How To Create A Workout Playlist That Improves Performance

October 5, 2020

Listening to music during exercise makes the whole experience more pleasant and improves performance. Studies show that music significantly increases the length of a workout, distracts from pain and boosts mood, and even changes how efficiently our bodies work. All the evidence exists, but many of us already know this to be true, we can feel the energy every time we put on a pair of headphones.

If music has a huge impact on how we feel and perform during exercise, doesn’t that mean we should take our playlist seriously? Here’s everything you need to know to give your workout tunes a tune-up.

Build a playlist based on beats per minute (BPM).

Choosing wisely matters, in life, and when it comes to creating a workout playlist. A study published in The Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness asked cyclists to listen to music of varying tempos. The results revealed that their bodies moved more efficiently when the  beats per minute (BPM) of the music matched their pace.

Moving in sync with the music improves the quality of a workout, so the tempo of the music you play should reflect how hard you intend to push that day and what type of exercise you’ll be doing.

Plan for the different stages of your workout, starting with a warm-up.  

Whether you’re doing cardio or weightlifting, it’s important to start slowly and build toward your maximum effort. You won’t skip the warm-up, so neither should your playlist. The American Council on Exercise recommends choosing songs that are around 80 BPM for this part of the workout. This music will have a slightly slower tempo, but that doesn’t mean it can’t still pump you up.

Here are some popular warm-up songs (80 BPM):

“Under the Bridge” by Red Hot Chili Peppers

“Chasing Pavements” by Adele

“All My Loving” by The Beatles

“Halo” by Beyoncé

“Piece of My Heart” by Janis Joplin

Choose music with the right BPM for your workout.

You should aim to match the BPM of your music with your tempo. This means you’ll need a different playlist for cardio than you would for weightlifting.

For runners, you can calculate your ideal BPM based on your mile pace and steps per minute. Ideally, your steps should correspond to the beat of the song. This will be a little different for everyone, depending on the length of your stride and how fast you run. Generally, a 10-minute mile would match up nicely with a song somewhere between 175 and 160 BPM. Here is a handy chart for reference.

Songs for cardio (~165 BPM):

“We Will Rock You” by Queen

“It’s Gonna Be Me” by *NSYNC

“I Got You (I Feel Good)” by James Brown

“So Fresh, So Clean” by OutKast

“On the Run” by Pink Floyd

For weightlifting, your optimal BPM should sync up with your repetition tempo. This means that songs that work well for lifting will typically be slower than your cardio playlist. Generally, you’ll want to stay between 80 and 115 BPM.

Songs for lifting weights (~100 BPM):

“Pon de Replay” by Rihanna & Elephant Man

“Superstition” by Stevie Wonder

“Work It” by Missy Elliot

“Rock Your Body” by Justin Timberlake

“Semi-Charmed Life” by Third Eye Blind

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