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The Magic of Music on Exercise: Five Tips to Build the Perfect Playlist

November 3, 2020

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. In other instances, it can be a stimulant before a competition or have a calming effect on anxious athletes. Music can often be an untapped source of motivation and inspiration in sports and exercise.

Music can have a positive impact on your workout routine.

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

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 run2r; 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.

“Synchronizing your movements to the beat is a very effective way to improve performance.”

2. Choose a genre and lyrics that resonate with you.

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

3. Steps to building the perfect playlist.

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 the 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 in lowering heart rate and blood pressure. Gradual slow down helps with enjoying exercise and ends the session in a good mood.

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 get bored easily, this is important; you can vary the playlist by changing the genre, tempo, or songs. This way, you will ensure the list does not lose its supercharging ability.

5. 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, many apps are specifically designed to match music with your workout.

  • Spring Moves: 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 is listed for each playlist. The 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 cardio, gym, and hardcore exercise modes. Cardio is upbeat to motivate cadence. The gym is steady and inspirational. Hardcore pushes you to the max. The 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 audiobooks and music in one. Each story is set to music and is about 35 minutes long.


Barnwell, A. (2015, June 28). The 5 Best Exercise Music Apps.

Blumberg, P. O. (2016, February 08). 7 Expert Music Tips to Boost Your Workout.

Duffy, J. (2015, December 14). 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.

Janes, B. (2013, July 10). How to Make the Perfect Playlist for Your Workouts.

Karageorghis, C. (2008, February 11). Music in sport and exercise: Theory and practice.

Kurutz, S. (2008, January 10). Choosing the best music for exercise.

Linking BPM to Running Speed. (n.d.).

Yeung, A. (2016, March 16). Your Gym Playlist Might Be Ruining Your Workout.

Author: Sadie Engelken, Fitness Intern from Carroll University with the supervision of the fitness team at the Duke Diet & Fitness Center (Now Duke Lifestyle & Weight Management Center).


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