There are two categories of people. One who likes to work out with over-the-ear headphones and one who could never ingest the idea of it.
Honestly, none of them are wrong. It makes total sense to use or not use it provided you are taking the right scenario into consideration.
This blog post will shed some light by using different use cases so that those who are a little bit unsure can get a clearer idea of it.
1. When Working Out With Over-Ear Headphones Works
There are plenty of valid reasons why someone would prefer over-ear to other form factors. These are the ones that I can think of off the top of my head:
1.1 You Want to Look Cool
I don’t remember where exactly I read this survey but according to it, the majority of people think that the over the ear headphones make people look cooler especially when exercising.
Although it could be a matter of subjectivity, go ahead and ask some of your friends. The vast majority will agree with what I said.
Even though looking cool is not the main reason to wear these headphones, you are getting this as a plus one. Who wouldn’t love to get a few compliments here and there, and end up feeling more confident?
1.2 You Do Slow-Paced Workouts
Workouts that don’t need you to be super agile are a good fit for over-ear headphones. It is because these headphones have the tendency to move a lot on the head. With slow-paced exercises, they do still move but not uncomfortably.
Treadmills can be a good example to start with. If you are walking or running moderately on a treadmill, they will do just fine. The same applies to weight training where you don’t move your whole body rigorously but a certain muscle group.
The fitting of your headphones plays an important role here. If you pick your headphones carefully and make sure that they sit firmly on your head, they will be less likely to move when you exercise.
1.3 You Want to Have the Best Immersive Sound Quality
In general, over-ear headphones sound better than other forms of headphones provided they both fall in the same price category.
The reasons are obvious. Over-ear headphones feature larger sound drivers (usually 40mm) and are able to create a wider sound stage by sitting out and around the ears. If you are interested, we have another post explaining what makes headphones sound better.
They also do isolate noises by nature for their form factor and the ones equipped with active noise cancellation can take this another step forward.
1.4 You Hate to Have Something Inside Your Ears
The most ideal headphones for working out are arguably earbuds which sit deep inside the ear canal. They create a nice and secure fit making it suitable for most exercises.
But here is the problem. Some people (including me) just don’t like having anything inside the ear. It will tire your ears quickly and can often result in some pain around the ear.
For those who have similar situations, the over-ears can be a good solution. Some of the models, in fact, don’t touch the ears at all, making them just the way we always wanted.
1.5 You Don’t Mind If It Gets Damaged
If you want to use over the ear headphones for working out, you should have the mindset that it can break down anytime (unless you get a waterproof one, scroll to the end of the post for some recommendations).
Most headphones in this segment (including the popular WH-1000XM4) do not have any sort of waterproofing. Meaning if water gets inside and touches the mainboard, there are chances that it will create a short and burn the components.
That usually doesn’t happen because ears don’t sweat enough to blow a circuit. But I do know some people for whom sweat drips off their ears. So choose wisely according to your body.
2. When Working Out With Over-Ear Headphones Doesn’t Work
There are again a lot of reasons why you might not want to use over-ear for exercising. The followings will give you a rough idea of what I am trying to imply:
2.1 You Do CrossFit Exercises
While you can do certain exercises with over-the-ear headphones, there are a lot of them that you cannot perform with these things on.
For example, if you do clean and jerk, or other similar CrossFit exercises that involve high-intensity movements, these headphones will likely slip off your head. You won’t like the hassle of fixing it after every few reps, would you?
Some headphones could still manage to hold up in these exercises if they have an extremely good fit. But again it is difficult to say for sure that this one would be good for you. Therefore, it is safer not to choose over-ears for these exercises.
2.2 You Do High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)
Similar to the previous point we discussed, over-ear headphones are not a good fit for HIIT exercises. They will not stay in place and you will have to fix them a ridiculous amount of times.
Some good examples are sprinting and burpees. If you do these with over-ears on, they could fall off easily or at least create the feeling that it is about to fall.
2.3 You Hate It When Your Ears Get Hot
The ear is the radiator of our body. It does a lot without our realization. When you restrict airflow to the ears with some sort of headphones, your body starts to react negatively.
Sometimes it is difficult to concentrate on exercises if natural airflow to the ears is disrupted. It can have a greater impact on some people than others.
I personally don’t get that uncomfortable from over-ear headphones, but if your ears are vulnerable to getting warmer, these might not be ideal for you.
2.5 You Care About Hygiene a Lot
The ear cups of over-ear headphones are generally made of faux or protein leather which absorbs water. This means when you sweat, your headphones will absorb a great deal of it.
Sweat isn’t unhygienic itself but when it touches the skin or body hair, it will start to stink and can also create rashes on your skin.
The ear cups of your headphones will also stink after absorbing the sweat and can as well result in rashes around your face. In order to prevent that, you might have to clean it up with rubbing alcohol after every use.
3. Can Sweat Ruin Your Over the Ear Headphones?
Absolutely! If you sweat that much that it drips off your ears, the chances are high that you can blow your headphones. Here is how.
Most wireless headphones will have holes on the frame for the microphones. Some headphones (ANC ones especially) could have holes for regulating air pressure.
If sweat enters and touches the main electronic components, it can create a short and burn them all. Your warranty might not cover these incidents unless the company explicitly marketed the product as waterproof.
4. Is There Any Waterproof Over-Ear Headphones for Working Out?
If you read until this point, you can see the main problem with over the ear headphones is that they have no protection against water. It’s not true. At least not true for all of them!
There are headphones on the market that have a good water rating and can withstand sweat comfortably. Here are some of the good ones if you are interested in taking a look:
4.1 Jabra Elite 85h
Jabra Elite 85h has IP52 water resistance with nono coating for its internals. It can withstand heavy sweating to light rain without problems.
They use a sound technology called SmartSound which analyzes the environment and tunes its configuration automatically so that you get a matching sound for your environment.
The active noise cancellation (ANC) works great except it doesn’t work at all when you are taking a call. The company explained that their ANC is set up in that way which is a bummer.
- IP52 water resistant
- Up to 36 hours of battery life
- Active noise cancellation
- 8 microphones setup, 6 of which are used for calls
- Ears can get warm quickly
- ANC doesn’t work in calls
4.2 Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100
Plantronics BackBeat FIT 6100 has an IPX5 water rating which functions properly against heavy sweat and splashes of water. The ear cups can be cleaned with rubbing alcohol as well if you want to.
It has a sporty headband with a stretchy cord built-in. This cord allows you to tighten the headband further if necessary which is helpful in some rigorous exercises.
These headphones would have been a complete package if they had active noise cancellation, however, if you look at the price, you might hesitate a bit to complain.
- IPX5 water resistant
- Up to 24 hours of battery life
- Breathable headband
- Additional cord to tighten the headband when needed
- No active noise cancellation
- Could use a bit more volume
4.3 Treblab Z2
Treblab Z2 is another pair of wireless headphones that are geared towards gym-goers. It has IPX4 water and sweat resistance meaning you are covered against water issues.
The price-performance ratio of these headphones is pretty good. You are getting active noise cancellation with a water-resisting coating which is hard to find in this price range.
To talk about some of the downsides, the microphones on these do not pick the sound well in wireless mode. The earcups are quite bulky and cover a large portion of your face.
- IPX4 water resistant
- Up to 35 hours of battery life
- Active noise cancellation
- Quite cheap for an ANC headphone
- The quality of the microphones is not very good
- Large in size
5. Should You Use Earbuds Instead of Headphones?
Although it is entirely up to the individual, there are some definite reasons why one would prefer one to the other. Let’s sum everything up quickly.
If you value sound quality over comfort, you don’t plan on doing very high-intensity exercises, or at least not with the headphones on, and if you don’t want to buy an extra pair of headphones just for workouts, over-ears will do fine for you.
However, if you fall in that category of people for whom comfort comes first, do HIIT exercises all the time, and don’t mind having a slightly smaller sound stage, you should get yourself earbuds. Working out with over the ear headphones is not your best bet.