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Music Matters – Building a Better Workout Playlist

How to build a better workout playlist.
How to build a better workout playlist.

When you're exercising, what you listen to can make a huge difference in your workouts. The right song, played at the right time, can help motivate you and make exercise seem easier.

To build your playlist, you have to figure out two things. First, what type of exercise you plan on doing. Second, you need to know how that workout will be broken up. When you synchronize the beats per minute (BPM) of the music to your chosen exercise, the music will act as an invisible guide. Here are some suggestions for different routines.


You want to get your heart rate up without going all out. Two or three songs playing at around 120 to 130 BPM is ideal.


During the work periods, play songs that are at 145 BPM or higher. When you slow down for the recovery sections, let the music drop to between 130 and 140 BPM. Let the songs guide the effort you're putting in. If the work periods aren't intense enough, get music that has a faster BPM.

Cool Down

You want to relax and help your heart rate recover. Two or three songs under 110 BPM are ideal for slowing you down and lowering your heart rate.


Runners can choose music based on the pace they intend on setting. If you want to complete one kilometer every 10 minutes, choose songs around 150 BPM. For one kilometer every 9 minutes, pick music that's 153 BPM. 8-minute kilometers can be completed on 156 BPM. 7-minute kilometers need 160, 6-minute kilometers need 163 BPM, 5-minute kilometers need 166 BPM and 4-minute kilometers need music cranking at 171 BPM.

With all this information, now all you have to do is arrange your music. One of the sites we liked best is called SongBPM. (https://songbpm.com/) You can type in the name of almost any song and it will tell you how many beats per minute it is. There's even an option to select all your songs at once and have it analyze them in a batch. We ran 450 songs through on a test and it took less than 30 seconds to tell us about all of them.

If you don't want to deal with putting it together yourself, several services do that for you. The big music streaming apps like Apple Music, Pandora, Slacker, Songza and Spotify have libraries with millions of songs. They may even have a workout channel. But they don't tailor things to your specific workout.

The following apps take things a step further by adjusting your music to your heart rate, your running pace or the type of workout you're doing.

Rock My Run (https://www.rockmyrun.com/). Have the music follow your steps or heart rate. You can also set the tempo to an exact cadence like 180. The app features seamless music from professional DJs, it tracks your workouts and you can search for music by genre, BPM, activities or more. There's a free version that's supported by ads and a premium one that's ad-free.

FIT Radio (https://www.fitradio.com/). This program has professionally curated playlists from DJs in Miami, Vegas and around the world. You get workout specific mixes, daily mixes and an option to set things up based on BPM. Weekly charge and a free trial period.

Spring Running Music (https://www.springmoves.com/). Running and walking music tailored to your taste and rhythm. There is an interval training option and it uses GPS to track your performance and change things up for what motivates you. Weekly charge and a free trial period.

Remember to keep the volume reasonable. If you listen to music turned all the way up, you can develop tinnitus, a permanent ringing in the ear. If you're using headphones, follow the 80 for 90 rule. That means listen to music at no more than 80% of the highest volume for no more than 90 minutes a day. More than that and you risk damaging your ears.

One final word of caution. If you're out in the real world listening to music, stay aware of your environment. You need to watch out for other people and vehicles. You have to assume everyone you see is on a collision course with you. Having a perfect playlist is worthless if you don't survive the workout.

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beginning any diet or exercise program.