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The Magic of Music on Exercise: How to Build the Perfect Workout Playlist

July 24, 2019

Studies in sports and exercise have shown that music can improve performance in several areas. For instance, during repetitive exercise such as running, music can narrow a person’s attention away from sensations of fatigue (REF). In other instances, it can be a stimulant prior to competition or have a calming effect on anxious athletes. Hence, music can often be an untapped source of motivation and inspiration in sports and exercise.  

By Sadie Engelken, Fitness Intern from Carroll University

Here are five tips and resources to create the “perfect playlist” to boost your workout. Happy Listening! 

1. Find the Right Beat

The pace of the music during your workout can be one of two things: similar to your movement or motivational. Synchronizing your movements to the beat is a very effective way to improve performance.  There are resources out there to help match your activity to a BPM (beats per minute) pace. One resource is http://www.run2r.com/, the site lets you find the correct rhythm to match your exercise goal. Whether it is for motivation or performance, it will help you find the perfect BPM (beats per minute) to get you closer to your goal.

2. Choose a Genre and Lyrics that Resonate with You

When it comes to exercise, choosing music you connect with can also enhance performance. Studies have shown that choosing songs we are familiar with can be up to 18% more motivating.

3. Build the Perfect List

Here is an example of how to make a 30-minute interval workout. 

  • Warm Up: 2-3 songs about 120 bpm. Allow for the build-up and roughly correlated with where heart rate should be.
  • Intervals: Rotation of faster and slower beats. Choose 3 of each pace. Sprint tracks should be 145 bpm or higher. Recovery tracks should be between 130 to 140 bpm. This allows for quicker recovery and easier breathing.
  • Cooldown: 2-3 songs under 110 bpm. Assist to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Gradual slow down helps with the enjoyment of exercise and ends the session in a good mood.

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4. Mix it Up to Get the Best Results

No need to mix it up if the playlist is working for you, however, if you are someone who gets bored easily this is important you can vary the playlist by changing the genre, tempo, or songs. This way you will make sure the list does not lose its supercharging ability. 

Other Resources for Finding “Perfect Playlists”

Music streaming apps like Spotify, Songza, Pandora, Slacker, etc. may have the artists or genres you enjoy and possibly even a workout specific channel, however, there are many apps specifically designed to match music with your workout. 

  • Spring Running Music: curated music selections, thousands of songs, and an option to design your interval training. Has GPS to track song-based performance so you can see what motivates you.
  • Rock My Run: mixes with steady tempos to keep up your endurance. BPM listed for each playlist. App also has a cadence matcher to match the music to your movement. Includes a wide variety of genres.
  • Fit Radio: workout specific mixes, new daily mixes, and a tap-and-play setup with BPM and rhythm consistency.
  • GYM Radio: main stations based on exercise modes: cardio, gym, and hardcore. Cardio is upbeat to motivate cadence. The gym is steady and inspirational. Hardcore pushes you to the max. Workout mode feature beeps at one-minute intervals to keep track of intervals or reps.
  • Runtastic: creates a personalized running story just for you. A combination of audiobook and music in one. Each story is set to music and is about 35 minutes long.

The Duke Diet and Fitness Center can assist with goals related to fitness. Discover personalized programs for optimal weight loss, fitness, diet, and behavioral health. To learn more about how the Duke Diet and Fitness Center can help you, visit dukedietandfitness.org or call 800-235-3853.

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Barnwell, A. (2015, June 28). The 5 Best Exercise Music Apps. Retrieved from https://www.digitaltrends.com/health-fitness/best-exercise-music-app/

Blumberg, P. O. (2016, February 08). 7 Expert Music Tips to Boost Your Workout. Retrieved from https://www.brit.co/music-tips-workout/

Duffy, J. (2015, December 14). The Best Music Apps for Running or Working Out. Retrieved from https://www.pcmag.com/article/340319/the-best-music-apps-for-running-or-

working out.

Gordon, W. (2018, April 10). Music can seriously improve your workout. Here's how to create the perfect playlist. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/music-exercise-create-


Janes, B. (2013, July 10). How to Make the Perfect Playlist for Your Workouts. Retrieved from https://www.active.com/fitness/articles/how-to-make-the-perfect-playlist...


Karageorghis, C. (2008, February 11). Music in sport and exercise: Theory and practice. Retrieved from https://thesportjournal.org/article/music-in-sport-and-exercise-theory-


Kurutz, S. (2008, January 10). Choosing the best music for exercise. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2008/01/10/health/10iht-fitness.1.9126209.html

Linking BPM to Running Speed. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://run2r.com/Technical linking-bpm-to-running-speed-usa.aspx

Yeung, A. (2016, March 16). Your Gym Playlist Might Be Ruining Your Workout. Retrieved from https://www.askmen.com/sports/bodybuilding/how-to-choose-your-workout-


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