Anatomy of the Perfect Workout Playlist

Making the perfect workout playlist is not an art, it’s a science. That means anyone can learn and master it. It’s all about taking control of what we hear and how we can use that sound to improve our workout sessions.

Here’s a scenario that we all have faced before: We get to the gym only to realize that we left our headphones at home. Too far to turn back now, so we hop on the treadmill, grin and bear the music pouring out from the building’s overhead speakers.

“We Built This City” is on. It works for the warm-up, somewhat, but the next track, “Sweet Caroline,” as great as it is, may not be the most inspiring track for a bench-press routine.

The next visit, we bring our smartphone and earbuds, thinking, “This time, I control my workout music destiny!” We hop on the elliptical and find ourselves skipping tracks every 15 seconds looking for the killer workout song that never seems to come.

What gives?!

Your collection may be outdated, or most likely, lacks direction and focus. But luckily, we have a few tips (and some artist suggestions) to help correct that. Lucky for you, the days of uninspired workouts are over!

 

Purpose of the Playlist? Tell A Story

The most common mistake when crafting playlists is simply adding a collection of songs you like. On their own, the songs are probably amazing, but a great workout playlist has an arc—there’s a beginning, middle and end.

Start your playlists with low-intensity music for your stretching. Crank up the BPM’s for your cardio. Then, turn down the speed and embrace driving rhythms for the main workout. Finally, finish off with a medium- or low-intensity track for the cool down. As you will hear, the musical power crescendos into the hardest part of the workout and then comes in for a soft landing.

 

Pacing Is Key

The pacing of your playlist helps to keep your energy level up. The total length of the songs in each part of the “story arc” should last as long as that part of the routine. If your stretching routine is five minutes, then have about five minutes of music for that portion. If your cardio is 15 minutes, you’ll want 15 minutes of cardio and so on.

Don’t forget to account for changing exercise focuses. I have a transition song for switching between cardio and weight lifting sessions, for example. Your playlist serves as your clock. If crafted well, your workout should end when the playlist ends.

 

Set the Mood

For your warm-up/stretching routine, go for smooth, soothing tracks. R&B, world music and lush soundtracks work great here. High energy music is great for cardio. The easy recommendation is electronic music, but rock, hip-hop or anything with a strong backbeat works too.

Here’s a great tip: a typical running pace on the treadmill is between 125 and 150 beats per minute (bpm). That means in a lot of cases that you can keep pace when running to a lot of electronic dance music, which mirrors that bpm!

For your main workout, aggressive music keeps up the intensity and motivation. Try hip-hop, metal or dubstep here. Finally, for your cool down, try something slower but still work to maintain some energy. Grunge and alt-rock do a nice job. Since I’m a boxer, I like to end my sessions with the “Rocky Theme!”

 

Keep Every Playlist Interesting!

Once you master making perfect workout playlists where you never skip a song, start changing things up! Save your list and start over, or sub in new songs into your template. Break the rules! Sometimes a slow track that has you thinking about crushing your fitness goals works better than dance music on the treadmill. But most importantly, just have fun experimenting with it!

Let us know in the comments how these tips worked for you! Leave us a comment of the top-five songs in your workout playlist.

 

Cover photo credit: So nice, Sunny & Cool! Working Out At The Gym-HMM! via photopin (license).

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