Building Your Workout Playlist

Fernando Pacheco
March 31, 2017

Working out to music is nothing new. From the days of Olivia Newton-John, we knew that music helps us get “Physical.” Even here at Well-Being Hawaii, fellow blogger Ash Tsuji once put the Mozart effect to the test by working out to classical music. According to some recent studies, it’s not just which music you’re listening to during exercise… it’s how and when you’re listening to it.


Consider starting your playlist on your way to the gym. A study from Northwestern University showed that one effect of music is psychological empowerment. Try tunes that go heavy on bass with a beats per minute (bpm) of 140 – around the speed of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.”


Once in motion, you are more likely to follow the beat. Songs with a stronger and more obvious beat is ideal. The recommended pace is 135 bpm – matching The Police’s “Roxanne.”

The American Council on Exercise released a study showing that even while people listening to up-tempo or soothing music may perform equally, participants listening to up-tempo music felt like they had an easier workout.

Rest Periods

Doing some high-intensity training? Keep the tempo up, even when resting - specifically 125-135 bpm. One study from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) shows tunes with such speeds contribute to a more pleasant experience throughout recovery periods.

Going the Distance

If training for a longer race, such as a marathon or other steady low-intensity cardio, keep the tunes playing. Another study from NIH shows findings of music evoking a distraction effect, decreasing stress caused by fatigue in low intensity exercise. Try some music in the 100-120 bpm range, like “Eye of the Tiger.”

Power Song

Of course there’s your favorite song – the jewel of your playlist that will bring out that extra burst of energy. Many refer to this as your “power song.” Of course you’ll want to place this towards the end of your playlist when you’ll need it the most, right? Wrong! A study showed runners who cued up a power song in the first leg of their race established a faster pacing strategy. 

Not sure about the bpm of your current playlist? Several online sites offer a bpm calculator:

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