The Science Behind a Good Workout Playlist: How to Choose the Right Music

Band fitness class have one thing in common, be it SoulCycle, Orange theory, CrossFit or Zumba: They all play loud music through speakers. Even when you’re struggling with muscle burn, the beats keep you motivated and help you have a good time.

Turns out, we listen to music while exercising for a good reason — and it’s not just about pumping up for a good sweat session. Research proves that music, especially high-paced, high-intensity music, can improve workout performance and even motivate you to exercise longer.

If you’re wondering how to maximize the benefits of music for exercise, You have come to the right place. In this article, discover how and why music influences your fitness performancehow to create the perfect playlist to make gains and where to find a workout playlist made for you.

Read more: Best smart home gym workouts of 2022: Platoon, mirror, tempo and more


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Why does music improve training performance?

There is no shortage of research on the psychological effects of music. A good tune can help lift your mood and help you focus, but it can also motivate you or give you a competitive edge, and that’s where it applies to exercise.

Music affects your workout performance in several ways, including:

Of course, there are exceptions to the rule: music may not help you when you’re struggling with DOM or injury, but most of the time you can expect the above benefits.

person running on path outdoors

Studies show that running to upbeat music can actually help you run faster, and the same goes for cycling.

Step 7 Photography/Unsplash

How to make a good workout playlist? Consider the BPM of each song

When it comes to improving workout performance, choosing a playlist is all about tempo. Matching the music tempo with your predicted heart rate will keep you pumped up throughout your workout, while a mismatch can do the exact opposite.

Think about what happens when a fluke song comes in the middle of your workout – say you’re playing some catchy trap music or hard rock and all of a sudden a love ballad 80s happens. You stop, take your phone out of your pocket and jump. Or maybe you’re getting by, but all you can think about is how badly you can’t wait for it to be over, interrupting your focus on training.

Creating the perfect workout playlist is actually very simple. Just focus on two things: tempo and workout type. The more intense you want the workout to be, the faster the pace should be.

Finding the tempo of a song in beats per minute is like find your heart rate. People with a musical bent may find it easier to count the BPM in a song – if you’re having trouble with that, this handy song BPM tool can help. Just plug in a song name and get the BPM.

These general tempo guidelines should get you started with your practice playlist:

  • Yoga, pilates and other low intensity activities: 60 to 90 BPM
  • Poweryoga: 100 to 140 BPM
  • CrossFit, indoor cycling or other forms of HIIT: 140 to 180-plus BPM
  • Zumba and dance: 130 to 170 BPM
  • Steady-state cardio, such as jogging: 120 to 140 BPM
  • Weightlifting and powerlifting: 130 to 150 BPM
  • Warming up for the exercise: 100 to 140 BPM
  • Recovery after exercise: 60 to 90 BPM

If you want to get even more scientific about it, design your playlist tempo to support interval work. For example, if you plan to do an interval run where you run fast for 3 minutes, slow for 2 minutes for a total of 30 minutes, you can create a playlist that supports that goal. In this case, you would use a fast-moderate-fast structure. Just make sure the length of the songs are close to the timeslots.

Other factors such as bass, volume, and lyrics can also influence your performance, but focusing on tempo can simplify playlist selection.

Try workout playlists on music services like Apple Music, Spotify and more

Don’t want to bother with your own playlist? Try one of these streaming music services who already have hours and hours of workout-specific music.

FitRadio: The whole premise of Fit Radio revolves around BPM specific workouts. You can find preset playlists for all different heart rate ranges in just about every genre. One thing I love about Fit Radio is that the DJs mix playlists with fast cuts and mesh songs, so you get a lot of variety.

RockMyRun: This app is similar to Fit Radio in that DJs create playlists by genre, BPM, and activity. Despite its name, you can use RockMyRun for any type of exercise. The quick adjust feature that allows you to quickly change the tempo of your playlist makes this app a step ahead of others.

Screenshots of the RockMyRun app

RockMyRun helps you run faster with BPM specific playlists.

App Store/Screenshot by Amanda Capritto

Apple Music: Apple Music has an entire section dedicated to workout playlists. Go to “Browse” then “Music by Mood” to find the fitness category. You’ll find playlists for weightlifting, yoga, HIIT and more, as well as genre-specific playlists. Playlists are updated often, so add something to your library if you like it.

Spotify: Like Apple Music, Spotify offers a wide range of preset workout playlists and is constantly updating current playlists and adding new ones. Playlists are categorized by BPM, but also have names – like Beast Mode or Rock ‘n’ Run – which help you decide if a playlist is a good choice for a specific workout.

jog.fm: Jog.fm helps you find or create the perfect playlist for your run based on your pace. Simply enter your mile beat and the app will suggest a list of songs that match that beat. You can also simply browse popular music, which is categorized by beat.

RhythmDJ: This app scans your music library to find the BPM of songs to create tempo-specific playlists. You can also choose from a number of preset playlists or let the app identify your running/walking pace and play songs that match.

Just one thing before going to the gym: make sure you don’t turn your music up too loud, because loud music can cause hearing loss and headphones are a common culprit. Oh, and if you go out for a run or ride a bike, be careful.

The information in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended to constitute medical or health advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.

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