models may experience connectivity issues.

Can I use sports headphones for swimming?

Some sports headphones are specifically designed for swimming and are waterproof to varying degrees. However, it’s important to check the manufacturer’s specifications to ensure that the headphones are suitable for use in water.

How do I clean my sports headphones?

To clean your sports headphones, wipe them down with a damp cloth after each use to remove sweat and dirt. Avoid using harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that could damage the headphones.

How much should I expect to spend on sports headphones for triathlon training?

The cost of sports headphones can vary widely depending on the brand, features, and quality. You can find basic models for around $20, while high-end models can cost $200 or more. Generally, you should expect to pay more for headphones that are waterproof, have better sound quality, and offer advanced features like noise cancellation or heart rate monitoring.

Can sports headphones damage my hearing?

Prolonged exposure to loud music can damage your hearing, so it’s important to use sports headphones at a safe volume. Look for headphones with volume-limiting features or consider using an app that monitors your listening levels.

What type of headphones are best for triathletes who wear helmets?

 Triathletes who wear helmets during cycling or other activities should look for headphones with a low profile that won’t interfere with the helmet’s fit. In-ear headphones or bone conduction headphones may be good options.

How long do sports headphones typically last?

The lifespan of sports headphones can vary depending on factors like usage frequency, care and maintenance, and the quality of the product. Generally, you should expect sports headphones to last at least a year or two with regular use.

Can sports headphones help me improve my performance?

Sports headphones can help you stay focused and motivated during training, which can improve your performance. Some headphones also offer features like coaching feedback or heart rate monitoring that can help you track your progress and make adjustments to your training plan.

Will wearing sports headphones make me run faster?

We’re not sure if sports headphones can give you superhuman speed, but they can certainly help you stay motivated and focused during your training sessions. Just remember that the key to running faster is to put in the hard work and stay consistent!

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